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Geoff Russ: Forget the ‘post-national’ nonsense. We have a culture and heritage worth celebrating, Canada


A young girl waves a Canadian flag during Canada Day celebrations in Vancouver, B.C., July 1, 2017. Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press.

July 1 is Canada’s birthday, a day to recognize the values and ideas that drove Confederation in 1867 and have endured to our times. This recognition rightfully clashes with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s proclamation that Canada was the world’s first “post-national” state, and possessed neither a “core identity,” nor a “mainstream.”

The progressive Guardian newspaper opined in 2017 that Trudeau’s vision, which it called the “Canada experiment”, presented a new model for nationhood. In the subsequent years, that experiment has demonstrably failed in a dramatically changed world, in which the importance of a strong, unifying Canadian identity is more vital than ever.

During one of Jason Kenney’s last great speeches in the House of Commons as an MP, he eloquently rejected the post-national vision of Canada and praised our inherited values and traditions. Elaborating on these points, Kenney spoke of the rule of law and equality before it, as well as equality of opportunity, which did not emerge by accident.

It was not the first time that Kenney publicly espoused those same ideals, such as in 2017 on the eve of Canada’s 150th anniversary at an event organized by the Cardus Institute.

“Canada 150 will be a hopeful confirmation that responsible government, representative democracy, widespread religious, political and economic liberty, unprecedented material prosperity, unity in diversity, linguistic harmony, that all of this, which we modestly call peace, order and good government, can endure generation after generation,” Kenney articulated.

It’s a message that’s much needed in our current moment. Democracies are being morally, politically, and economically challenged by authoritarian states on a scale most young Canadians have never experienced. The world is repolarizing at a faster rate than most people ever expected, at a time when the vision of globalization has stalled.

Canada needs to set itself apart from the non-democratic world with an identity that can weather the homogenizing effects of globalization and embody both culture and prosperity.

Good government means sound economic stewardship. The opposite has been true in recent years. This must change, more than anything else, and doing so would be a fulfillment of one of the many spirits that animated Confederation.

‘We inherited a great nation’: Happy Canada Day from The Hub!


People take part in the living flag on the lawn of the Legislature to help celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday in Victoria, B.C., on July 1, 2017. Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press

In honour of our great nation’s birthday, we have gathered a host of Hub contributors to offer their thoughts on Canada, its strengths and weaknesses, its past and present, and what we have to be grateful for as citizens of this big, complicated country. It hasn’t been all good all the time, but there are many important lessons we’ve learned since our founding that will serve us well as we build our bright future together. Happy Canada Day!

End the division, begin the unity

By J.D.M. Stewart, a history teacher of more than 25 years and the author of Being Prime Minister

I believe that as a country we need to start thinking more about what unites us rather than what divides us. There has been too much reflexive self-flagellation in the recent past, and while it is true we have dark spots in our history, most of the world sees Canada as one of the greatest countries in the world. Why don’t we see it the same way? Brian Mulroney, who passed away this year, said it simply in 1990: “Canada is not perfect, but it is one of the most magnificent nations on the face of this earth.”

I want to see our leaders building a vision for a Canada that is proud of its accomplishments as a country and bullish on its future. I want to see leadership that tries to pull out the best in Canadians. I want to hear from leaders who use the history of the country in flights of rhetoric that stir us.

I know that there is a fair bit of idealism in what I am saying, but maybe as a country we need a little more idealism sprinkled in with pragmatism. Canada did not get to be what it is today without idealism. That is how you build a railway. That is how you get a flag, or a country that runs from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

So what is the vision moving forward? It can’t be more complaining, more provincialism, and more naval gazing. It can only be about Canadians dreaming some dreams once more.

In all thy sons command

By Sean Speer, The Hub’s editor-at-large and co-founder

My family and I split our time between Canada and the U.S. these days. We’re celebrating Canada Day this year in New York City.

One consequence of our binational existence is that our sons were born on different sides of the border. Our three-year-old was born in Ottawa and our one-year-old was born in New York City. The older one likes that he and his mom and dad are a bit different than his younger brother. He likes that he has a different flag and national anthem.

Both boys are too young to understand the differences beyond these specific forms. Someday they will though and I sometimes think about what we ought to tell them. What’s the case for a distinct Canadian identity? What’s the point of their different citizenships?

I think most arguments about our cultural and political differences are overstated. It’s hard to organize an entire identity around cleaner streets, stronger gun laws, and a poorly performing health-care system.

