This happened a few weeks ago at Vancouver, B.C. just before my birthday. My nephew was driving me in downtown Vancouver and we were headed to Chapters bookstore. Just before getting there he asked whether I was looking for a specific book. I told him yes, that I was wanting to check out “The World Needs More Canada” and he gave an intriguing reply suggesting that if I were you I wouldn’t buy it. I asked him why and he gave this straight-faced answer that he couldn’t tell me why. Not wanting to disrespect his feelings we decided to instead hit the Mountaineering Equipment Company store but my mind kept wondering why he dissuaded me. Was it some inflammatory content in the book? Was it the antecedents of the author or publisher? Little did I realise that this book was going to be my birthday present which I received later that evening.
My tryst with Canada started way back in 1974 when my brother-in-law and sister decided to migrate to Montreal, later Toronto, then Ottawa and finally Vancouver B.C. In the years between, I have made 11 visits, have visited five of ten provinces and can claim to have a decent understanding of the country. My most recent visit coincided with Canada celebrating its sesquicentennial year with events laced all over the country.
Now, what makes Canada special?
As a student, when the world of global politics was just dawning on me, I was a keen follower of the then Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Eliot Trudeau, the current PM’s father. Those were the days when social media did not exist and I relied on the printed press. What fascinated me the most about Trudeau was that in his tenure, which coincided with the worst of the cold war, Canada managed to maintain excellent international relations. Trudeau’s determination to take on Quebec Premier René Lévesque to save the country from partition cannot be forgotten. Incidentally, in his era, the Canadian passport was the most coveted one on the planet. Perhaps it still is. At that time, I was just plain and simply fascinated by Trudeau’s antics and that there could be such a down-to-earth side of a head of state. He claimed, he was neither French nor English and that he was just Canadian.
At a first glance, especially to a visitor from India, you would struggle to differentiate between American and Canadian culture. It all looks the same till you dig deeper. There is a psychic difference between the two nations and their people and many Canadians get offended if they are referred to as Americans. Margaret Atwood, a noted Canadian poet has this to say “I have just come back from the United States, where Canada is having an unaccustomed moment in the spotlight. Once, Canada was that great blank space on the map above the 49th parallel where the cold weather came from. Now it is seen by many Americans as a beacon of light in a darkening world- a place you might escape to if things get too negative south of the border: still welcoming, still pluralistic, still committed to fairness “
This blog piece could very well have been titled “Why the U.S. Needs Canada” but that would be an understatement and would be doing injustice. Justin Trudeau’s welcoming of Syrian refugees was in stark contrast to many heads of state. Canada has a far better record on inclusiveness than most nations on this planet. The people of Canada are incredibly friendly which got re-affirmed during our recent fortnight long visit. Canada’s sheer expanse and Canadians respect for nature; safeguarding the environment and affinity for the outdoors stand out.
Canada is the land of Celine Dion, Donald Sutherland, Yann Martel, Deepa Mehta, Malcom Gladwell and many more artists. Norman Jewison, film maker says “My birthday wish for Canada for this year and years to come is that we may be an inspiration to the rest of the world for peace and understanding and international support for climate change.” Carrie-Anne Moss, actor, echoes similar sentiments “Being Canadian means growing up in an energy of innocence and goodness. It means caring about nature and the goodness of humanity”
However, as acknowledged by Margaret Atwood herself, Canada has not always been welcoming and kind and pluralistic and has not always been committed to fairness. But, Canadians are quick to apologise and if I were to make a relative comparison with other nations on this planet Canadians rank among the more empathetic. There is one unfinished business in Canada though and that is its treatment to citizens of the First Nation or the native Indians. In 2015, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission published its report and this seems to be finally seeping into the Canadian consciousness. During Canada’s 150th birthday party I found several references to this theme in the local media. Let us hope that Canadians can complete this reconciliation process swiftly.
To conclude, author Susan Juby, sums it up best “When I travel, I’m surprised if I meet people who don’t appreciate Canada’s consummate excellence. I half expect people from other countries to cheer when they learn that I am Canadian…The country isn’t perfect and there is a problematic history to contend with, but it’s still a place that fills me with gratitude and amazement.”
Shakti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org