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Canada 151

Hopefully 2018 will be a year of tackling the very real challenges in the way we govern how we live together in Canada. It will take citizen power, focused on our common good, to get the quality of governance we need for Canada. I hope to explore how in coming articles.

Canada 151

The Canada 150 parties are over and all our photos are archived. Saying “sesquicentennial” is still a challenge. Will Canada be different in 2018 and beyond because of the way we celebrated Canada 150?

One way to measure progress might be looking at the four official themes of Canada 150: youth, diversity, environment and reconciliation with indigenous peoples. We could also look at obstacles to progress that were ignored. What will be remembered when we look back at these years on Canada’s 200th birthday?

Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples
Celebrating Canada comes easily, but the “150” part was harder as more Canadians became sensitive to the history of indigenous people in Canada long before Confederation. Measurable progress on outstanding indigenous issues is necessary in 2018 to demonstrate that we learned something from reflecting on our history.

Youth
Canada 150 activities intentionally engaged young people between the ages of 16 and 25 to imagine a better future. Their voices are being heard and will hopefully lead to lasting changes in our workplaces, culture and global solidarity – changes that bridge the generation gap.

Environment
Love of the land permeated Canada 150 events. Will it provide a stronger base of public support for the tough measures needed in 2018 to achieve climate change goals and other major changes that are necessary to take better care of creation? The fact that this is a high priority for younger Canadians gives me hope.

Diversity
Increased sensitivity to minority voices mixed with tensions that came from forces beyond Canada 150 in the last year. This has left unresolved questions about accommodating difference. Challenges to free speech on university campuses and cancellation of a visit by Zwarte Piet to The Dutch Groceries and Giftware store in Ottawa, after protests by the Caribbean Union of Canada and Solidarity Ottawa at the end of 2017, illustrate the need for more dialogue about cultural diversity and racism to prevent the polarization that can come with identity politics. In 2018 and beyond Canada will have to find ways to promote social cohesion and the common good as well as space for differing worldviews.

The missing piece
When I dig deeper into each of these themes, the common element is a need to rethink the way we govern ourselves, rooted in the Confederation we celebrated in 2017. Progress is often stalled by outdated divisions of power and buck-passing between federal and provincial governing bodies. That is not the stuff of parties and photo-ops. In addition, other important events in 2017 reinforce the need to modernize the way we govern ourselves.

Take indigenous child welfare, for example. Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott is on the right track by gathering every governing body responsible for the welfare of children in one room early in 2018 to end the jurisdictional disputes that harm children. In other areas, media exposure of the widespread failure to prosecute sexual assaults and the horrors of long periods of solitary confinement in human cages revealed big cracks in our criminal justice systems. While everyone agrees that a reasonable national program to pay for pharmaceuticals would save money and improve health, Canada lags far behind other countries because of federal-provincial battles over health care. Tax havens, real estate price manipulation and the shocking failure to regulate white collar crime across Canada, exposed by the Globe and Mail at the end of 2017, reveal huge cracks in our economic systems. They erode confidence in the GDP growth rates that are supposed to provide comfort that all is well in Canada.

Hopefully 2018 will be a year of tackling the very real challenges in the way we govern how we live together in Canada. It will take citizen power, focused on our common good, to get the quality of governance we need for Canada. I hope to explore how in coming articles. 

About the Author
Canada 151

KATHY VANDERGRIFT, COLUMNIST

Kathy Vandergrift (kathyvandergrift@rogers.com), a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.