For me, the answer is both simple and abstruse. Canada is our home. It’s what’s familiar. It’s where our families are. It’s what we love. Not an abstracted love but a particular one—one rooted in the people and places that are there.

It doesn’t require a detailed explanation. Or even a national mythology. We value Canada and view it distinctly from places that we visit or even live because it will always be home.

It reminds me of Roger Scruton’s famous line about conservatism: “All that conservatism ultimately means, in my view, is the disposition to hold on to what you know and love.”

No matter where we are or what we’re doing we still hold onto Canada—especially today. Happy Canada Day!

Patriots, stay put

By Lydia Perovic, a writer and author of Lost in Canada: An Immigrant’s Second Thoughts

“I want to say something to every young Canadian filmmaker,” Matt Johson, the director of BlackBerry, said in his acceptance speech at the Canadian Screen Awards recently. “I think there is a going ideology in this country that you can’t make the things that you want, or that it’s impossible as a Canadian to stay in Canada and have success. I’m gonna tell you that’s all in your head. And that if you decide to make a commitment to this country, and work here and give it everything you can and don’t self-censor, you will do great.”

I wish this country’s artists and authors shared a fraction of this optimism and steadfastness. Our novelists write straight for American markets and screen rights; our comedians move to the U.K., where comedy is an art form; our film artists less and less give it a go here before heading to NYC or LA; our opera singers, among the best trained in the world, have to move to Europe to have a career. The hottest plays in our theatres are American (and probably musicals).

Canada is a country in which a critical mass of creators willing to set stories in it (visual, written, danced, whatever) is about to be lost for good.

In parallel, it’s becoming a country with a critical mass of citizenry uninterested in paying attention to what few of those stories cut through. It’s probably already too late. A journalist I respect recently told me that she basically agrees with American economist Tyler Cowen who told her that Canada’s immigration system is serving the U.S. well in that it’s filtering through only the best of the best who proceed to move to the U.S. (while the rest of us riff-raff stay here).

Sorry Canucks. I, and many other immigrants, will not join you in this spiral of self-loathing you’ve been losing yourself in as of late. You self-loath if you want to; immigrants are not here for the business of loathing. We remain interested in this terroir and what we can plant on it. Are we a culture, are we a nation, or not? We will need to decide. And be conscious that we’ve been behaving in so many ways as if the answer is already “No.”

Look forward into the future, not back into the past

By Karen Restoule, vice president at Crestview Strategy and an Ojibwe from Dokis First Nation

Canada Day is a time for reflection and celebration, a moment to appreciate the beauty and opportunities our country offers. Recently, it has also become a day to acknowledge and make an effort to understand the complex history that has shaped our nation. While there is a lot of talk about how our shared history has been challenging, it wasn’t always that way.

First Nations welcomed Europeans on these lands. Our early relationship was built on respect, honour, and co-existence through trade and the sharing of land and resources. This was captured in Treaties of Peace and Friendship and later in the 1764 Treaty of Niagara.

It is true that from the mid-1800s onward, our treaties were increasingly disregarded and ignored, with partnerships and respectful co-existence replaced by policies and laws that disenfranchised, oppressed, and marginalized First Nations through residential schools, day schools, outlawing ceremonies, mobility restrictions, and other limiting aspects of day-to-day life.

I pride myself on being a realist, someone who acknowledges even the harshest realities and yet remains forward-thinking and focused on building a better future. And yet, reflecting on that 150-year period as a First Nations woman, I’m challenged to find the positive moments. The reality during that period of time was harsh, and it wasn’t pretty.

That said, whether some of us like it or not: “We are all here to stay.” And we can either look forward and build up from where we are now, or we can keep looking back. However, looking back doesn’t get us anywhere good. I’m here to build up. And I challenge you to join me.

What are we—collectively—going to achieve between Canada Day 2024 and Canada Day 2025? How can we use the next 12 months to continue moving our country in a positive direction?

It’s much more simple than we allow ourselves to believe. Let’s be inspired by this latest example of the power of partnership, where more than 50 municipalities and First Nations in Saskatchewan have formed an alliance in order to prepare for and maximize the benefits of BHP’s $14 billion Jansen potash mine set to open in 2026. When asked for comment, Leroy Mayor Kurt Schreiner stated that he hopes to “Leave a legacy for [his] kids to be a part of this and work together with everybody else.”

