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Sunday, 1 July 2018

Canada Day 2018!

Hello and welcome to Embrace Space! Today, I'd like to wish everyone a happy Canada Day and discuss my opinions and perspectives on the Great White North. I warn you that this starts out less positive than is usual here, but I turn it around at the end.

Today is the 151st anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. Contrary to many nations, Canada got its start by, essentially, asking for permission to go its own way. There was no war for independence, but I am sure Confederation was not easy; have you ever tried to get a group of people to agree on something?

Canada is an interesting country, in that it is usually boring. No insult intended, but Canada is generally quieter in the news than others, especially it's nearest neighbour, and sometimes our problems are seen as quaint, cute, and trivial by comparison.

Someone, I cannot remember who, once said "Canada is a country of not being." As in, we're not American, we're not English, though we started that way, and we're not French, though this culture forms a strong part of our roots. This applies to both our identity, as well as our culture, the two being quite linked. Due to the massive entertainment industry in the US, much of Canada's culture is effected, at least, and defined, at most, by Hollywood and the American music scene. We have laws in Canada set up to ensure our radio stations play a certain percentage of Canadian music because, despite having a great wealth of Canadian talent, it is tough to see past the top 40 that our neighbours are constantly producing.

On the world stage, Canada rarely enters the news, nor the minds of citizens. Canadians are known as polite, quiet people, or often, mistaken for Americans. Canada is known for its peacekeeping endeavours, and in some cases, our Canadarm, but there are many who know almost nothing of Canada. Many French people perceive Canada as little more than Quebec, thinking the country little more than a French-speaking province with odd taste in French fries, cheese, and gravy, in that order.

Despite living in Canada for most of my life, I do feel that my own experience is quite limited. I lived in Ontario all the way through the university, spent a mere 8 months in Alberta, set foot in British Columbia, and have driven through a few other provinces. So, while I have a strong connection to many things I consider part of the Canadian experience, I obviously cannot speak for everyone, and shouldn't, as I haven't visited the territories, and know little of the truly diverse nation from which I originate. Yet, again, I'm offering my perspective.

Canada is huge. You hear this a lot. But one way we are truly different from the US is our lack of population density; 4 people per square kilometre compared to America's 300. Now, a major part of that is because of the sheer area of northern territory we have, but it does speak to the rather isolated nature of Canada. The majority of Canadians live in Ontario, so it follows that so too does much of the money and influence. Western and Eastern provinces feel neglected, but not as much as northern and Native American populations. Quebec, one of the founding provinces, has tried to separate several times, and despite a lot of compensation on their behalf to preserve language and culture, there is still unrest.

Canada does have a lot of fantastic systems, including excellent educational institutions and programs, and of course the medical coverage provided to all. In many ways, Canada is seen as a politically left, almost socialist country, given the strong availability of governmental support programs. These systems are not perfect, nothing is, but it is relieving to have these systems to help us get through life, work, school, and serve our medical needs.

I think that many Canadians feel a certain amount of security, nigh smugness, when we think of ourselves, especially in comparison with our southern neighbour. We don't have the same problems, and when we do, they often appear much smaller, especially driven by our lower population. We don't have the same scale of gun violence, medical crisis, nor outright racial tension that is seen every moment of every day on the American news.

But before I talk about the good, I must air the bad, I must talk about something that has been building for some time, and truly threatens what I think it means to be Canadian.

America is going through a very tough time right now. There are more issues than I could count, and every day feels like a struggle, even to me, even though I live far away in France. My heart feels heavy and I know that so many things have to change in order to get better. It's not a simple manner of removing one person from power, though that would certainly help. There is not one single solution, but a lot of hard work needed to correct the course.

Many Canadians, whether we admit it or not, feel superior to their neighbours. Not always in a condescending way, just a "well, that wouldn't happen here" kind of way. A relaxation of vigilance, a confidence which leads to comfort, which often is a sign of naivety.

The truth is, the isolationist, nationalist, racist, ignorant, entitled viewpoints which are so strongly on display in America right now are also present in Canada. In fact, given just how physically isolated most of our population is, and how much we have in common with the US, I am surprised that we didn't crack first, didn't show much of our true problems sooner. I am not an expert in many things, especially sociology and politics, but I think that our lower population, our lack of a war for independence driving our population to a constant search for freedom, and our more quiet, calm, confidence has kept us from becoming the hotbed for unrest that we see today in America.

But the problems are there.

Again, I can only really speak from my perspective, in my opinion, but when the choices for the political leadership in Canada rest between two candidates many feel are extremely corrupt, and only 51% of eligible voters vote, of course I feel this way. Many call Doug Ford, the new Premier of Ontario, "Mini Trump". Many argue against this title. The truth, of course, likely lies in the middle. Calling him mini Trump is more of a shorthand; for those willing to think it through, it just refers to the isolationist, ethically-stretching, playing both sides of the house attitude that both political leaders seem to have. To clarify that last point, both Ford and Trump appear to be men of the people, serving the middle class first, but their actions lean more toward the 1%. Of course, I'm not backing up any of my claims, just sharing a perspective of what I've seen, and what I've heard. 

