For Canadians, the pandemic’s demise should mean not a return to yesterday’s normal, but a time to demand leadership that reboots our country with a renewed identity and purpose shaped by the values that make Canada a just, democratic society, writes Charles Burton.
By Charles Burton, January 21, 2022
Canadians are fed up to the teeth with being trolled by this pandemic, but we know that at some point COVID will be quelled. Some observers sense that could come sooner rather than later. When it does, modern history suggests we can expect signs of hope for our future.
Over the past century, periods of crisis have given way to political and societal renewal. In the wake of the First World War and the global burnout of the Spanish flu, the Roaring ’20s framed a striking transformation from repressed conformity to liberated new norms. The Second World War and the defeat of fascism led to decades of prosperity, medical advancements, and improved living standards, human rights, social infrastructure and life expectancy.
In the coming era, Canada must categorically take the lead in defending our own sovereignty and coalitions, forging vital global partnerships beyond Europe and the Anglosphere. Our neighbour to the south has tempered its conviction for leading the security alliances of democratic nations, and the rise of U.S. protectionism indicates that Canada no longer enjoys a special relationship with America. Indeed, it appears Donald Trump or an ideological equivalent is destined to replace the current lacklustre president who is wanting in domestic rigour and global vision.
For Canadians, the pandemic’s demise should mean not a return to yesterday’s normal, but a time to demand leadership that reboots our country with a renewed identity and purpose shaped by the values that make Canada a just, democratic society.
An inescapable priority is funding the military to defend sovereignty in the Arctic, including its economically critical natural resources. Ottawa’s chronic dithering on this makes us easy prey in China’s march toward repressive superpower dominance, just as we fret but do little while China interferes in our electoral process, or menaces people in Canada who Beijing sees as threatening to its interests. It’s time to get our act together.
And, to legitimize any belief that we have dawned a new chapter, it is compulsory that Canada resolve the inequity and exploitation that our colonial history has inflicted upon Indigenous people. We must spend the money and do whatever is required politically to achieve just resolution of land claims; settle disputes over other treaty obligations; fulfil guarantees of such basic rights as clean water; provide legitimate social services, including health care and education; and support sustaining Indigenous languages. Achieving this and ending poverty and degradation within a conscionable time frame will require a resolve that circumvents exploitative lawyers and consultants who thrive on interminable legislative procedure.
A meaningful, modern definition of Canada will also end the smug domination of national priorities by a “Laurentian elite” comprised mainly of white people with roots in the pasts of Ontario and Quebec. They don’t get it, but western alienation is a real thing. We all need to embody collaboration — genuine consultation on federal initiatives dealing with energy or other regional concerns — if we expect Canada to remain united from sea to sea to sea. Similarly, we must escape the “two founding nations” anachronism and acknowledge all of the ethnicities that have built and continue to build our nation, from Asian peoples to all European settlers, immigrants from the West Indies, and beyond.
Will we make any of this happen? Are millions of Canadians sufficiently determined to demand that politicians embrace and act on this renewed sense of who we are?
A shrewd “complacency meter” for us would be if there were no national determination to improve the conditions under which we consign our elders to live out their days in long-term care facilities. The pandemic has harshly revealed that many people ministering to the needs of people too old to care for themselves undertake this demanding role underpaid and in harrowing conditions. When the pandemic has ebbed, and statements of thanks for dedication and sacrifices have been spoken to front-line workers, will the fixes be made?
From protecting our sovereignty to protecting our elders, Canadians are approaching a moment to revisit and renew the core values of our country. Let’s hope we do.
Charles Burton is a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute; non-resident senior fellow of the European Values Center for Security Policy in Prague; former political science professor at Brock University; and a former diplomat at the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.