As we celebrate Canada Day and reflect on our shared history, let’s remember that when it comes to today’s efforts, we are all in this for the kids. And while it’s true that First Nations children today may not have the same access to opportunities as other Canadian children, this can change. And for that shift to happen, we must all be part of the solution. Let’s show them that we adults can work together to build a future where every child, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, shares the same quality of Canadian life and has the same opportunities to thrive. By uniting our efforts, we can ensure that Canada Day 2025 marks a year of significant growth for all our communities.

Our cultural mosaic 

By Mike Ramsay, school trustee, past chair of the Waterloo Region District School Board, a former soldier and police officer

As we celebrate the 157th birthday of our country I want to share what Canada Day means to me as someone who was not born here, but someone who chose to make this my country.  As I reflect, I remembered learning about a West African symbol called “Sankofa.” It has different variations (some of which have become a point of contention), but the most meaningful one to me is a symbol of a bird whose face is turned behind it, but its body is moving forward. I am told it means that the past is not dead and gone but walks with us, as we move through life, or a life well lived by learning from the past.

For many of us, Canada is a “project” that started in 1867 and was moulded from the beginning by three major distinct identities of English French, and Indigenous, with a core identity of peace, order, and good governance. I don’t believe that any of this prevented other identities from developing, as evidenced by the many celebrations of faith and culture that take place across our country each year. It confirms for me that that our core identity is not dead and gone but is still with us and sticking to it will ensure that our grandchildren and their offspring will get to celebrate our bicentennial in 2067.

Happy Canada Day.

My Canada in moments

Harrison Lowman, The Hub’s Managing Editor

1. Canada is the just-arrived Syrian refugee, with nothing but the clothes on his back, who insisted I come into his tiny apartment to meet his young son and daughter, share a cup of juice on his carpet, and learn how grateful he was to now be a part of our country.

2. Canada is the 100-year old Canadian Second World War veteran holding court with my Cub Scout troop in a dingy church basement, explaining to them why at 19 years old he crossed an ocean to reach a far off continent to beat back fascism and liberate Holland, because he simply would not stand for it.

3. Canada is the giggling Indigenous children I saw darting in and out of beautiful tipis at the Calgary Stampede’s Elbow River camp: a 112-year old relationship nurtured between Alberta’s Treaty 7 First Nations and the province.

4. Canada is the broken conversation myself, a hopeless Anglo, had with an electrician in Charlevoix, Quebec. Fifty-seven percent of his neighbours voted to leave this country less than 30 years ago, but we got along splendidly.

5. Canada is families leisurely Sunday skating under the watchful gaze of a massive 30-foot portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth II at our local rink.

6. Canada is the American tourist at my European hostel hiding his Yankee identity and pretending to be from The Great White North because, “People treat you better”.

7. Canada is the friendly rural Newfoundlander who drove my father and I to the hospital, then lent me his car, which featured an ignition that required you to stick a table knife in it to get it started. “Just give it a good jiggle there b’y.”

8. Canada is that tingling feeling I will get raising my flag outside my home today.

Our many multitudes 

By Chris Dummitt, professor of history at Trent University and host of the podcast 1867 & All That

This Canada Day I’ll be thinking about the best meaning of diversity in Canadian history. From the great Iroquois Confederacy in the east, to the Blackfoot on the Prairies, Indigenous Peoples built cultures and proto-empires, battling the elements and each other to thrive in the lands we now call Canada.

We have William Hall, the son of escaped African American slaves, who fought in the Royal Navy and became only the third Canadian to win the Victoria Cross for his valour in the siege of Lucknow in India. A former slave, a Nova Scotian, fighting in India, and decorated in Britain, dying as a Canadian.

There is the great city of Québec, the fortress guarding the mouth of the St. Lawrence, an almost mediaeval city whose many streets are named for those who fought to keep the French presence alive in the New World.

Let’s not forget the great British history of Canada and its too-often distorted symbols. I’m writing this in a café almost in sight of the Gothic Revival parliamentary buildings, an ode to Westminster whose liberal democracy our founders cherished. I’m in the capital of what was called, only a few short years ago, the great Dominion of Canada.

And then there is what might be the strangest moment of all, those few years in the 1960s when the governments of John Diefenbaker and then Lester Pearson remade our immigration system to care more about the economic contribution of immigrants than their race. Within a handful of years, Asia had replaced Europe as the main source of new Canadians. Two generations later, most Canadians grow up completely unaware of the country we used to live in, and what used to be considered status quo.

So on this Canada Day I’d urge you to think about this diversity—this historical diversity—of a nation that has included multitudes, past and present, and how much we owe to those who made the nation in which we live. It’s easy to criticize. Much better to be grateful.

