On Confederation’s 150th anniversary, Canadians have much to be proud of: our unity, prosperity, institutions and strength. These attributes are, in many ways, the products of the design, ingenuity and values of our history’s most remarkable leaders, as several writers have argued in these pages in recent weeks.
We enjoy a constitutional architecture that protects the diversity of Canada’s unique parts, while ensuring our unity as a nation. We have a democratic structure that ensures all Canadians are represented in government, and that grievances are heard and addressed through orderly processes. We have a judicial system that ensures all Canadians are treated equally under the law, and which has particularly helped put Canada on the path to redressing the historical wrongs suffered by First Nations peoples. We have rules-based institutions, which ensure our dollar is stable and our markets sound. And we have a military that has performed admirably in many of the most significant wars and conflicts of the past century, and has helped earn Canada a respectable reputation around the world.
So we have reason to be proud of ourselves. But in other respects, we must be humble and grateful, because Canada’s prosperity, peace and stability are also the product of great luck. Canada has been lucky, for example, to be the favoured neighbour and trading partner of the United States, which, on its way to rising as the world’s greatest power, has lifted our boat with its tide. We have been fortunate to inhabit a land of enormous scope and tremendous natural abundance, which has enabled us to become a wealthy nation. And we are blessed that this land sits in an isolated corner of the world, largely insulated from concerns of foreign invasion or sudden waves of uninvited border crossers.
But for all our accomplishments of the past century and a half — whether arduously earned or fortuitously begotten — there are too many things about Canada that make us seem so much more immature than we should be at this age. It is easy to make the mistake of concluding that our run of luck has been somehow promised to us, or that we are owed another 150 years of such good fortune. Canada has been gifted an incredible head start, but it is time to put away childish things — all those bad habits left over from earlier, less enlightened eras.
On the international stage, Canadians largely claim to understand the value of free trade and our government continues to pursue agreements on a country-by-country basis, yet our leaders remain unwilling to dismantle numerous archaic industrial and agricultural protections that hurt Canadians and undermine the free trade negotiations we undertake with other nations. Like the mercantilists of centuries past, it continues to elude us that our barriers and tariffs hurt us more than our trading partners, unnecessarily raising all Canadians’ cost of living while hurting our economy by protecting inefficient producers.
Even domestically, the provinces allow absurd internal trade barriers to stand in the way of a strong economic union, despite clear constitutional language to the contrary. Meanwhile, our governments at all levels perennially lose sight of the importance of keeping our financial books in order, and are far too careless about running deficits and allowing debts to balloon, routinely setting back our progress in achieving greater prosperity and success.
And about our great democracy. Somehow, in the 21stcentury, federal political power has now become more centralized in the Prime Minister’s Office than anytime in recent memory. Meanwhile, the Senate finds change only in the variety of ways it manages to thwart attempts at reforming it into an institution of accountability and respectability. Militarily, federal governments habitually underinvest in our defence and remain far too fearful of playing a meaningful, muscular role on the world stage. And while we have largely succeeded in moving past the deepest divisions between Canada’s French and English societies, we have yet to figure out how to meaningfully incorporate Canada’s indigenous peoples into our institutions beyond mere symbolism or tokenism, or how to work effectively with them to address the appalling conditions so many of them face in inner cities or on reserves.
Thus, while we join with all Canadians in celebrating this day, we are also getting a jump on writing our birthday wish list for the years to come. Perhaps by Canada’s 200th, we’ll be able to celebrate a Canada that boasts of the many virtues it possesses today, but finally with the seriousness it now lacks in pulling its weight in international conflicts, and contributing its share to military alliances. We’d like to be able to celebrate having a government that involves itself in the economy where necessary, but not necessarily. And we want to be able to celebrate a country in which all Canadians have the opportunity to enjoy the standard of living that befits a First World nation.
Canada does not need to be perfect to be worth celebrating. But as this country marks its 150th, we should give thought to what actions we can take in the years to come to make Canada even stronger, freer and more just. If we intend not to squander the very things we celebrate this July 1st, we cannot leave such important matters to chance.