July 1, 2009
This is Canada Day. Unlike Independence Day, which our American neighbors will celebrate in a few days, Canada does not celebrate our independence because that evolved. Putting a particular date on it would be too artificial for us realist Canadians. Rather, Canada Day celebrates our very existence as a nation. As of July 1st, 1867, the world had a new form of state – a dominion.
The Dominion of Canada, as our country was originally called, was a semi-autonomous state within the British Empire. The Canadian government, ensconced in its new capital, Ottawa, looked after internal affairs while the mother parliament in Great Britain looked after international affairs.
Now, the term internal was somewhat relative since Canada, then consisting of Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, also took on some responsibilities for the North West Territories – pretty much the rest of what is now Canada except for British Columbia.
Later, the Dominion of Canada became simply Canada and Dominion Day became Canada Day. Along the way with decades of war and peace under our belt we gained most of our autonomy from what had become known as The United Kingdom. By 1982, we had figured out a way to amend our own constitution (or thought we did) and severed the last shred of dependency from the bemused mother parliament.
So – what do we celebrate on Canada Day? Mostly, I think, we celebrate the ideas of Canada. I say ideas, because I suspect that each Canadian has an individual idea of what Canada is. That diversity is a major part of our ideal. Canada is, in reality, a means to an end. We do not hold any illusions that it is perfect and we work with and around its imperfections every day. Canada works largely because we let it work.
Consider this. Every time we hold an election, our government dissolves. Theoretically we hand the running of the country over to the Privy Council, a group of advisors selected by parliament to advise our Governor General who supervises the whole effort. In reality our bureaucrats just carry on with whatever laws are in place at the time.
We Canadians don't really give a second thought to the notion that someone may just decide not to honor the results of the election and stage some kind of take over. We trust Elections Canada to get it right and the defeated parties to honor the results of the election.
This is perhaps the most important part of our national philosophy. Consider all the turmoil that elections cause in other countries. Iran is the most recent example with the interference of its clergy and the lack of a truly trustworthy election system.
With Canada Day we are celebrating neither a day in history, nor an institution. We create Canada every day through our daily aspirations and lives. Today, Canadians are celebrating Canada, an ephemeral idea that is so strong that it seems real enough to hang our dreams on.
Doug Thomas is an English teacher and novelist, an agnostic member of SOFREE (Society of Ontario Freethinkers), and an active member of the Humanist Association of Canada. He is also Managing Editor of Canadian Freethinker.