An underappreciated past 

By Patrice Dutil, professor of politics and public administration at Toronto Metropolitan University

My thought today, as it has been for the past decade on Canada Day, is about the state of the historical awareness of Canadians.

Last fall, during a brief stay in Montreal, I finally visited La Prison-des-Patriotes (PdP) at the foot of  Avenue De Lorimier in downtown Montreal. Established in 2003, it is housed in the ancient Pied-du-Courant prison where twelve men were hanged in 1838-1839 for their activities in the revolt against British authorities, as part of the Lower Canada Rebellion. Alfred Laliberté’s fabulous Monument aux Patriotes (1926), one of the finest historical sculptures in Canada, stands in front of it and easily catches the eyes of motorists passing by on Rue Notre-Dame.

It was a quiet Friday morning and I was the only one at the prison that day. It is not a museum in the modern sense of the word: there are no shouting displays and hardly any artifacts. It does not offer entertainment. There’s a lot of reading and plenty of pictures and accounts of the legacy of the Patriotes.  It is not so much a museum as it is what the French call a lieu de mémoire: a moody place to meditate on long-forgotten individuals and events. I reflected for an hour, moving from one suitably dimly-lit stand to another. The PdP is a quiet oasis in a busy city.

As I prepared to leave, the young clerk earnestly asked if I enjoyed my visit. My response was enthusiastic, and it made her visibly happy. “Sometimes,” she said, “people don’t really appreciate it.”

Her frank response has haunted me ever since.  Who ever talks about history? Should the Prison-des- Patriotes be part of my dinner conversations until the end of the year, I thought? How can the spirit and significance of “1837”—or any history—be transmitted if we don’t use it to illustrate our values to our friends, neighbours and children? As Canada welcomes more and more people from all corners of the world — individuals and families who crave our stability, prosperity and peace—I wonder how well we, as a society, transmit our love of country to them.

Those values—including solidarity with the afflicted, fairness to workers, optimism that challenges can be overcome, and divisions can be resolved and, yes, our monarchical system—can only come from the inspirations of the past. If we have values, it is because of the experience and teachings of those who precede us. It is through their struggles and their breakthroughs that our values come alive. Inspiration can never come from something that does not exist. Dreams matter, and a better vision for the future can fire-up the imagination. But the drive to realize something better comes from the assurance that in the past, people have overcome challenges to make their country better.

Too many Canadians take their past for granted. Surveys show that the vast majority—including most Quebeckers—are “proud” of being citizens of Canada. They can identify key dates and individuals. They know the significance of certain events. They care about their family’s past.

However, I have the feeling that many Canadians feel abandoned by the people in authority who feel free to wash away the importance of the past.  Their speeches bear nothing of tradition or remembrance. There is no hint of nostalgia, no reference to the people who shaped our thinking and our culture. It’s a total absence of memory that for decades has eroded the confidence of our citizenry that we can do better. Their visions of the future are as uninspiring as they are unconvincing. Worse, they undermine our sense of ourselves. Public squares are boringly re-named (think of the Yonge-Dundas Square debacle); history museums close their galleries dedicated to Canadiana (think the Royal Ontario Museum).

As a result, Canadians are losing that instinctive feel for the traditions and the institutions that have, against all odds, managed to unite this country of disparate peoples and regions. That loss of narrative undermines our country’s drive to excel and our ability to defend it.

On Canada Day, I’ll remember that young museum clerk and think a special thought for the Patriotes who died in a fight they did not want but waged to defeat those who stood in the way of democratic reform. Their actions and sacrifice opened the way for change and we live today with their legacy.

We can’t become complacent

By Michael Kempa, a criminologist at the University of Ottawa

There are many reasons justifying a strong national pride on Canada Day. The Canadian promise of a peaceful, prosperous, and just society continues to stand.

But healthy pride can not give way to complacency—as the notion of “Canadian exceptionalism” that excludes us from the most pressing threats facing our Western democratic partner nations has been exploded right before our eyes.

Extremist politics and polarization can no longer be dismissed as American or European phenomena. Violent extremist groups are among us, receiving backing from global misanthropic forces. They are latching on to any legitimate protest they can find with a view to recruiting and turning movements toward their dark purposes.

Politicians and public-facing professionals are increasingly the targets of violent disdain.

Hate-motivated violence and rampant property and financial crimes tied to global networks are met with limpid justice responses—giving citizens the impression that they are on their own.

We are vulnerable to manipulation by hostile ideological opponent states, disruption to our supply chains caused by pandemic or war, and our productivity—the bedrock of a robust economy—is faltering.

