I was encouraged to write about something light and uplifting this week and I was going to try to do just that. But I couldn’t get past the discovery of a mass grave containing the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia.
There is nothing light and uplifting about that. It is a horrific reminder of our history as Canadians. We cannot fix it. We cannot change it. But we can learn from it.
In thinking about this, I was moved this morning by an online submission by David Lindsay, someone I know well, a former chief of staff to an Ontario premier and one of Ontario’s leading public policy strategists. To me, what he said was powerful and thought-provoking.
“Imagine a mass grave with remains of 215 bodies at your child’s school.
This is our collective history.
We did this.
Not one Church. Not one school. Not one political leader. Not one political party.
Every single one of us as Canadians
We did this.”
Of course, this tweet is somewhat metaphorical. None of us were there. None of us took part, and none of us as individuals are directly responsible.
But it is undeniably our history and therefore at least part of who we are as Canadians. We own that. Desecrating or tearing down statues, blaming individuals or political parties, trying to erase the past or rewrite history just doesn’t cut it and is ultimately dangerous.
What does cut it? Remembering it does. Learning from it does, and so does doing things differently because of it.
Whether he intended it or not, one of the things I took from David Lindsay’s tweet is that collective history and collective responsibility are important, not only in terms of our past but also related to our future.
When we refuse to act, when we ignore what is happening, when we shrug it off because it is inconvenient or unpopular to address, we become part of the problem and the outcome inexorably becomes part of who we are.
That is why today—at a time when we are able to make a difference, when we are responsible and accountable for what happens—our eyes must be wide open to what is going on around us and how it will affect generations to come. That is our collective responsibility and it will become our collective history.
We like to think of ourselves as being very different from the United States, separate and apart and not like them. But they are right on our doorstep and a whole lot bigger than us. What happens there inevitably affects us here.
And what is happening there is frightening. It is challenging democracy. It is promoting an autocratic society where a single, now-unelected individual calls most of the shots, ignores reality, and promotes anarchy. And he is getting away with it. Talk about history repeating itself (ca. 1936) and too many people are sucking it all up. Where is the collective will and responsibility to stop it?
In Canada, we love to point fingers. We all do it. I do it. It’s a national pastime. But the reality is, governments of all stripes can only get away with what we the people allow. At the end of the day, the responsibility is ours.
Take the changes proposed by Québec to the Canadian Constitution for example. Most politicians, and I believe most Canadians, know that these changes are wrong, that a diminishing of guaranteed rights for anglophone Quebecers and an inappropriate designation of that province as a “nation” will inevitably threaten Canadian unity. But to their shame, no political party—not the Conservatives, not the Liberals, and not the New Democrats—are going to stand up for Canada on these issues because all of them are too hungry for votes from Québec. That is where our collective responsibility becomes important. We cannot allow that to happen.
Then there is Bill C-10. A Bill to allow a government-appointed agency to monitor, control, and indeed censor free speech on the internet. The wording of the legislation is somewhat innocuous, but the intent and the effect will be to limit the right of free speech for Canadians to express their opinions within existing laws related to libel and slander. You cannot just blame the Liberals for this. Three of the four official parties in Parliament support it. Surely, beyond party politics, we have a collective (and not a partisan) responsibility to stop this in the interest of democracy.
Finally, there is the economy, chugging along for now but with a record and staggering deficit and debt that will confront our children and grandchildren and will with absolute certainty affect their standard of living and the opportunities available to them. All governments, of all stripes, have contributed to our current financial situation, some for legitimate reasons and some just to attract votes. Nevertheless, it falls to us, as Canadians and not as partisans, to insist on fiscal policies that will mitigate damage to future generations.
At this point in time, Canada, and for that matter the rest of the world, is not a particularly pretty picture. In many ways we are at a crossroads.
As we look back at many of the horrors of residential schools and grieve for the 215 young indigenous people whose unmarked graves have been recently discovered, many of us will do so with a sense of horror and shame and recognize its stain on all of us as Canadians.
A century or so from now, others will be looking back at our time on this planet, assessing how we treated the less fortunate, how we protected Canadian unity, how we protected democratic freedoms, and how we protected the economy for future generations. These are our collective and not our partisan responsibilities. They will also be our collective history.
I wonder how we will measure up.
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. and enjoys writing commentary for Huntsville Doppler.
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