Year after year, in recent times, Canada has topped the list, or come close to it, as the best place in the world to live. This year, according to some pollsters, we ranked second. A bit of a slip, but still, something to celebrate. It is also something to protect and I fear we are not doing that.
For all the problems Canada faces, protecting our economy, dealing with the realities of climate change, safeguarding our standard of living, and protecting the vulnerable, we stand little chance of achieving significant progress while we continually fight with each other.
While divisions in Canada have existed almost since our beginning, never, in my view, have they been as toxic or potentially dangerous to our national existence as they are today. We are pitting east against west, English Canada against French Canada and Indigenous Canadians against non-Indigenous Canadians in ways we never have before.
Let’s start with Western Canada. They are not crybabies as many Eastern politicians and pundits would have us believe. As resource-rich provinces, they are facing serious economic challenges due primarily to climate change and the global necessity to significantly reduce our carbon footprint. They have every right to be concerned for their future.
In Glasgow this week at the COP26 Conference, Canada pledged to reduce emissions to 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. That is just eight years from now.
That is all well and good and probably largely necessary. Clearly, they have a plan for that. So, what is their plan for Western Canada, which will be primarily affected by this? Not much so far.
Indeed, there are serious signs that our federal government virtually ignores Western Canada as it placates Quebec. With the exception of British Columbia, it has weakened Western Canada’s role in the halls of power in Ottawa at a time when those provinces need the most attention. Even Lloyd Axworthy, a high profile Liberal and a former Minister of Foreign Affairs has criticized the Trudeau government for this. Pundit Rex Murphy puts it more succinctly. He believes how the Liberals are treating the West is “inexcusable”.
If the Trudeau government really cares about national unity, it needs to visibly work with Western Canada NOW, particularly the prairie provinces, to develop long-range transitional strategies for green-energy projects, innovative manufacturing initiatives, and centres of excellence for research and development particularly in the areas of agriculture and health care. If they can plan now for the elimination of fossil fuels, they can also plan now for those parts of our country who will be most affected by its consequences.
Why this is not happening at the moment, when the West is facing serious difficulties, is a bit of a mystery. Mind you, all three prairie provinces currently have Conservative governments. A coincidence do you think?
I also find it somewhat Ironic that it is a Conservative, Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Scott Aitchison, newly appointed to the labour portfolio in Erin O’Toole’s shadow cabinet, who is at this moment in Calgary working with people there to find solutions for economic growth and diversified jobs.
In the meantime, the Province of Quebec appears to be doing very well by the federal government and, in fairness, by most if not all federal politicians of all stripes. Not one of them spoke up when Quebec passed legislation that directly discriminated against some people of faith. This is likely unconstitutional and certainly would not have been tolerated in any other part of Canada.
More recently the premier of Quebec has served notice that he intends to unilaterally amend Canada’s 1867 Constitution Act to declare Quebec a nation and make French the only official language of the Quebec nation. The Trudeau government seems to think that is okay.
Also, recently, an independent commission has recommended to the federal government a redistribution of seats in Canada’s Parliament that would result in the reduction of one seat for Quebec. The Bloc Québécois says this cannot happen because as a “nation” Quebec cannot lose a seat in Parliament. My bet? In spite of fairness to the rest of Canada, Quebec will keep that seat and potentially get more.
It seems all too clear that the Trudeau government caters to Quebec more than it does to other provinces. This does not bode well for Canadian unity. Some of that is necessary. Much of it is not.
For instance, Canada has recently signed an agreement with Moderna to build a “state of the art” mRNA vaccine production facility. All signs point to this being built in Quebec. The announcement was made in Montreal. But Calgary was also a qualified candidate for a facility of this type that would result in huge economic benefits to that part of Canada. That is where the greatest need is and, so far, they have been ignored.
There is no doubt that there are distinct societies within Canada. We are a diversified country. But there is only one nation and that is Canada, not Quebec, and sorry Premier Moe, in spite of your challenges, not Saskatchewan. While we may have regional differences, we all have equal rights as Canadians. One of those is to be able to speak either or both of Canada’s official languages in any part of the country and to be understood and served. Another is the right to thrive equally with all Canadians, no matter where you live or your cultural background.
There are no “special” Canadians and there are no Canadians—whether they be Indigenous, English-speaking, French-speaking or from other cultures—who deserve less than any other Canadian. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed and to reap the benefits of a great country and, indeed, to contribute to its greatness.
But we are living now in a time of rapid change and, to some degree, rebellion. We must be careful not to allow that to accelerate divisiveness, disagreement, misbehaviour, and upheaval within our borders. Even former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, in his latest book, has indicated his concern about that.
Many, I know, will shrug their shoulders and believe that Canadian unity is not an issue. I believe it is and a serious one. One that will affect us here at home and also on the world stage.
We succeed when we are united, not when we are divided. And we need people in power who are less concerned about being elected than they are about a united Canada with equal opportunities and resources for everyone. That should be a high priority for any federal government. There is still a lot of work to do in that regard.
A united Canada. That is the great challenge for all Canadians.
Hugh Mackenzie has held elected office as a trustee on the Muskoka Board of Education, a Huntsville councillor, a District councillor, and mayor of Huntsville. He has also served as chairman of the District Muskoka and as chief of staff to former premier of Ontario, Frank Miller.
Hugh has served on a number of provincial, federal and local boards, including chair of the Ontario Health Disciplines Board, vice-chair of the Ontario Family Health Network, vice-chair of the Ontario Election Finance Commission, and board member of Roy Thomson Hall, the National Theatre School of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Canada. Locally, he has served as president of the Huntsville Rotary Club, chair of Huntsville District Memorial Hospital, chair of the Huntsville Hospital Foundation, president of Huntsville Festival of the Arts, and board member of Community Living Huntsville.
In business, Hugh Mackenzie has a background in radio and newspaper publishing. He was also a founding partner and CEO of Enterprise Canada, a national public affairs and strategic communications firm established in 1986.
Currently Hugh is president of C3 Digital Media Inc., the parent company of Doppler Online, and he enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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