The fact is, regardless of who the Premier is, the people are troubled. Financial unrest is rampant, with the definition of the middle class pushing hard up and down, making fewer people richer, and creating disparity and dichotomy among the rest. The country that is so proud of its governmental support often leaves its citizens not just without the privileges which a 1st-world country could offer, but without basic amenities. This disparity, combined with the normally isolationist viewpoint most North Americans are subject to, creates distrust between people and the government, between people and the police, between anyone who is different. Living in Europe has really opened my eyes. There are many here who know nothing of Canada, and I realize that there are many in Canada who know nothing of Europe. Not an insult to anyone, just an indication that the educational and cultural systems in both places could stand some improvement. Perspective is a bridge to understanding, empathy, and compassion. North America, just through geography alone, often doesn't have the perspective on the rest of the world.

Speaking less abstractly, I have seen more and more dark spots in the sheen of Canada these past few years. Likely, much of this is elevated by the stress of our times, as well as through social media and my growing up. But, I do feel like Canada is slipping right now, and I hope we can set things back on course.

I am tired of seeing racist rhetoric on Facebook, Twitter, etc. I am tired of seeing ignorant ideas shared over and over again. Tired of seeing evidence of political and corporate corruption, as well as conspiracy theories of the same. Old-dated viewpoints, new and untested perspectives and policies, all are clashing on a daily basis. I have avoided speaking on much of this, and I have been privileged in being able to do so. These issues have barely affected me personally, but I know they exist, they are troubling, and they feel like they are getting worse.

In the last year, I have really tried to better myself and be a better example to those with whom I interact. I have put my foot down on certain points in certain conversations. I have started questioning the rhetoric and having a zero tolerance policy for intolerance, foolishness, and stubborn ignorance. Many days, it is hard. Even if I admit the troubling circumstances which can lead many to having such extremely intolerant and ignorant viewpoints, there are so many times where it is impossible to combat these perspectives, because the one sharing it isn't willing to listen, or consider another side. It is easy to "hide and mute" conversations on social media, but it's not enough. It is easier to question the logic of an argument than the emotion, but it is not always enough. Still, we have to do everything we can.

Let's turn this conversation around, shall we?

Canada is a lovely country. It is extremely beautiful with lovely natural and urban wonders. The Canadian shield, Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, the maritime coastlines, all quite stunning. The dynamic culture in our cities, so many walks of life working and living together. It is something to behold. 

Canada has excellent relationships with the rest of the world. Traditionally strong trading relationships with the US, Europe, Asia, and elsewhere. We are a cooperating member state of the European Space Agency, and despite a much smaller financial contribution to the International Space Station, our robotic arm is not only proudly displayed on our $5 bill, but a very important part of that beautiful symbol of cooperation orbiting several hundred kilometres above us.

More Canadians than you know are culturally influential. If we narrow the list to music and film, you may be really surprised at how many performing Canadians you know. Of course, you probably just thought they were American and, of course, I'm sure they won't mind.

We are the land of poutine, Naniamo bars, buttertarts, Tim Hortons, and a lot of other things far less sweet. Our people are strong, and surprisingly united given our physical isolation. Canada's tradition of inclusion is known the world over, and we have made many strides in recent decades to continue and improve.

We have problems, sure, but we also have potential. Canada can serve as an example, and should. We have many things in common with the US, including its current stress, but we can show that there is a better way forward. We can foster cooperation and diversity, tolerance and acceptance. We can remain proud, but also vigilant. We must seek out corruption and systems favouring the 1%, and we must eradicate it. We must do so with conviction, but also with caution. We must not let ourselves sink to the lowest levels of humanity and beyond.

I realize this was a tough post to read. It was a tough one to write. I love my country and its people, but I am not happy with certain things. Part of growing up, I think, is realizing that nothing is ideal, that there are dark spots to everything, but also gaining the confidence and courage to fight for the light, and realize things could both be worse, and improved. 

For me, I am spending another Canada Day in France, where I live. I am enjoying the sunshine, and the walk along the canal will remind me of summer fun with friends and family back home. I wish everyone a very happy and safe Canada Day, hoping that wherever you are, the weather is nice, the people are friendly, the food and drink are ready, that you are safe, and that my piece gets you thinking, but doesn't get you down. 

We are all in this together. Be the Canada you have always dreamed of, the one you're proud of, reach out a helping hand to others, be polite but strong of will, and together, we will make a brigher tomorrow. Work toward these positive examples, and share these stories. Do not lose hope, even now. For those non-Canadian readers of mine, I encourage the same; do not give in to despair and be ready to empower yourselves, and your neighbours, to fight against the darkness. 

Thank you all very much for reading. I thank you for putting up with this nearly morose piece, but I wanted to air my grievances, and I feel much better. I hope you do too, and I hope to write about more fun, interesting, and inspirational things on this blog soon enough.

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