Where to, Canada? A Canadian looks at the country that welcomed him and his family forty-six years ago. by PJ Robertson

PJCFN – In “The Art of Fiction” Henry James cites “the very obvious truth that the deepest quality of a work of art will always be the quality of the mind of the producer.” Inasmuch as a country is a work of art—a work in progress, to be sure—its deepest quality will be the quality of the minds of its peoples, in particular its caretakers, the people at the top.

In the late ‘60s, Canada blossomed as a country. With Expo ’67 Montreal welcomed the world. Canada’s caretaker at the time was a Nobel laureate for Peace. The following year, he handed over to a young man with strong roots in all three founding nations—a man of education, imagination and intelligence, who had travelled the world and was wise in its ways. A man with an infectious love of life, and a vision for a just society. Canada was inspired and inspiring. In 1976, Montreal again welcomed the world to the Summer Olympics. All through these years Canada was the place to be, the world took note, and people came in droves to visit, embrace opportunity, and stay.

So the country progressed into the ‘80s, with bumps along the way, as is the case with a country of great complexity and an appetite to experiment for the benefit of its peoples and their home in fabulous nature. Through the years the man of vision upset some, even many (impossible to please everyone in a country so vast and diverse), while captivating the majority and earning the respect of worthy opponents. As was proved in his passing, when the whole country celebrated a life of service that inspired. This was a man who did not seek the post of caretaker, but when chosen devoted his energies to its responsibilities. A man unafraid to risk the rush and rebuke of crowds. A man who challenged his country to rise above mediocrity and have fun doing so.

Riding squabbles and scandals, great and small, Canada continued to bounce along to the new century as the place to be. A place where decency, dignity, and respect flourished. While the caretakers varied in self-importance, ambition, and view, they all put the country’s interest above their own.

2006—the country went into reverse, as if a switch had been thrown. A new caretaker vowed transparency and accountability, to “Stand up for Canada.” And promised to change the country beyond recognition before he had finished with it. He has been delivering. This is a revisionist, bent on recasting Canada in his own image.

A man who overrides facts, evidence, reason, anyone and anything that gets in his way. A man who, having never before travelled outside the country, is unskilled in the arts of diplomacy or compromise, and apparently unwilling to learn. A man whose notion of leadership is ‘divide and rule.’ A secretive man, who travels in a bubble, engaging only with followers. A man obsessed with power, punishment,  war, and money from oil. A man who cows appointees and controls what they say.

Who blazons “Support our Troops,” only to deny them as traumatized veterans. Who trumpets democracy overseas, and tramples it at home. Who doesn’t give a dot.com about the environment or climate change. And the world shakes its head in disbelief: Is this Canada?

An uncaring caretaker, who on taking office killed a landmark accord with Canada’s First Nations, because it was crafted by an enlightened predecessor. Who then staged a grand apology to the First Nations, only to turn his back on them ever since.

Where to, Canada? You are being sold down polluted rivers by a man in a bubble. Your work of art is fighting for air in a musty basement.

Who will restore you to the light of day?

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PJM Robertson has published two books on literature, numerous articles and reviews, and taught at universities, colleges and schools in Upper Canada and the Maritimes.

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