It’s Canada Day and across this vast land, people are celebrating the true north, strong and free. We have every right to be proud of a nation that is so beautiful, peaceful and prosperous. I grew up in small-town Ontario and benefited greatly from what this country has to offer – public education, public health care and opportunities for girls to pursue a career of their dreams.
Yet, even a great country like Canada can always strive to be better. We can practice continuous quality improvement. The truth is that not all Canadians have fair access to the public benefits in which we take pride. We are facing threats as a nation (and a planet) that won’t be solved unless we become the very best version of ourselves. I’d like to propose three Canada Day commitments we could take individually and/or collectively that could help us be even stronger.
For Canada Day, here are three resolutions to consider:
- Get to know our country better
- Get to know one another
- Get to work together on the big challenges ahead
Get to know our country better
In the 3½ years that I was a cabinet minister, the biggest privilege I enjoyed was to travel the country and see places that very few Canadians get to visit. From Telegraph Creek in British Columbia to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories to Nain in Labrador, I saw more extraordinary beauty than my eyes could take in. I also met some of the kindest, bravest people I’ve known in my 58 years on this planet. I learned truths about this country and its history that I could have never learned from a book. It made me proud of the landscape and heritage of our nation. But it also made me realize how many people in the country have been (and continue to be) treated unjustly by our social and political systems.
Sadly, most Canadians won’t get the opportunity to travel as widely as I did over those 3½ years. But each of us could find some way to get to know our country better. That could be from studying our history through books (like Roy McGregor’s Canoe Country or Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian) or documents (like the final report the Truth and Reconciliation Commission). Perhaps better still, many of us could find a way to travel a little and explore more within our own country. Scott Gilmore wrote a great article earlier this year, called A Nation of Strangers, in which he articulates beautifully why and how we could do a better job of getting to know our extraordinary land. This brings me to the second resolution.
Get to know one another
It was the late, great Mr. Fred Rogers who said: “Frankly there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.” I believe that’s true. I acknowledge my own privilege in this regard. I spent three decades as a family doctor, where my job was all about getting to know people. I listened every day to the intimate and interesting stories of people’s lives, with the goal of helping them attain the highest possible level of health and wellness. The more we listen to one another, the more we know that regardless of skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, abilities, way of dressing – or any other way we categorize one another, we are all humans – with similar dreams, fears, and heartaches. We’re all fragile and we’re all wonderfully complex.
Canada is a nation where migrants from all over the world have come to join the first peoples of the land, to share and care for its resources. We pride ourselves in our diversity and acknowledge the strength that comes from including all cultures into our national mosaic. But we could do better at getting to know one another. There is too much temptation to distrust or misinterpret people whose history and culture is different from our own. Canada Day is a good time to think about how we can listen more to one another and get to know our neighbours. What are your ideas about how we can do this?
Get to work together
This is my greatest hope on Canada Day. We cannot think of Canada’s future without acknowledging the massive challenges ahead. For example, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to protect our air and water and save ourselves from the impacts of rising oceans and extreme weather events. We must tackle the growing gap between rich and poor, both within our borders and beyond them. We must affirm the rights of Indigenous peoples which constitute the minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being.
These matters will not be solved without serious collaboration. Politicians are among those who could do less arguing and more co-operating. The House of Commons is made up of 338 people, each elected by many thousands of their constituents and sent to the nation’s capital to determine how the country will go forward. Too much time is spent tearing down others. It seems anti-democratic to see how much energy is exerted by one set of politicians to try to make another group of politicians fail at their job. This kind of partisan rivalry is an enemy of progress. After four years in Ottawa, I’m convinced it doesn’t have to be that way.
What would Ottawa be like if each Member of Parliament (MP) wanted every other MP to succeed in improving their community? Isn’t that how the most effective organizations work?
We need to harness the power of collaboration and collective efficacy. For any given problem, we need to identify the best ideas from across the country and build consensus on the best path forward. I’ve been thinking about how I could support and work effectively with federal politicians of all parties. Here’s one idea: if re-elected in October, I’d like to set a goal to meet over coffee or a casual meal at least once with every other MP in the House of Commons – 337 meetings in four years. That seems achievable. Imagine what I could learn about the needs and resources of every part of our country. Imagine how much more could be done if each of us tried to contribute to the success of other elected representatives. It’s not a crazy idea. It’s about working together for the good of all. Canada is worth it.