Happy Birthday Canada!

1 July 2017

Quintessentially Canadian sculpture, by Castor Canadensis; from the author’s collection

Canada is 150 years old this Saturday—as a political entity, at least. The land has been here forever, the Europeans for hundreds of years, and the aboriginals for thousands. So the number 150 is somewhat arbitrary. But this is certainly a good time to celebrate Canada: looking around the globe, including due south, where we are so inclined to look, we are an island of sanity in a sea of turmoil.

True, we have been suffering from no Stanley Cup for our cherished hockey teams since 1993. But there is one thing even more sacred here than hockey, namely our state-funded Medicare, and that, mercifully, remains intact. Maybe this is what enables us to get on with sanity. And with democracy too, which has likewise remained intact, perhaps never better. Most of us really do strive to be tolerant in this country, and, you know what, it feels good to aim for the highest common denominator.

French culture in Quebec has long been vibrant, more recently, English-Canadian culture has become so. The multi-culturalism promoted by Prime Minister Trudeau (the elder) has been a major factor. Turn on CBC in English, or Radio Canada in French—jewels in our cultural crown—and marvel at the variety of people and faces and origins and opinions that make up this country today. In Canada, even the beavers do art, as you can see above, and more.

It was not so long ago that my uncle could not get into medical school because my own university, McGill, had a quota on Jewish applicants. Now the last three deans of medicine have been Jewish. The Conservative Party of Canada had a leadership race this year, and one of the candidates campaigned on screening immigrants for “Canadian values”. This may seem innocuous enough, but to many of us it sounded racist, a throwback to the old days of white Anglo-Saxon dominance. At the convention, in ballot after ballot, this “ideal leadership candidate” (in the words of our main newsmagazine) never made it to 8%. And this was the Conservative Party.

Twenty universities around the world have granted me honorary degrees. Yet no award do I wear as proudly as my Order of Canada. The pin we recipients wear is small—Canadian-size—yet it means so much to us, perhaps because we try not to confuse pride with patriotism in this country.

Canada is another America. It expresses another perspective by which people everywhere can see the major issues of our time, in terms of a just and tolerant world based on balance and reconciliation. We may look much like our powerful neighbor to the south, but in significant if sometimes subtle ways, we are quite different. The world at this juncture desperately needs another perspective, and quiet Canada, hidden up here in the north country, might just be providing it.¹

So happy birthday Canada! After 150 years of striving to get it right, to paraphrase from Quebec’s own Happy Birthday song, it is time to let you speak of love.

© Henry Mintzberg 1 July 2017.


¹Three of us—a quintessentially Canadian trio, French, English, and Rumanian-born Canadians (Yvan Allaire and Mihaela Firsirotu)—have been working on a book entitled Another America: A Canadian Perspectives on World Issues. It is a collection of writings from prominent Canadians who for many years have been expressing themselves on a variety of important subjects in a remarkable cohesive way.

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