Nov. 21, 2008
What does it mean to be Canadian when we come from everywhere?
How do we forge a shared national purpose among people who have never shared anything before and who come from every corner of the globe? How do we provide a sense of direction, a road map to our street in the global village ─ something that emotionally connects with Canadians?
The great unifying national projects of the past such as Medicare and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are now all about mechanics, not poetry ─ past achievements to be defended, and of course improved.
We need new poetry, something once again to inspire us, to fire up our collective imagination.
Canada has become a magnet to people from around the world. We have transformed in a relatively short period of time into the most cosmopolitan and diverse society in human history. And because of our accident of geography ─ vast spaces from sea to sea to sea ─ we have a huge potential to transform even further.
By 2050 the population in the developing world will increase by over 2 billion people; already more than half the population in countries such as Iran and Pakistan is under the age of 20. The forces of globalization will create both incredible wealth but also suffering on a global scale. We will experience enormous environmental challenges and massive population shifts, as modern-day nomads disregard borders and seek a means of livelihood and an escape from dreadful poverty, wars, and sicknesses.
Canada is on the leading edge of this population shift. The world is coming to Canada. Indeed more and more Canadians are now global citizens, exploring the world or staying connected to our countries of origins more instantly, more easily, and more inexpensively than ever before. Mobile telephones, the Internet, wireless devices ─ these are our passports to a world without borders, reflected in the widespread use of YouTube, Facebook, Google Talk, Skype…
But what draws us together if it is not ethnicity, religion, language or other traditional markers of national unity?
Is it a common sense of tolerance? No, it cannot be. People are not knocking on Canada’s doors because we are “tolerant”. Our welcome mat does not say: “please come here and as long as you do not bother anyone, no one will bother you.” Tolerance cannot be an end in itself. We owe each other more than tolerance.
New Canadians do not arrive in Canada wishing to pay $600 or more a month to send their children to faith-based private schools, and seal themselves off in an enclave. This undermines Canada’s internal strength and global potential. Canadians, new and old, do not define themselves by their ethnicity, religion, language or a province. Nor do we define ourselves with material things – not the cars we drive, the houses we own, nor the areas in which we live. We do not define ourselves with borders.
Canadians choose Canada because of the opportunity, both economic and social. Canada represents the best of universal values ─ justice, equality, diversity, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, equal rights, non-discrimination, and a chance to live in peace and humanity. Canada provides a safe haven, and a base from which to reach out to the troubled areas of the world and teach what we have learned in Canada ─ how to live together peaceably, compassionately, and respectfully, exercising the mutual responsibilities that go along with the rights of citizenship.
Surely our destiny is to show the world that a progressive, vigorous, multiethnic democracy can thrive in the twenty-first century and be a model for a troubled world, increasingly challenged by religious and sectarian friction, and environmental catastrophes. Our increasing diversity as a people, our huge pool of human talent, must be our greatest strength from which we forge a clear national purpose.
This national purpose must be to improve the quality of life both in Canada and elsewhere, to promote a common sense of humanity, good government and good citizenship around the globe, to collaborate globally to ensure that economic prosperity coincides with environmental preservation.
We have a mission to export the type of pluralistic, creative, modern society we are building in Canada. We have every right to be proud and assertive, not weighed down by “middleness”, diffidence, the all too typical Canadian “Excuse me, sorry to bother you” attitude.
We need our leaders to be poets, not merely pollsters.
We need bold and visionary national leadership to inspire us to confidently take on the world, and convey a sense of forward motion in our complex world. We are ready, willing and able to ask as much of ourselves as we ask of our governments.
Almost every aspect of our daily lives has a global dimension. All the serious challenges we face—from global warming and energy security to nuclear proliferation and terrorism; from global poverty and economic inequality to the modern day slave trade in women and children and the lethal arms trade fuelling regional conflicts—require global cooperation and global solutions and decisive national leadership. The longer we fail to act coherently and effectively both nationally and internationally, the narrower our options and the greater the potential for catastrophe.
Our national government must govern resolutely for all Canadians. Our prime minister and foreign minister, in particular, must provide clear directions for national and international action.
We cannot have foreign policy going off in 10 or 12 different directions. We need a clear Canadian voice on the world stage, and coherent national government at home.
We must support and encourage all those Canadians involved outside Canada in business, education, arts and culture, sports, the foreign service, non-governmental organizations, civil society groups and our military.
Our military in particular is now at the forefront of forging new means of civil-military cooperation – using our military strength to make possible the delivery of humanitarian and development assistance in the growing number of complicated conflicts worldwide.
With clear global vision and bold national leadership, Canadians are uniquely positioned to be in the front ranks of a world without borders.