Harper urges Canadians to shed quiet nature to cheer on Canada’s Olympic team

VICTORIA — Canadians should drop their normally quiet nationalist ways during the Winter Olympics to loudly and proudly cheer on Canada’s Olympic athletes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper

VICTORIA — Canadians should drop their normally quiet nationalist ways during the Winter Olympics to loudly and proudly cheer on Canada’s Olympic athletes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday.

Harper helped lead the nationalistic charge, unfurling a Canadian flag with B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, and chanting, “Go, Canada, Go.”

In a speech in the B.C. legislature, Harper said Canadians should glow with national pride throughout the Games.

“Patriotism, ladies and gentlemen, patriotism as Canadians, should not make us feel the least bit shy or embarrassed,” he said, on the eve of the opening ceremonies that mark the start of the Olympics.

“There is nothing wrong, and there is much that is right, in celebrating together.”

Harper delivered a speech that was equal parts British Columbia history lesson and Olympic pep talk. He received a standing ovation from the normally divided members of the legislature, who had red Canadian Olympic mittens placed on their desks.

The prime minister’s appearance at the sitting B.C. legislature stirred controversy in Ottawa, where his own political arena, Parliament, remains shuttered until early March. The Opposition Liberals allege Harper prorogued Parliament in order to duck national debate.

Harper said nationalism has been abused by others in the past, but Canadians, who generally shy away from overt displays of national pride, should feel no embarrassment to be bursting with pride over the next few weeks.

“I know that thoughts of grandeur and boisterous displays of nationalism we tend to associate with others,” he said.

“And, over the centuries, things have been done around the world in the name of national pride or love of country that would have been better left undone.”

“Yet, we should never cast aside our pride in a country so wonderful, in a land we are so fortunate to call home, merely because the notion has sometimes been abused,” said Harper. “We will ask the world to forgive us this uncharacteristic outburst of patriotism, of our pride, to be part of a country that is strong, confident, and tall among the nations.”

Harper’s speech was not all about Olympics. He said Canada’s troops in Afghanistan and the country’s efforts to help the people of earthquake-stricken Haiti are also fitting tributes to what Canadians bring to the world — a compassionate and generous people who never move forward in anger, but only to help make the world a better place.

Campbell said Harper’s speech marked the first time a Canadian prime minister has spoke inside the B.C. legislature since the province joined Confederation in 1871.