The Canada we knew a decade ago is no longer the Canada we know today. What has defined us then is no longer what is defining us these days. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom of 1982 is a classic example as it celebrates its 30th year this month. While the conservatives refused to give the celebration prominence in Ottawa, the Liberals celebrated it in downtown Toronto like an exile opposition.
A decade ago, when this document celebrated its 20th birthday, Jean Chretien was Prime Minister with a healthy Liberal majority in the House and the Senate. At the time, according to the Environics Research Group, 82 per cent of Canadians believed the Charter has had a positive contribution in pursuit of equality and freedoms of all Canadians.
This was shared across social, economic and linguistic groups. In the province of Quebec, where the then Premier Rene Levesque refused to sign on to the Charter in 1982, by 2002, nine out of 10 believed the Charter has provided a great and unique contribution to Canada's identity. Prime Minister Chretien had much to celebrate. With him at the helm of our government, the liberal legacy was celebrated across Canada. With a fractured opposition of four political parties, the Liberal ideal seemed like that of Canada's. In just a single decade, Canada had truly changed. Unlike its 20th year celebration, the 30th has been a low-key celebration in Conservative Ottawa reduced to a single press release.
When the charter became our constitution in 1982, it had a very noble goal in equality and diversity. Looking around Canada after 30 years, we have not reached in reaching its potential. For instance, if we look at our superior court appointments, where the country's laws are upheld and interpreted, the Globe and Mail found out recently, 98 per cent of all appointments were all white. This is in a country where more than one in five is visible minorities; the charter is still an important document that has not reached its potential yet.
In a borrowed space in downtown Toronto, the Liberals celebrated their great milestone on its 30th anniversary. It has been three decades since Trudeau's Liberals made the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms the constitution of the land with the support of Joe Clarks Progressive Conservatives and Ed Broadbent's NDP. This was a rare bipartisan achievement for Canada.
In a room that was barely half full with aging elected officials of the past and borrowed Ontario Liberals from Queens Park was where Liberals came to celebrate the historic moment of a certain rainy Ottawa day of 1982. Chretien, with his imperfect English and signature passion and fire, explained the significant of the charter. The partisan crowd nodded with every comment, clapped at the end of every sentence and laughed at his many jokes and reflections.
It seemed Chretien reminded them of their potential of the good old days. One can't help but hear many wishing Chretien was their leader as he was explaining the historic high of a magnificent made in Canada constitution. Senator David Smith, who is responsible for bringing three consecutive Chretien majorities, was there as well as many former players of the glory Liberal days of the past. One can easily attest why the Liberals used to be called the "natural governing party of Canada".
As a mere observer of the party from a distance and as someone who had attended the rally as a curious political junkie, I also wish the best for the Liberals. At the conclusion of a 15-minute speech, Chretien, like a rock star, had many people taking pictures, asking for his autographs and whispering in his ears. Liberals always adore their successful leaders and despise those that failed it seems.
Chretien represented their party at its historical best like Pierre Trudeau and Wilfrid Laurier. The current aging leader of the party, Bob Rae, barely had any crowd taking his pictures nor having a conversation with him. Rae is no longer the passionate, youthful Rhodes Scholar boy wonder who surprised Ontarians in the 1990 provincial election.
Looking at Chretien and observing the current leader, one can predict the certain demise of a once proud party. It seems the party that gave us to charter of rights and freedom is on life support. It should begin to look at the party that gave us Medicare for inspiration.