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What Did Canadians Celebrate On July 1st?

This past July 1st few people celebrated the deal that was struck in 1867.

07/12/2017 13:29 EDT | Updated 07/12/2017 13:29 EDT
Mark Blinch / Reuters
People watch the East York Toronto Canada Day parade, as the country marks its 150th anniversary with "Canada 150" celebrations, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada July 1, 2017.

As expected, not all Canadians wanted to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the country. It was greeted with a good deal less interest and enthusiasm in Quebec than elsewhere in Canada. This was especially true amongst the province's minority of sovereignists with more than a few publicly decrying the ways that Canada has historically failed Quebec. Yet, relatively few seized the occasion to lamenting the unrealized dream of independence. That's likely because the current level of support for separation is probably at the lower end of the spectrum. Indeed a June 2017 poll conducted by Leger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies revealed that only three per cent of Quebec francophones think the wish for separatism is very strong and 19 per cent think it is fairly strong.

Many Quebec francophones who don't share the dream of separation were nonetheless indifferent towards the 150th anniversary commemorations. A not insignificant number see their connection with Canada as more practical than it is emotional. Surveys reveals that about one-third of Quebecers are very attached to Canada and another third are somewhat attached. Certain observers will insist that it's the unresolved constitutional issues of the past few decades that have dampened this group's feeling for Canada.

The reality however is that since 1867 there has always been an important segment of the Quebec population that has seen Canada as more of a business arrangement than an affair of the heart. It's their prerogative to do so and Canadians need to accept it rather than measure the country's success or judging its citizens by their degree of patriotism and/or love of country.

This past July 1st few people celebrated the deal that was struck in 1867.

Canada is a relatively young country that has overcome serious challenges to its unity. It's a place that resolves conflict through dialogue and not violence. One that chooses to make good on past injustices and is willing to apologize when necessary. Most of its citizens now look unfavourably upon assimilation and value rather than denigrate diversity (an area where there is work to be done). Over the past few decades Canada has emerged as a very positive influence on a rather troubled world stage.

Canada offers a good deal to celebrate. But some things are not worth celebrating. This past July 1st few people celebrated the deal that was struck in 1867. After all, there was no 'bromance' between the French and British men that negotiated the arrangement at that time. Those guys were more preoccupied with protecting the rights of Catholics and Protestants and such guarantees were not offered out of a collective sense of generosity but by the desire to protect each group from the ideological influence of the other (s). The ensuing decades did not provide too many examples of empathy for the "other" with the questioning and/or elimination of what were regarded as the educational rights of minority language francophones.

Contemporary Canada emerged despite the vision of many of its founders and not because of it. Relations between English and French-speaking Canadians always require attention but in many ways they are better than they were at any time in the past. In large part that's because more of us than ever are able to communicate in the other official language. We badly need to increase the number and share of Canadians able to speak the two official languages as to a great extent such individuals are best able to build the necessary bridge (s) between Anglophones and Francophones.

So despite the country's challenging history, the mood was quite positive in most parts of the country that marked the 150th anniversary. And while the festivities held in Quebec were lower key there wasn't much in the way of tension between English and French. That, in itself, is something worth celebrating.

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