Celebrating Canada’s 150th with Eyes Wide Open

By Jay Menard

It’s not been perfect getting here. In fact, it’s downright horrible for a lot of people. But I’m still going to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday today — with open eyes and an open heart — because I’m proud of who were are.

And I’m even more hopeful for who we can become.

I’m going to celebrate and I’m not going to ask for forgiveness for doing so. I also completely understand those who choose to denounce the celebrations — and I appreciate and support those reasons.

But I guess I don’t see a celebration of this nature as being a validation of everything that’s come before it. Instead, it’s a benchmark along a much longer path towards securing a better future for everyone.

Yes, that includes reconciliation. Yes, that includes looking at our past, acknowledging our mistakes, acknowledging that some of those “mistakes” weren’t mistakes at all, but rather callous and even willfully genocidal in nature. That’s why I hope the reoccupation teepee set up at Parliament Hill becomes a permanent fixture. Or permanent until we can come to a mutually beneficial settlement on land claims, broken treaty promises, and governance rights.

And that includes recognizing that even today, in a so-called enlightened time, we have significant social challenges. We’re not perfect.

Unlike our neighbours to the south and its Melting Pot mentality, I believe our country’s strength comes from the fact that we are a cultural mosaic. You can’t define what it means to be Canadian, because there are so many different ways to be Canadian. From west to east; north to south we are a collection of different languages, dialects, traditions, and cultures. And we’ve only been strengthened

That’s why I hope we can get past a point where the primary definer of the value (or lack thereof) is predicated on sex, colour, age, or any other identifier. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

I look forward to a day where people won’t take offense to a white, CIS-gendered male quoting such a powerful statement. And I look forward to a day when we’re colour-blind to content — where the value of the idea alone is weighted based on its quality, not by the sex, gender identity, colour, race, religion, or political affiliation of the person who uttered it. I look forward to a Canada where we actually lift up and listen to each other’s voices — not merely tear them down because of things beyond our control — like age, sex, gender, religion, and colour.

I also worry that day won’t come. I see a Canada that’s increasingly fragmented — polarized socially and politically. I see a Canada where both left and right-wing, self-professed “advocates” and “progressives” use the same tactics to suppress dissent, spread misinformation, and focus on only their own agendas.

I see a Canada where there’s a lot of dirty pool being played. And I see a Canada where few realize this isn’t a game.

But I come back to a celebration of hope and promise. We have people who are passionate about Canada, who have views of how to make it better. We have talented, intelligent people from all walks of life, young and old, able-bodied and not, across all races, cultures, sexes, and genders, who want to contribute — and we have an appreciation of the barriers that we’ve put up over the past 150 years that prevents people from having equitable access to society.

We have hope. We have a country that, by and large, is pretty darn good. We have a country to which people flock; not a country from which people flee. We have a country that has a solid foundation, but more than a few flaws. And we have an opportunity and, I believe, a willingness to get better.

It’s not enough to blow out the candles and make a wish. We need to take action, as a society. And we haven’t been good about that. We sign pledges without living up to the spirit of those agreements. We elect politicians who promise action, but then tolerate them rolling back those promises as “part of the game.” We have leaders who talk about inclusion and community, but then resort to the same tricks, games, and patronage-based system that’s been a part of our society too long.

Still, we have a country that’s worthy of celebration — not in the way of a “crossing the finish line” celebration, but like a birthday. Another year, filled with some ups and some downs. It’s not a celebration of perfection, but a recognition of the process, how far we’ve come, and how much further we have to go.

That’s why I proudly celebrate Canada’s 150. Not blindly, not ignorantly, and not oblivious to what’s wrong, but one that tempers that knowledge with an appreciation of what we’re doing right — and, hopefully, where we’ll go in the future.

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