So how do you like Canada? Heroes, history, the next generation and ties that bind

Montreal was a great place to grow up for a kid who enjoyed surfing the AM dial at night. With no major population centres within 120 miles, I could listen to stations in New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Boston and Toronto. Many years later I learned that my grandfather used to do the same thing. I had come by it honestly.

My grandfather was also a radio- and print news junkie. When the CKO all news network went off the air in 1989, I discovered the CBC and learned that Canada really was a bigger place than Montreal: a much bigger place. And it had an identity that set it apart from our neighbour to the south.

Tom Brokaw explained more to Americans about us during the 2010 Vancouver winter games than many of us understand about ourselves. Now we have to start believing it because we’re not laughing as much as we need to.

First Nations aren’t laughing at all over the Oil Sands and how the federal government negotiates and/or violates treaties. Fifty years to settle a land claim? The mayor of a major city disgraces himself by admitting to using banned substances in a drunken stupor. Not only does he lack the integrity to step down, he’s running for another term. His city’s jobless rate now exceeds 10%, higher than Windsor’s at the height of the recession. Is that the job creation mandate he claims to have fulfilled?

Political leaders who stand for re-election and little else that’s recognizable, and big business that has set aside $500 billion in “dead money” (Mark Carney’s term) while waiting for even more tax concessions, have been systematically sucking the spirit out of this country. Hardly a newscast goes by without mention of how much something has cost or will cost taxpayers or ratepayers. When did taxpayers and ratepayers stop being people?

What will the final tab be for cancelling the gas-fired power plants in Ontario? Why is Ottawa at odds with our scientific community? What parts of the environmental truths its scientists have discovered has it deemed so inconvenient that it’s muzzling them or letting them go? How do those truths not square with its ideology: by not playing to its base?

Happily, we can count on Rick Mercer and Jon Stewart when we desperately need comic relief.

This is an excerpt from a conversation that took place at Pearson International Airport in Toronto a few years ago:

FNM: “So how do you like Canada?”

EXECUTIVE FROM PARIS (EFP): “Toronto is a beautiful, clean city. My wife and I love knowing that we can go for a walk any time of day or night and feel secure,” he said. “We don’t fear for the safety of our children. Your streets are clean. Your city is so well maintained. Your scenery is breathtaking. You’re all so friendly.”

FNM: “But will you go back to France at the end of your assignment?”

EFP: “Yes. We miss the culture: the museums, the entertainment, the ambiance, the history.” Then he asked: “Why do you have so few monuments and statues?”

FNM: “ Our history dates from 1867. We’re one of the youngest developed countries on the planet. Your history dates from the Roman annexation of southern Gaul in the late second century BC. Armies have been crisscrossing Europe for centuries. Not so here. Yet Canadians have fought and died in both World Wars, in Korea, in Viet Nam and Afghanistan. Our monuments and statues honour them and our peacekeepers.

“We’ve had no territorial or regime-change ambitions. You won’t find ‘extraterritoriality’ or ‘projecting military power’ in the Canadian lexicon because that kind of thinking doesn’t resonate with the Canadian psyche. But neither do procurement practices that boil down to keeping the Canadian Armed Forces in enough bubble gum, duct tape and baling wire to patch up their antiquated equipment when it breaks down. They deserve better. Much better.”

We need heroes, the ones on Canada’s statues and monuments to be sure. And others like Gord Lightfoot who wrote and performed the Canadian Railroad Trilogy and the CBC’s Stuart McLean. Michaëlle Jean. Leonard Cohen. Hayley Wickenheiser. Margaret Atwood. David Suzuki. Wayne Gretzky. Add to that list our astronauts and our 23 Nobel laureates. We need them to help put the bounce back in our step.

An annual Pollara outlook survey found that “just over half of Canadians believe that the country is in recession”. Statistics Canada claims that the economy has been growing “for years” but “a weak labour market and financial insecurity are casting a dark cloud” according to Pollara’s associate vice-president. If that economic growth is real, why is that $500 billion in “dead money” still not in play?

We need leaders, visionaries and heroes. It’s no coincidence that one of the benefits of the Personal Due Diligence Project experience will be a deeper understanding of who Canadians are. A single wasted post-secondary graduate will be one too many because they’re all going to have to be better at solving the problems we’ve bequeathed to them than we were at creating them. ‘Own the Podium’ can take us just so far, but not far enough when Canadian executives showed their love for their fellow man by celebrating Christmas 2013 with 45,900 gifts of unemployment.

We need to encourage our entrepreneurs and small business owners because that’s where the action is going to be. The next generation deserves a sense of shared identity, destiny and vision. It’s one of the ties that bind us. Canada isn’t merely a piece of real estate with resources in it: Canada is its people.

If this is asking a lot of our next generation, it’s because they’re our future—all of them.

F. Neil Morris
The Personal Due Diligence Project

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