07/01/2017 17:47 EDT | Updated 07/01/2017 17:50 EDT

Happy Birthday Canada, The World Needs You More Than Ever

We are an island of sanity in a sea of turmoil.

Blair Gable / Reuters
Crowds celebrate Canada Day in Ottawa on July 1, 2017. Photo by: Blair Gable/Reuters

Canada is 150 years old—as a political entity, at least. The land has been here forever, the Europeans for hundreds of years, and the aboriginals for thousands. So the number 150 is somewhat arbitrary. But this is certainly a good time to celebrate Canada: looking around the globe, including due south, where we are so inclined to look, we are an island of sanity in a sea of turmoil.

True, we have been suffering from no Stanley Cup for our cherished hockey teams since 1993. But there is one thing even more sacred here than hockey, namely our state-funded Medicare, and that, mercifully, remains intact. Maybe this is what enables us to get on with sanity. And with democracy too, which has likewise remained intact, perhaps never better. Most of us really do strive to be tolerant in this country, and, you know what, it feels good to aim for the highest common denominator.

French culture in Quebec has long been vibrant; more recently, English-Canadian culture has been making remarkable progress. The multiculturalism promoted by Prime Minister Trudeau (the elder) has been a major factor. Turn on CBC — a jewel in our cultural crown — and marvel at the variety of people and faces and origins and opinions that make up this country today.

You know what, it feels good to aim for the highest common denominator.

It was not so long ago that my uncle could not get into medical school because my own university, McGill, had a quota on Jewish applicants. Now the last three deans of medicine have been Jewish. And look what happened to the "ideal leadership candidate" (in the words of Macleans) in the Conservative leadership race this year. Her proposal to screen immigrants for "Canadian values" sounded racist to many of us, a throwback to the old days of white Anglo-Saxon dominance. In ballot after ballot, she never made it to 8%. And this was the Conservative Party.

Twenty universities around the world have granted me honorary degrees. Yet no award do I wear as proudly as my Order of Canada. The pin we recipients wear is small—Canadian-size—yet it means so much to us, perhaps because we try not to confuse pride with patriotism in our country.

Canada is another America. It expresses another perspective by which people everywhere can see the major issues of our time, in terms of a just and tolerant world based on balance and reconciliation. We may look much like our powerful neighbor to the south, but in significant if sometimes subtle ways, we are quite different. The world at this juncture desperately needs another perspective, and quiet Canada, hidden up here in the north country, might just be providing it.

So happy birthday Canada! After 150 years of striving to get it right, to paraphrase from Quebec's own Happy Birthday song, it is time to let you speak of love.

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