While we have not yet lost the promise of Canada to these forces, it is clear our government, criminal justice, and military institutions are not up to the tasks at hand. Many promises that may have gotten out in front of these problems—such as electoral reform, better government transparency, and investment in mature justice and national security strategies—have not been kept.

Even more urgent than government action, however, is a population that takes the time to reflect on these threats. Engaged and industrious citizens will prove to be the ultimate guardians of the Canadian promise, through the generation of tumult we have only just begun. The track record of Canadians rising to challenges is cause for hope.

Not a pretty picture 

By Howard Anglin, doctoral student at Oxford University and former deputy chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and principal secretary to the premier of Alberta Jason Kenney

“The best that can be said for Canada (and I’m not underestimating this for a minute) is that a man is better paid for his work, and can live on a higher standard here, than he can almost anywhere else in the world.” That was the silver lining Canadian writer Mordecai Richler found in an otherwise cloudy assessment of a country where talent and ambition were smothered under a culture of conformity as deep as an overnight snowfall.

Now, even the silver lining is tarnished. Imagine trying to sell Canada to someone living abroad today. The cost of living is outrageous, the pay’s lousy, the culture’s dull, the streets are filthy, basic infrastructure is crumbling, police have stopped policing, judges have stopped judging, the government has stopped governing, the border is a sieve, and essential health care is rationed like bread in a Soviet supermarket. The weather, you say? Don’t ask.

This Dominion Day, it’s too depressing to reflect on what Canada has become, and we’ve been conditioned by the censors of media and academe not to think anything uplifting the past, which leaves the future. It’s not too late to build afresh, but first we have a lot of tearing down, clearing out, and hauling away to do, physically and metaphorically, of the rotten structures that have been built up over recent decades. There is “a time to break down, and a time to build up,” and the one must proceed the other.

Too much geography, too little culture

By Wodek Szemberg, a veteran journalist, having spent 40 years as a TV producer at TVO, Ontario’s public broadcaster

One of the most apt sentences ever uttered about Canada was delivered in the House of Commons in 1936. “If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography,” said the then Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Since then, Canada has adopted more geography (Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, and Yukon ) while managing to diminish its historical legacy; unwittingly, but also very much wittingly.

Somewhere in Plato’s heaven, there is a formula for ideal proportions between geographic space and the metaphysical glue made up of history, language, culture, and pride, that holds the space together into cities, regions, and nations.

Whatever that formula is, Canada’s current proportions couldn’t be more off. Too much space, not enough cultural coherence, and not enough people to fill it. A multicultural future, being forged, was supposed to supplant the politically explosive conflict between French and English Canada.

The more multiculturalism Canada incorporates, the less historical coherence there is for a country whose political DNA was shaped by the pro-monarchist and anti-revolutionary sensibilities of the Loyalists. (Alas, as this publication has amply documented, national history is not what Canadian historians do nowadays).

Many Canadians, for reasons of history or temperament, detest, dislike, or disapprove of Americans. Canada’s identity as the anti-American part of North America is very much embraced by them. But George Grant is dead. James Laxer is dead. And so is Mel Hurtig. No one of note is carrying the torch for Canadian nationalism today.

Perhaps Justin Trudeau was right after all when he mused in 2015 about the post-nationalist nature of Canada? There can be little doubt that the Liberal PM helped to de-nationalize English Canada, by putting his weight behind the Truth and Reconciliation process, which amounts to a sustained attempt to persuade Canadians to see their sense of Canadianess through the Indigenous perspective of having been overrun and outmanoeuvred by modernity.

Is there a more coherent nationhood to be built on land acknowledgements, talk of settlers, and “Turtle Island” in a country whose immigration patterns will make Canada’s past increasingly irrelevant? At their best, immigrants try to escape their pasts. They are not coming to embrace new ones.

Without upholders of the old myths and a dearth of new mythologizers, what kind of Canada will be my grandchildren’s home? Given how persistently bad conservatives are at this culture thing, it was therefore surprising to hear Pierre Poilievre set an enormous challenge to himself in a speech he gave at the Conservative convention last September. Speaking of the changed graphics in Canadian passports, he said: “This business of deleting our past must end. And this is a matter on which English Canada must learn from Quebec. Quebecers—I’m saying this in English deliberately—do not apologize for their culture, language, or history. They celebrate it. All Canadians should do the same.”

I’m looking forward to a new, unapologetic chapter in Canadian history. In the meantime, it’s Canada Day. Let’s celebrate it all.