It was 150 years ago this September, that our Fathers of Confederation met for the first time in Prince Edward Island at what has become known as the Charlottetown Conference.
While the meeting didn’t in and of itself result in the founding of the country we know and love (it would require two more conferences for that) it started people thinking about what sort of country they wanted.
The discussion of what Canada is and what it should be has never really gone away, but, perhaps due to the furor over the constitutional battles of the 80s and 90s and two referendums on Quebec separation, has gone quiet for most of the last 20 years.
We’ve also slipped into a world where Canadians are disengaging from politics at an alarming rate. Election outcomes are seen by many as irrelevant, and party leaders at all levels are often seen as uninspiring and occasionally interchangeable.
This level of apathy, combined with the fear of another decade of political turmoil, has kept us quiet for far too long.
Perhaps it’s time to raise our voices again.
What I’m suggesting isn’t a debate about the sort of nitty-gritty governance issues that makes people’s eyes glaze over, but rather a national conversation about what our country is today and what it could be tomorrow. We need to dream. We need to reevaluate where we’ve been, who we are and where we want to be. We need to create Canada afresh.
This won’t be an easy task.
For one, should this national discussion take place in a formal venue/venues or be done around kitchen tables and in coffee shops? If it’s formal, how do we engage those not at the table? If it’s informal, how do the desires of the people filter back up to those equipped to make changes?
How do you prevent one group, be it political, demographic, cultural or economic, from hijacking the agenda and spinning the outcome to its own end? If this exercise becomes politicized then it will lose all credibility, but if all the politically engaged folks are shut out then it may lack viability.
How do we ensure minority opinions are heard and considered in the face of a larger consensus? As philosopher John Stuart Mill pointed out, just because the majority thinks one way, it doesn’t make it either right or just.
I don’t have any ready answers to these questions, nor do I have any concrete proposals on what I’d like Canada to become. But that’s not the point. The point is to start the discussion — to talk to your neighbour, your friends, people you meet on the street, even people who disagree with you about almost everything — as even if there are no constitutional or political changes, we’ll all get a better sense of where our fellow Canadians are coming from.
And that new perspective could lead us to the Canada which we’d all like to see.
Happy Canada Day.
— Gordon Cameron is Group Managing Editor for Hamilton Community News