Usually the thought of Thanksgiving invokes images of family and friends sitting around the dining room table enjoying good food, sparkling conversation and laughter…as well as reminiscing over past thanksgiving disasters like Ms Soapbox’s stuffing that was as dry as sand and Mr Soapbox’s failed experiment involving an oyster.
However, this year on the eve of the federal election, my thoughts went to a letter written by Canada’s former governor general David Johnston in which he described Canada as “a nation for all nations”.
To understand the relevance of Mr Johnston’s letter to the federal election we need to acknowledge that, much to our dismay, some Canadians are prepared to sink to the dangerous level of political lunacy we’ve witnessed every day since Donald Trump decided to run for the presidency—yesterday Justin Trudeau had to wear a bulletproof vest at a campaign event in Mississauga. We’ve reached a tipping point; all Canadians need to stop and ask themselves what it means to be Canadian.
This is where Mr Johnston comes in.
What is a Canadian?
David Johnston served as Governor General from 2010 to 2017. He witnessed the shift in Canadian political behavior and still remains inspired by his vision of Canada. He sets out this vision in a letter to John Buchan, Lord Tweedsmuir, Canada’s first governor general who died the year before Mr Johnston was born.*
This letter discusses the characteristics that have served Canadians well over time.
As I list these characteristics consider how they’re reflected (or not) in the actions of politicians vying to become Canada’s next prime minister.
The first governor general, Mr Buchan, believed Canadians tended to have a limited vision, they compartmentalized themselves and others in little boxes of region, language, religion or ancestry. Decades later Mr Johnston has taken a more expansive view. He believes being Canadian isn’t a matter of choosing which box to live in but choosing to stay open “to the world and all the complexity it represents” in order to overcome our differences and minimize the forces that would tear us apart.
The first governor general believed Canada would “be home to all the peoples of the world”. Seventy-five years later Mr Johnston says this is indeed the case.
He says Canadians are inclusive and welcome the contributions of all who live here, we’re honourable, peaceful people who use our military power sparingly but with conviction when necessary. We’re selfless, “our survival has been sustained by humility and acceptance of our mutual interdependence.” We’re smart and caring, our concern “for the common good of our neighbours in each community makes us responsive. We do not abandon our fellows to scrape by in times of distress or natural disaster” but come to their aid.
Mr Johnston’s description of the nature of Canadians is a benchmark by which the political leaders vying for our votes in the upcoming election should be judged.
Politicians who create a false narrative of victimhood and stoke anger to the point where a political leader is accused of treason and is forced to attend a political rally wearing a Kevlar vest, surrounded by uniformed security officers, are politicians who have fallen far short of Mr Johnston’s definition of a Canadian.
A time to give thanks…and to think
Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for the privilege of living in Canada and to think about which federal party will lift Canadians up, not tear them apart, to satisfy their own political ambitions.
While none of the federal political parties are perfect, some are significantly better than others.
Vote wisely Canada.
*The Idea of Canada: Letters to a Nation, p 297