07/01/2011 08:08 EDT | Updated 08/31/2011 05:12 EDT

Canada Day: Celebrating 144 Years of Making Room for One Another

Only now are we starting to address the damage done by the colonization which refused to acknowledge the rights and respect the culture of the First Peoples of Canada. We have much more work to do. We have to admit the racism and prejudice that exists and fight it every day in our lives.

Every year, July 1 is the day we get to pause and celebrate our truly wonderful country.

Canada means "village" or "settlement" in the Saint-Lawrence Iroquoian language. Somehow our "village" or "settlement" has evolved into a beacon of diversity and tolerance for the world. We need to look to our history to understand how Canada ended up so different from other countries -- such an amazing example of making room for those of different backgrounds, religions, races, colours.

When I was first elected, I attended many citizenship ceremonies where the officiating citizen court judge would speak of 'two founding nations.' I remember being so upset that somehow our new Canadians were being misled. The concept of 'two founding nations' left out the indigenous peoples who were here first. Only now are we starting to address the damage done by the colonization which refused to acknowledge the rights and respect the culture of the First Peoples of Canada.

However, the conquering nations did get a few things right. Even though Wolfe had beaten Montcalm on the Plains of Abraham in 1775, the French language and culture have continued and been protected across our country. Today over one million Canadians speak French outside Quebec. The story of Baldwin and Lafontaine needs to be part of our national pride. Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin, John Ralston Saul's volume in Penguin's Extraordinary Canadians series, should be compulsory reading for all Canadians, as should his A Fair Country.

After the 1837 rebellions, Lord Durham came to Canada to recommend that Upper and Lower Canada be merged. Lower Canada was vehemently opposed. What would be the fate of the French language and legal system? What followed was an amazing story of leadership. In 1841, the union was proclaimed, and an election called. LaFontaine lost in his riding in Lower Canada because of the worst of 'voter suppression.' Baldwin won in two ridings!

A few months later, LaFontaine received a letter from Robert Baldwin asking him to run in a by-election in Toronto in Upper Canada. LaFontaine then campaigned in Toronto on a platform of French-English cooperation and won the seat handily. Lower Canada was truly impressed with Baldwin's gesture. The respected journalist and academic Étienne Parent wrote: "If all the inhabitants of Upper Canada are like him (Baldwin), I predict the most brilliant results of the Union of the Canadas."

This achievement is celebrated by John Raslton Saul in Louis Hippolyte LaFontaine and Robert Baldwin:

"The Great Ministry, the government of LaFontaine and Baldwin, laid the foundations of Canada at its best. The idea of an inclusive society, of a citizenry that revels in social complexity, of a society in which personal restraint makes complexity a positive force, of above all a society devoted to fariness: all of this was formalized at the national level by LaFontaine and Baldwin.

The ongoing dramas of Canada -- positive and negative -- were shaped and energized as if in perpetuity by these two great men and their great friendship."

This historical compromise showed that French and English Canadians could work together to solve their political problems, and established the 'Canadian way' of 'making room for one another'. Baldwin and LaFontaine's compromise has allowed Canada to become the envy of the world in the success of our multiculturalism and tolerance.

We have much more work to do. We have to admit the racism and prejudice that exists and fight it every day in our lives and in our policies and by enforcing the Charter. We need to move from multicultural tolerance to deeper respect. We need Canada to be able to demonstrate to the world that what we do is not 'political correctness'. Our approach means that we value diversity and benefit immeasurably from the complexity that is Canada.

June 21 kicked off the 11 days of Celebrate Canada! which included National Aboriginal Day (June 21), Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day (June 24), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27), and concludes with Canada Day (July 1)!

At the Assembly of First Nations Parliamentary Breakfast on National Aboriginal Day, Bob Rae reminded us that as the National Chief has made Aboriginal Education his priority, we must also work to improve the education of all Canadians on Aboriginal issues. All Canadians, and especially our students, should feel confident celebrating National Aboriginal Day with First Nations, Metis and Inuit peoples, Saint-Jean Baptiste Day with our francophone Canadians and Canadian Multiculturalism Day with those that have chosen Canada as their country.

Every year for Canada Day, we celebrate in St. Paul's with a picnic. We have always opened the celebration with a smudge ceremony and an acknowledgement of the lands of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation.

We sing 'O Canada' in both official languages. We are entertained by the dancers and singers of the cultures that make up our community and celebrate those for whom this is their first Canada Day as a Canadian citizen. We invite and thank the amazing St. Paul's recipients of the Order of Canada for their passion and commitment. On their medal, it says 'DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM' (They desire a better country). We have our pictures taken with a real Mountie. We eat hotdogs and veggie dogs and maple leaf shaped, maple sugar flavoured cookies.

When I was a little girl, I remember being uncomfortable with the overt 'patriotism' of our neighbours to the south. I could recite the 'Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America' with all of the other Romper Room watchers. I even remember a trip to Buffalo to watch the live broadcast of Uncle Jerry's Club at the Statler Hilton Hotel. We grew up watching American news covering the fires in North Tonawanda. Winter trips to Florida astonished us with the American flags flying on all the homes.

Canada has changed. We are now much more comfortable flying our flag on our homes. Canada Day is still fireworks and the predictably disappointing burning schoolhouse, but now it is also a celebration of wonderful local food and Canadian wines! We wear our red and white with pride!

Happy Birthday Canada -- and this year let's make sure we propose a toast to Baldwin and LaFontaine. My family will for sure at our cottage at Lafontaine, Ontario!