Canada at 150 Should Celebrate and Accept Its Past
Canada at 150 Should Celebrate and Accept Its Past

As Canadians marked our 150th year as a nation on July 1, there was much to celebrate.

We appear to have outgrown at least for now our national unity crisis. International opinion surveys frequently indicate that our quality of life, including our education, natural environment, democratic governance and rule of law, the economy, and health and social programs, are among the best in the world.

We regularly appear on surveys as the country to which many residents of other countries would most like to relocate.

Most Canadians are immigrants, refugees or their descendants; national and provincial governments of all political stripes now recognize this reality. This is a reality made all that more obvious by 320,000 immigrants admitted in 2016 alone making us a country with one of the highest per-capita immigration rates in the world. 

More than a fifth of us are now foreign-born. Recent opinion surveys indicate that about four-fifths of us view immigration as having a positive economic impact. Our newcomers are assessed as the world’s most successful immigrants.

Since the mid-1960s, non-refugee immigrants have been admitted under policies which favor those who, based on age, education, language ability, job skills and other factors, are likely to build our economy.

The consequence is a foreign-born cohort that is evidently more educated than in any other nation, hard-working, and creators of myriad new business and social enterprises. As Canadians, we should remember that the immigrants that contributed so much to the benefits we enjoy today came to Canada with a dream and made that dream a reality. They were not for the most part uneducated and poor.

People participate in the East York Toronto Canada Day parade, as the country marks its 150th anniversary with "Canada 150" celebrations, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 1, 2017. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
People participate in the East York Toronto Canada Day parade, as the country marks its 150th anniversary with “Canada 150” celebrations, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on July 1, 2017. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

From these demographics comes our widespread public support for multiculturalism and diversity. Also, our capacity to keep right- and left-wing demagogues mostly away from the reins of government at the municipal, provincial, and national levels.

The political appeal of “us-versus-them” is minimal as strong coalitions of newcomers help to mute marginalized opponents. All political parties compete for the support of newcomers; Canada has thus far avoided the political extremism and polarization plaguing too many democracies.

As I write this near Paris after a rally of tens of thousands of persons calling for peaceful democratic regime change in Iran, it seems that the French Revolution’s then much-abused rallying cry of “liberty, equality, fraternity” has considerable positive application in Canada more than two centuries later.

With Emmanuel Macron’s recent election as France’s president, our two countries appear to have more in common than for several decades.

Both French and Canadians now appear to accept that the need for stronger democratic institutions and universal values has rarely been greater across the world. Isolationism, nativism, populism and protectionism took much of the world to disaster in the 1930s and must be avoided today.

Fireworks explode over Ottawa's Parliament Hill as part of Canada Day celebrations as the country marks its 150th anniversary since confederation, in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on July 1, 2017. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie.)
Fireworks explode over Ottawa’s Parliament Hill as part of Canada Day celebrations as the country marks its 150th anniversary since confederation, in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada on July 1, 2017. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie.)

It is also true that many Canadians, like others in the United States and around the world, sense that their voices are not being heard. National leaders need to recognize this phenomenon and to improve the availability and quality of work, most notably in the manufacturing sector. More robust standards for work place safety and decent pay are required in many countries.

Most importantly however we can and must do better with respect to Indigenous Peoples.

On the third anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, its 94 calls to action seek to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation.”

Indigenous groups from the Nisga’a in B.C. to the Mi’kmaq on the east coast have experienced the wounds from colonization.  Their men have a life expectancy nine years shorter than the rest of the population; their women six years.  They have higher rates of unemployment and suicide. The appointment of an indigenous leader as next Governor General would be a useful step in a new direction. 

But just as important, if not more so, Canada needs to accept its past in order to build its future. Accepting our past means teaching our history in a way that reflects the truth about how we became a nation. As long as Canada and other nations teach future generations one-sided history, reconciliation will remain unattainable.

Given the immigration statistics presented above, we can see how new Canadians, if they are not taught a complete history of their new-found home, have little or no opportunity to understand the perspective of Indigenous Peoples and why reconciliation is important.

As immigrants continue to be a rapidly growing demographic, they need to fully understand what Canada is and why Indigenous Peoples deserve and are owed the utmost consideration in the construction of the future of Canada.

“Forward together” is likely to become an informal credo in the next period of our national history.

David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Epoch Times.

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