Ah, Canada Day. Nothing like the feel of jet lag in the morning. The day dawned initially crisp and clear. We walked along the Rideau Canal towards the Ottawa River, avoiding the huge crowds on Parliament Hill, come to hear music, sing the anthem, hear from dignitaries, amongst them the coolest of cool, Justin Trudeau. Instead we traced our way past the National Arts Centre, down the canal locks, past an open-air tent where scores of people were engaged in a Canadian citizenship ceremony in the shadow of our parliament – what a wonderful experience for each one of them, to become Canadian citizens on Canada’s birthday, just metres away from our centre of government.
We crossed the canal, up to Major’s Hill Park, through throngs of red-and-white T-shirted Canadians; watched some wild eastern European-origin circus boys do amazing tricks with juggling before watching the snowbird jets (equivalent to the red arrows of the former ‘united’ kingdom) also doing amazing tricks, this time using millions of dollars worth of aircraft. We reflected on the diversity of the crowds – multiple races, ethnicities, all feeling Canadian, all celebrating, and wondered whether in the current atmosphere in England it would be impossible to hold without riot.
So – in a week when Obama came to our parliament to speak, and said (along with many other things! it’s 50 minutes! http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/obama-speech-parliament-1.3658244) ‘the world needs a bit more Canada,’ a week when the Guardian is celebrating us (https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jul/04/canada-urban-tribes-craic-addicts-hogtown-heroes and twitter: #GuardianCanada) let’s hope we can live up to it.
Canada is pretty cool. It is diverse. It doesn’t always accept that diversity (Stephen Harper’s conservatives, for example, used wearing the hijab an issue during the election last year (who was running that campaign I wonder? Does the name Lynton Crosby and the ‘dead cat’ phenomenon come to mind?) (for it was him) but by and large, it’s on the face of it welcoming, and for that reason the nasty proclivities are held back, embarrassing for most of us; once Nigel Farage and his like lets these evil genies out of the bottle it’s hard to manage to retrieve the civility they have devoured.
However, lest we seem a bit braggy and unCanadian, let’s remember a few home truths. Most of us are immigrants, and we have a tradition of welcoming others to our wide open spaces (for example, when Vietnamese boat people needed places to come in the 60s and 70s, Hungarians welcomed in the 50s remembered their welcome, and in turn came to their aid) – but not always without controversy. Brexiteers bang on about the Australian immigration point system – Canada has a point system too, the difference I suppose being that we don’t house asylum seekers in a festering prison camp on an offshore island. So Canada is welcoming, but to a point – to a point where the middle class and successful are more welcome.
So come on Canada – let’s celebrate you. But let’s be a bit realistic too – let’s hope we can hold on to our small-l liberal values while keeping an eye on our navels, so we don’t get too preachy. Let’s hope we can be a bit of an oasis in the sea of Brexit and Trumpist inward attention, protectionism and nasty rhetoric.
In the evening of Canada Day, we went to a concert in Confederation Park. After about 20 minutes, the heavens opened and the thunder and lightening enveloped us. Some Brits in the audience (and the conductor) looked slightly nervous. We came home drenched but happy. Something of a metaphor for where we are now. Good luck to all of us managing the storms ahead.