Why Canada 150 fell flat
Like a lot of others I’d guess, I have the feeling the great sesquicentennial didn’t come off with the élan and charge that it should have. Even the climatic evenings on Parliament Hill lacked the full effusion of clear joy that living the harvest of our 150 years should have easily brought forward. And it wasn’t just the “tactical” miscues over security, the Styx-river length lineups to get to Parliament Hill, or the lack of any confident theme in the celebrations that dimmed things.
It’s hard to say, in any particular way, why the events of this July 1 weekend didn’t reach an appreciably different tone or pitch than that of the non-sesquicentennial celebrations of previous years. Maybe we’re just celebrated out. Maybe it’s because so many good causes now spatter the calendar. Or maybe there are so many festivals of “concern,” so many corporations, associations and institutions wishing to avail of this day or that day, for this cause or that group, that we can’t segregate the artificial from the authentic. Politicians flock to these ritual moments with that necessary zeal that comes with the longing to court a particular constituency, or to exhibit an easy commitment to the right donors or identity group.
So now, when a special moment comes about — a moment when we need to pause and commemorate a genuine instance of sacrifice or achievement in our common national endeavour — how can it stand out and alone from the blur of the routine and predictable?
We are also in an era where celebration has adopted a peculiar mode: that of the confession of sins not our own. The form has become too familiar. The preacher of the day puts on a mantle of showy humility and soulfully takes on the “responsibility” for all the dim deeds of our past. He chants the litany of past wrongs, and turns his affluent, virtue-ripe eyes to the derelictions and cruelties of the unenlightened generations that went under the Earth without an iPhone.
That the past had its sins and crimes is beyond all denial. But the rather zealous recounting of them implies a curious exemption from like failings in those who so piously enumerate them in our present.
There is an unavoidable charmlessness in sermons that take as their theme: “We thank thee Lord, that we are not like those who were before us.” Sermons that mine the histories of peoples past, to isolate their flaws and moral squalors, and detach them from the stream of their own time and circumstance, in order to judge and condemn them — now. But, quite wonderfully, implicit in the apology for the sin of another is that it is not one’s own, or indeed ever could be. It is the cry of the Pharisee. Every such apology is the vessel for a sly boast.
They were not as we are, and we are not as they were, is the sermon’s crux and burden. The preacher at such doings bathes lavishly in the waters of righteousness, at no cost. There is no moral turmoil in apologizing for the sins of someone else.