By Janice Kennedy
The Ottawa Citizen
September 29, 2012
A House of Commons committee warned this week that unless the government starts planning now for 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday party will be a pretty lousy affair. It thinks this would be a shame.
Except what’s to celebrate? Or what will be left to celebrate by the time this desiccated husk of a former nation makes it to 2017?
The committee noted that plans for the successful celebration of Canada’s centennial in 1967 began eight years before the fact. So there’s no time to lose.
God love ’em, but don’t those committee members sound like the famous rearrangers of Titanic deck chairs in the legendary metaphor? They seem oblivious to the fact that this country, which was exploding in a nationalist burst of self-confident optimism as its 100th birthday approached, is a fading shell of itself with the sesquicentennial just down the road.
Under the Stephen Harper Conservatives, who will have held power for 10 or more years leading up to 2017, Canada will have undergone a decade of de-Canadianizing. From the symbols of state to the framework of governance to the nation’s presence on the world stage, Canada — as Canada — will have been largely eviscerated.
This week’s announcement that we will share embassy space with Britain is only the latest step in the process. Harper and his pitbull John Baird are protesting that it’s merely pragmatic, but the power of the symbolism is not lost on anyone — not on Canadians and certainly not on this government, which is only too happy to drape the country in colours of faded colonialism. Not elsewhere, either, where Canada will be seen as a British adjunct.
Anyway, how will visitors to the dual embassies even know differently? Under Harper, Canadian missions abroad have been directed to hang portraits of the Queen.
Which is another censure-worthy thing. This government’s impulse toward Victorian bowing and scraping, its obsession with visiting British royalty, humiliates us all. Even more embarrassing, of course, is its fetishization of the Queen.
Yes, she is Queen of Canada. But the constitutional reality of the monarchy, most Canadians agree, is outdated and should be reformed — except for the even more disturbing reality that such reform is seen as too much of a hassle. A government with even the slightest concern for Canadians’ feelings would, at the very least, avoid turning this irksome tie to our colonial past into a mighty national monument.
Nor would it make divisive and impenetrable declarations about “les Québécois” being a “nation,” or keep offloading federal responsibilities onto provincial shoulders, weakening the centre — and the Canadian nation — as a result.
Internationally, the Harper government has also taken a hammer to Canada’s identity.
Consider the work of our aid organizations, which have historically made “Canada” a byword for global responsibility — until recently. Repeatedly, in recent years, those organizations not onside with Harper government thinking have been cut off at the knees. This week’s news about Development and Peace, founded by Canadian Catholic bishops and a recent defunding victim, suggests exactly that. The bishops have essentially shut down their annual education campaign, which in the past has involved letters to the PM about such things as Canadian mine operators’ practices in the Third World. Out of the blue, the bishops have suddenly deemed the campaigns too political. (Which they would know, wouldn’t they?)
Also this week, what could have been more telling than Harper’s visit to New York, where he accepted an award for, um, statesmanship, and declined to speak in Canada’s name at the United Nations? Combined with his record of marching in foreign-policy lockstep with the United States — and, in the Middle East, with Israel — the gesture suggests a man and a government indifferent to global perceptions of Canadian independence on the world stage.
This is not a liberal whine about conservative politics. This is not even about the practices of a government that puts short-term economic interests ahead of long-term environmental concerns, military spending ahead of social investment, the iconic perception of tax cuts ahead of meaningful reform.
It’s about a government seemingly bent on frittering away our national identity in a series of craven acts of colonialist nostalgia. It’s about a government equally obsessed with turning back nearly 150 years of positive evolution.
Canada’s big birthday is approaching, and people who love this country think it’s time to start planning the party.
But it’s hard to get excited.
Maybe it would help if we started acting like the confident, optimistic, progressive country we know we are, at heart. Maybe if we started thinking like Canadians again, rather than provincialists, that would get us in the mood. And maybe, most of all, we’d feel like celebrating if we regained something of our once-proud Canadian independence.
But by 2017, the way things are going, we will have run out of time.
Janice Kennedy writes here Saturdays. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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