Today we commemorate the sacrifice of several generations of Canadians who gave their lives in the conviction that our country and the people who are citizens of it – by birth or personal choice are worth preserving for the future.
The conflicts and their names are recorded in the Memorial Chamber of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. At 11 a.m. two minutes of silence are held and a page is turned in each of the remembrance books, which list the names of 118,000 Canadians who have died in military service since Confederation. On November 11, every year since the end of the First World War, in every community across this nation, we set aside two minutes of our lives to the solemn recognition of those same men and women.
And yet, despite our hopes and best efforts to live in a world of peaceful tolerance of each other’s differences, the struggle to maintain our freedoms from violent destruction continues. And when we set out to explain what Canada is all about, we oft times struggle to define who we are.
For many of us, Canada started as a pact between England and France-based colonial settlements to have a common senior governmental structure. That is changing as we examine how to incorporate the place of our Indigenous nations as founding members of the Canadian state. Compounding all of this has been a continuing stream of people from all over the world who have come to Canada and settled as new citizens – presently at a rate of about 300,000 per year. We have adapted to these changes by formally declaring ourselves as a multicultural society in 1988.
Our journey to nationhood has been cautious. While we look to Confederation in 1867 as the decisive date in forming Canada as a distinct state, Canada remained, to all intents and purposes, a colony of the British Empire until 1931 when, by act of the British Parliament (the Statute of Westminster), we were granted full legal freedom ‘except in areas where we chose to remain subordinate’. It then took nearly a decade before we had our own ambassador’s credentials recognized in Washington. Worldwide recognition came when we played a major role in the founding of the United Nations and membership in NATO. Still, we waited until the Constitution Act of 1982 before Canada was able to amend our own Constitution without approval by Britain.
I have had a longstanding concern that a lack of a national consensus of our history could be a fatal weakness. Our federal government works on a ‘double majority’ approach where national projects work only when Quebec and the “Rest of Canada’ both agree. This has been the way we have governed ourselves since the days of the MacDonald-Cartier alliance. What happens now as we try to adjust to Indigenous and Métis nations’ rights?
We will need wisdom and strength if we are to be worthy of this fundamental challenge of Canadian confederation:
To you with failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep
Wear your poppy with pride and dedication.
Alan Murdock is a local pediatrician.