I’ve spent many days lately pondering the experience that makes the country I call home great.
And today, on Canada Day, is no exception.
Canada to me, means beautiful natural landscapes – it means kind and friendly people. It means access to affordable health care and the ability to find meaningful employment. But there’s way more to it than that.
One of the most memorable times of true Canadiana for me, was when I saw one of Canada’s national icons, the Tragically Hip, play in front of a crowd at Downsview Park in Toronto. The sea of fans seemed like it had no end. In between sets, strangers joined together and sang the national anthem, without prompting, without a musical accompaniment, just because they care so much about this country.
I remember when it seemed like our collective world stopped after Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal in Vancouver to lift Canada to its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years. I screamed in the streets with friends, with our red and white Canada jerseys proudly hanging on our shoulders. It was like I had won gold medal. There was passion in our nation that night. There was pride. Sure it was just a game, but it was Canada’s game. We carried the flag down our residential street like heroes, for no reason other than we could.
What I didn’t realize all those years ago, perhaps ignorantly, is that was an incomplete picture of this country. And over the last year few years, we’ve been forced to reconcile with some of the more shameful moments in Canada’s history.
In 2021, just weeks away from Canada Day, the suspected remains of 215 children in unmarked graves were discovered at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. It brought a dark cloud over what is usually a joyous time. And rightfully so. We always gleefully embrace our country’s kind, inclusive and welcoming nature and yet, a significant aspect of Canada’s past has all too often been swept under the rug.
If we want to move forward, we must also acknowledge the mistakes of the past. We must pass on the story of those failures or risk the possibility of it being repeated down the line.
While we reconcile with Canada’s checkered past, the meaning of Canada Day and the pride in our flag has also met a different meaning over the past few years.
Now if you see it on a car, you’re left to wonder if the person bearing the flag is a freedom-fighting, anti-government, anti-establishment, us-against-the-world type.
And they’re totally entitled to that belief. That’s what makes Canada such a great country – the opportunities abound to express yourself and your opinions with a free and safe democracy. (I often joke that they just left the flags on after supporting the World Juniors or the last Olympic cycle.)
While some feel that inalienable right is being challenged, many are comfortable with Canada’s place in the world. According to many metrics, Canada is one of the freest countries in the world (13th according to the Fraser Institute).
If you listen to some conservatives talk, they make it seem like Canada has turned into some third-world, dystopia wasteland that is virtually inhabitable if we continue down the current path.
Canada of course, is not without its problems. Bail reform, foreign interference, lack of action on climate change, poor gun control policy, economic uncertainty, inflation and a housing crisis.
And while those faults have wide-ranging impacts and need significant action, many Canadians still enjoy a relatively comfortable life.
The U.S. and World Report News ranks Canada third in quality of life beyond only Denmark and Sweden, based on “an equally weighted average of scores from nine country attributes that relate to quality of life in a country: affordable, a good job market, economically stable, family-friendly, income equality, politically stable, safe, well-developed public education system and well-developed public health system”.
We can be better, sure. I think if Canada can’t improve some of the significant issues facing our citizens, it is a failure of democracy.
It’s up to us to create a better future – to demand a better future. One that we can ALL be proud of.
My challenge to you is this: go out and get your face painted and wear the flag and Red and White proud. Watch the fireworks like you always have. But take a second to remember what Canada is all about, along with some of the troubling aspects of its past and how we need to reconcile with that in order to remain the true north, strong and free that we’ve become so proud of over the years.
Byron Hackett is the Managing Editor of the Red Deer Advocate and the Alberta Regional Editor for Black Press Media.