The tremulous note hung heavily in the midst of early dawn, the mournful obligato of the trumpet paused in what seemed like suspended animation before plunging ahead into the final phrases of the anthem. Eyes that had been gazing skywards searched the ground in various disaffected manners as the flag was carefully detached for the final time from the cable which had lowered it from its once proud height. Stifled
sobs punctuated the still air from somewhere in the sparse crowd as the crimson-coated officer folded with measured precision the artifact which represented so much to those who had gathered this morning. A single orange finger of sunlight touched the sheen of brilliant red and white and then crept over to reveal the edge of a pointed maple leaf still visible in the folds of silk. An air of finality saturated the scene; no more would the emblem of the True North be hoisted aloft to show a country strong or free ….
I sat up quickly, disoriented — my pulse racing and droplets of sweat beaded on my forehead. The figures in the vision, or more accurately the spectres of the nightmare, receded, as I realized that what had been so vivid had not yet come to pass. Like Scrooge I asked myself whether or not these were the shadows of things that must be or only things that might be. Could Canada disappear as a nation, recalled only as a distant memory by those who loved it? Winnipeg singer/songwriter Steve Bell in his song “Lament for a Nation” wonders how Canada’s `requiem will sound’ in a song that captures the imagery of mourning.
“For every heartbreak poets lenda place where memory finds her bedfor everybody’s there’s a stoneto divide the living from the deadfor every nation come and goneyou’ll find a melancholy songtelling stories of her glory
for the ones who called her home.”
The report of our nation’s demise (I trust) is greatly exaggerated, but the threats are real enough as evidenced by continued foreign takeovers of Canadian corporations, the prospect of harmonized social and medicare programs with the U.S. being forced by the provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as well as the assault on our currency and other aspects of our international autonomy. Such real threats beg the inevitable question: “Why is Canada worth saving?” The answer lies in our capacity to balance social values and progress, and the model we exhibit of human diversity.
This country is worth fighting for because it is uniquely able to maintain a balance between progress and human social values. As a member of good standing of the world’s leading industrialized nations, Canada has a highly developed economy that is technologically advanced as evidenced by such marvels as the Canadarm used on the space shuttle. Yet even with the ongoing push to be globally competitive Canada has managed to maintain a social safety net that includes assistance for those without employment, and care for the most vulnerable members of our society, the children and the elderly, along with a health care system that, even though it is beleaguered, provides the best of health care possible to its citizens regardless of income or societal status. It is not a coincidence that for the last number of years, the United Nations has rated Canada as the most desirable country in which to live based on its balance of access to education, health care, and employment opportunities, amongst several other criteria. Canada continues to strive for that balance.
Canada also remains worth saving because we exist as a model of human diversity that the world needs to see and emulate. In contrast to the Catholic-Protestant tensions of Northern Ireland, and the palpable hatred that hangs like a heavy mist over the shattered ruins of the Balkans, Canada has managed to prevent its inner tensions from turning into civil war — a unique feat among developed nations. While other nations, notably the U.S.A., function as a melting pot where backgrounds, ethnicities, and traditions are tossed in and effectively drowned in the dominant culture, Canada has been able to piece together a mosaic of varied cultures and creeds where distinct pieces blend together when viewed from a distance, yet maintain a distinct character all their own. We have our own shameful moments from the past, our self-perceived `yellow peril’ and internment camps for loyal Japanese-Canadians, but ours is not a history of burning crosses or burning ghettos. In the crucible of our nation’s forging, French and English were forced to coexist from the very start and perhaps therein lies the key to our remarkably successful social experiment. In a land with geography so diverse and peopled with residents of the entire global village, Canada in microcosm shines like a lighthouse beacon to the world and sends the message that peaceful, meaningful coexistence is not just the substance of trite beauty queen speeches, but a real possibility in a world that desperately needs role models to look upon. It is easy to hyperbolize any country’s achievement but it is not careless overstatement to suppose that in our balance of progress and social values, as well as our human diversity, Canada remains an entity that is worth any amount of blood, sweat, and tears to preserve.