An extraordinary, virtually unprecedented development is taking place in Ottawa and many Canadians (this author included) have almost missed it: the federal government is seeking input from ordinary citizens about an important national event. That’s right: it’s not just oil companies that get to tug on Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s ear — the rest of us can now have a say, too.
It’s all on a government website. Ottawa hopes to celebrate the upcoming 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 and it actually wants to give Canadians the opportunity to participate. At least, that’s how it appears. That’s what the federal minister of Heritage and Official Languages said the government plans to do when she spoke at a news conference in early December, although she seemed to focus more on image than substance.
“How do we brand the 150th anniversary?” Shelly Glover asked — presumably hoping that no one would answer, “With a red hot poker on the backside!”
Glover’s question, slightly reworded, is the third one on a list of eight — a list that seems more like a test than a survey, since there are apparently right answers and wrong ones: “Inappropriate language or responses that don’t relate to the Canada 150 topic will not be considered.” Inappropriate language — you mean like French? Knowing the Conservative Party, ‘inappropriate’ likely includes words like ‘Liberal’ and ‘Trudeau’ and possibly even ‘democracy’ or ‘ministerial accountability’. However, what terms are forbidden is not spelled out.
So, let’s get on with the exam. As is always prudent, we should read all the questions before starting to answer them. The final three are the easiest, as it turns out — easiest, that is, if one is not forgetful of one’s age, gender and province or territory of residence (so Senators should be extra careful).
Question number one: “Which of Canada’s accomplishments over the last 150 years make you most proud to be Canadian?”
Sorry, but now I’m already confused. The last 150 years? What about what might happen over the next three years before 2017 actually arrives? Maybe the question is intentionally worded that way to prevent anyone from answering: The resounding defeat of Stephen Harper’s majority government in the 2015 federal election — although you’d think such an answer could already be barred if it’s interpreted as being off topic. So, let’s be safe and just consider things that have happened in the last 147 years instead.
Well, for me there’s one obvious answer: Confederation itself — a noble experiment designed to heal the wounds caused in old European wars by forging a bond between diverse and often conflicting cultures. The experiment has not been a total success, but Canada is nevertheless still here, more or less, which is more than anyone can say about other such countries like Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
“Do you think our 150th anniversary should have a theme? What do you think it should be?”
No — let’s just celebrate.
“Which Canadians have inspired you most over the last 150 years?”
That’s an easy one: Marc Garneau — the first Canadian in space — and all our other astronauts. Lucky sods! Then, of course, Norman Bethune — such selfless determination deserves unending admiration. Oh, and our great writers: Alice Munro, Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley, to name but a few. Even some politicians, regardless of stripe, have inspired me: Rene Levesque and Joe Clark in particular. It’s their integrity I admire.
“How would you like to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017? Personally, gathering with a few good friends to toast Canada with glasses of tasty microbrewery beer would be my choice for a celebration. As for how I think North West River should mark the occasion, I’m a traditionalist: the usual flag-waving kayak flotilla.
“In honour of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, what could you or your community do for future generations?” Easy: re-establish a caring social democracy that respects and protects diversity and dissent; one that learns how to build a sustainable economy based on improving the world, not exploiting it. All done! Have I passed?
Michael Johansen is a writer living in North West River, Labrador