My Canada is upside-down.
What I see around me is not the country I knew, not the one I have experienced, and certainly not the one I had hoped for when I was younger.
Something has gone seriously wrong. Given that we are now facing a premature provincial election as well as the expected federal election in the next four months, it’s time for an equally serious conversation.
Not a conversation numbed down to bumper stickers and political attack ads, but one that gets to the heart of what is wrong.
Not a partisan conversation, either, in which brains seize up at the thought of crossing party lines, but one that thinks about the children and their children, out to the seventh generation, and then decides what to do.
I know just how long a time that is — as long as my white ancestors have been in Canada, arriving as United Empire Loyalist refugees after the American Revolution, after already spending 150 years as settlers and builders in New England.
My Aboriginal ancestors met their boats — in the 1630s and the 1780s — and were assimilated well before anyone thought of the concept or what it meant.
Colonizer and colonized, bearing both privilege and loss, my family history hints at the patchwork quilt of new and old that Canada became — and should still be.
But this Canada Day, I wore my Canada flag pin upside-down. Inverting a flag — flying it upside-down — is a traditional maritime signal of a serious problem, of a ship requiring assistance.
As the Arctic warms, the sea levels rise, and forests across the country burn, our governments dither about what to do in a warming world. They lack the wisdom to act, however, not the knowledge of what to do. They subsidize fossil fuels, instead of a sustainable future, more concerned about their own comfort than our children’s survival.
Seventy-five years after the D-Day invasion, we can do much better. Back then, in six years, Canada went from being a Depression-era pauper in 1938 to a modern industrial powerhouse that helped to win the Second World War in Europe. Today, the rich get fewer and richer, the poor grow in number and in poverty, and we are told this is the way things must be.
My Canada used lines of iron to forge a nation with a railroad that brought people from both coasts together in a common interest. Our current federal government approved more lines of pipe that will guarantee both division and environmental destruction — right after declaring a climate emergency.
My Canada would not have allowed a handful of unelected Conservative senators to torpedo legislation implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Worse, this happened at the same time as a long-overdue report condemned the genocide inflicted on Indigenous Canadians, especially women and girls.
My Canada would be ashamed of turning away migrants and refugees, having learned its collective lesson from the way it treated Jewish refugees from Nazi-era Europe. My Canada would not put up barriers to the reunification of families today, or limit the private sponsorship of refugees.
The face of my Canada would not normally be white, nor would its leadership usually be male.
My Canada would offer an alternative to the world of how to embrace diversity and live together in peace, countering the tensions, distrust and hostility that are too often found elsewhere. When I ask my international students “What does a Canadian look like?” they puzzle over the question and hesitate to answer… before I tell them to look in the mirror. I point out that the diversity they experience here will be found nowhere else on the planet, and that they should embrace it as the most important part of whatever education they will receive.
Yet today we have political leaders, or would-be leaders, either embracing or excusing racism, claiming to speak for the fearful in a rapidly-changing global society, justifying exclusions and arbitrary rules that would have left their own ancestors on the outside, looking in.
My Canada would provide health care for everyone, not only those who happen to have money and privilege and live in large urban centres. My Canada would also find ways to fund disease prevention, not just its treatment, instead emphasizing the health of all local communities, good food everywhere, and an active lifestyle for everyone.
My Canada would be led by politicians whose lives were enriched by the experience, not by the office, who demonstrated humility and responsibility instead of flaunting privilege and power.
But right now, my Canada is upside-down — is yours?
Join the conversation on Twitter and tell me about your Canada — what it is, and what it should be.
Peter Denton is a Manitoba-based activist and author. Watch for My Canada is Upside Down, in print by summer’s end.