Canada has lost it way. How could it be otherwise when we have no navigators?
Over 150 years ago, representatives of what was then Upper and Lower Canada as well as the Maritimes—soon followed by the western provinces and northern territories—convinced the electorate that there could be collective strength in common purpose. And they did it without texting or social media, sans private planes and televised debates. There were no radio interviews, no campaign buses. The only way they could share ideas was in print (think handwritten letters and newspapers) and in person. Yet, Sir John A. MacDonald and his compatriots inspired a geographically dispersed population with equally divergent priorities to freely relinquish individual interests for the greater good. Together, they came to the unanimous agreement that “the best interests and present and future prosperity of British North America will be promoted by a federal union… provided such union can be effected on principles just to the several provinces.”
It’s those last six words that lost the most recent federal election to, well, everyone.
None of the leaders aspired to inspire; it’s easier by far to deliver fear-based campaigns that warn what not to vote for. They failed to reconcile Western Canada’s pipeline needs with British Columbia’s environmental concerns. Failed to counter Quebec’s growing alienation or mobilize our climate-crisis youth. Failed to link east with west, or even north with north. The severity of our seismic faults is immediately evident on our new electoral map, where caucuses of colour are so vastly territorial that you can clearly identify them by province and region. There is little mingling of ideologies here, even less room for compromise and absolutely no trace of those inconvenient founding principles about justice for all.
Ultimately, the 2019 federal election smacked us with a hard truth: Canada would likely not exist as a country if that unity depended on the quality of leadership we have today. I’m not ashamed to say the realization made me weep.
I’m also not ashamed to say that the leader about whom I was most hopeful—and am now the most disappointed in—is Justin Trudeau. Just four years ago, he galvanized the country with messages of equality, reconciliation and climate action. His promise to legalize marijuana showed a refreshing awareness of changing Canadian values and his government’s purchase of the TMX pipeline appeared to indicate his commitment to the development. But what started with so much shiny promise is now tarnished with brown face and SNC Lavalin. Alberta’s oil sands still have no conduit to market. Indigenous issues remain unreconciled. Cabinet equality was a fleeting dream.
Don’t take that to mean that either of the other leaders of the main political parties has done a better job. They most assuredly have not. Let’s face it, the Raptors’s #WeTheNorth playoff victory was a bigger nation builder than any Canadian leader in recent history.
On the day this magazine is published, I’m going to be in Halifax to hear an anomaly: a successful politician who is also a statesman and a visionary. I speak, of course, about President Barack Obama.
Dianne Kelderman of the Nova Scotia Co-operative Council, in the process of preparing for the presidential visit she had spent the past 18 months organizing for the NSCC’s 70th anniversary celebrations, sent me an email. She wanted to know what question I would put to the president, if I had the opportunity to do so. At the time of her ask, the former president was significantly retired from public life while former first lady Michelle Obama was starring the talk show circuit as she promoted her new book. The obvious question, I thought at the time, related to the reversal in their celebrity status.
I’d ask a different question today, if I could. How can we change a political system that increasingly depends on conflict for election success? Isn’t that what you should do when you don’t know where you’re going—stop and ask for directions?