Col­umn / Don New­man

Policy - - In This Issue - Col­umn / Don New­man

Peace, Unity and the Cana­dian Way

Where did the time go?

As Canada marks its 150th birth­day, it doesn’t seem all that long ago that we were cel­e­brat­ing the cen­te­nary, in 1967.

Since the cen­ten­nial flame, the school trips, the build­ing projects and Bobby Gimby lead­ing us singing Ca-na-da, one third of Canada’s his­tory has oc­curred. And many of us have lived all of it. More of us have lived much of it and ev­ery­one has lived some of it.

As at any sig­nif­i­cant an­niver­sary, it is in­cum­bent on us to pause, look back at what has been ac­com­plished, and then look ahead to what re­mains to be done.

As we look back at the past 50 years, what are the mile­stones, and what are the things that we wouldn’t want to keep do­ing over and over?

The most im­por­tant thing fits both of those cat­e­gories. We have learned that we can’t take our coun­try for granted. Twice in the past 50 years, our very ex­is­tence has been threat­ened. Both times, in 1980 and again in 1995, we had to fight ref­er­en­dums on Que­bec se­ces­sion.

That is some­thing that we don’t want to keep do­ing over and over. And maybe we won’t have to. Be­cause cer­tainly the best thing that il­lus­trates what it means to be a Cana­dian hap­pened af­ter the sep­a­ratists lost the 1995 ref­er­en­dum by the ra­zor thin mar­gin of one point, 50.56 to 49.44 per cent.

If you can’t re­mem­ber what hap­pened af­ter that ref­er­en­dum that is be­cause noth­ing hap­pened. De­spite the close­ness of the vote and the ob­vi­ous dis­ap­point­ment of the losers there were no ri­ots, no demon­stra­tions, no pub­lic van­dal­ism. In­stead they ac­cepted the re­sults, licked their wounds and went home to plan an­other try some other time. Sep­a­ratists in Que­bec acted in a very Cana­dian way.

That hap­pened be­cause of wis­dom shown 50 years ago, when sep­a­ratists and sep­a­ratism were in the as­cen­dancy. In most coun­tries peo­ple who wanted to break that coun­try up would be ar­rested, im­pris­oned or de­ported.

But in this coun­try, we Cana­di­an­ized sep­a­ratism, even agree­ing to call it the sovereignty move­ment, much more re­spectable. The “soft ques­tion” in 1980 asked Que­be­cers if they wanted both sovereignty and eco­nomic “as­so­ci­a­tion” with Canada.

We de­cided that if Que­bec sep­a­ratists could achieve their goals po­lit­i­cally— then the rest of the coun­try would have to deal with them po­lit­i­cally. The re­sult is that sep­a­ratists have been turned into politi­cians. Not in Canada would they be por­trayed as ro­man­tic free­dom fight­ers, hid­ing in the woods, sweep­ing down to stage hit and run at­tacks.

In­stead, they be­came mem­bers of the de­cid­edly un­ro­man­tic po­lit­i­cal class, deal­ing with pot­holes in roads, wait­times for health care, ed­u­ca­tion and taxes. By deal­ing with sep­a­ra­tion and sep­a­ratists in a Cana­dian way, we made it less likely to hap­pen.

Now as we em­bark on the next 50 years, we have to use that com­bi­na­tion of Cana­dian in­ge­nu­ity and com­mon sense to solve other press­ing prob­lems.

How to get our en­ergy re­sources to world mar­kets while com­bat­ing ris­ing world tem­per­a­tures? Dif­fi­cult, yes, but surely no more dif­fi­cult that turn­ing sep­a­ratists into politi­cians. And longer term, and as im­por­tant as ac­com­mo­dat­ing Que­bec within Canada in the last 50 years, is deal­ing with the plight of our first peo­ple, in­dige­nous Cana­di­ans.

Ar­guably the plight of First Na­tions is even worse than it was 50 years ago. The Res­i­den­tial Schools have fi­nally been shut down, but their ru­inous ef­fects linger on. As more young in­dige­nous peo­ple have left re­serves and re­lo­cated in cities, they have been com­pletely un­pre­pared.

Un­e­d­u­cated and un­em­ployed, they have fallen vic­tim to the worst ills of the cities: Al­co­holism, drug ad­dic­tion, pros­ti­tu­tion, lack of health care and all other man­ner of so­cial ills.

For Canada, this is the prob­lem of our time. If we as Cana­di­ans can­not ad­dress this prob­lem be­fore we cel­e­brate an­other sig­nif­i­cant an­niver­sary, then Canada will have lit­tle to cel­e­brate.

Don New­man is Se­nior Coun­sel at Nav­i­ga­tor Lim­ited and En­sight Canada, Chair­man of Canada 2020 and a life­time mem­ber of the Cana­dian Par­lia­men­tary Press Gallery. dnew­man@navltd.com

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