TPP, Globalized Trade, and Resiliency

This morning the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) was signed. This is the biggest trade agreement in the world, covering 40% of global trade and including 12 nations, including Canada, the US, Mexico, Japan, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Brunei, Singapore, and Vietnam. Previously, the biggest trade agreement that Canada was a part of was the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but since the TPP also includes the US and Mexico, it will supersede NAFTA.

There are a lot of people analyzing this deal today, saying whether it will be good or bad for Canada. Here are some highlights. There has also been much said about the nature of free trade in general, and even the Trans Pacific Partnership specifically. (I highly recommend you check out this link – it’s a comic about global trade, and specifically the TPP, and it is very informative).

The details of the deal are finally being made public (after it is signed, go figure), and it’s not looking good for our dairy and chicken markets – both of which are huge in Provencher – and our auto sector, which is the largest employer in Canada. But completely aside from the details of the deal, I see big problems with it. These problems have to do with the nature of globalization, trade agreements, transportation, and climate change, as well as with the way the Harper government has handled trade.

Problem #1: Secrecy and Manipulation

This trade agreement has been in negotiation in some form for almost a decade, but we’re only hearing details about it now, after it has been signed. There was no public consultation, and not even a motion in Parliament – though Harper is NOW saying that he’ll propose a motion to ratify it, after he’s signed it. If we had known the details, the question of how to approach it would have been an election issue; because we did not, the only election issue is take-it-or-leave-it. The NDP are saying leave it; the Conservatives are saying take it; and the Liberals are saying wait and see. This will define the rest of the election, with the Conservatives pushing the increased prosperity that they believe always comes with trade agreements, and claiming that the NDP will ruin us all by refusing to participate in it. It’s a false choice that we’re being pushed into, and it’s extremely clever of Mr. Harper to do so, but it’s incredibly manipulative. It’s presenting us with a choice between prosperity and poverty, at least on the surface, and most of us don’t know enough about economics to debunk the political rhetoric that’s already starting to come out about it. We’ll just have to choose which leader we believe, and vote for them; but it seems clear that Harper is the safer choice, given the situation, because the risk of not being involved in the world’s biggest trade deal is scarier than the status quo that Mulcair is offering. But this is a false choice, because…

Problem #2: Trade Deals Don’t Always Increase Trade

Since becoming Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has signed Canada into dozens of trade agreements with 39 nations. Not all of them have benefited Canada. Just this morning on CBC’s The Current, an economist explained that since signing a trade agreement with South Korea, our imports from there have increased significantly while our exports there have stayed flat. Just because there are no trade barriers doesn’t mean that people there actually want our products. When they work, that’s great! When they don’t, it’s a risk for nothing.

Problem #3: Trade Deals Aren’t Always In Our Best Interests

Free trade agreements are never actually free. They are carefully negotiated agreements to reduce certain tariffs (taxes on imported goods) and other trade barriers. If it were truly “free trade” there would be nothing to negotiate: each nation would completely remove all tariffs and other protections for their own nation’s industries, period. But that never happens, and the negotiation sets the terms for the economic relationship that follows. Depending on how well the deal is negotiated, we might do very well – or we might do very poorly.

Take, for example, Mexico and NAFTA. Before NAFTA, many Mexicans survived on subsistence agriculture and the export of corn. Corn has long been a staple crop in Mexico, with thousands of varieties and a deep connection to Mexican culture. But in the negotiation of NAFTA, the US managed to maintain the ability to heavily subsidize their corn crops, while Mexico removed trade barriers for agricultural products, which led to a situation in which it was cheaper for Mexicans to buy American corn than to even plant their own corn. A way of life for thousands of Mexicans was routed, and the number of Mexicans trying to find a way into America skyrocketed. While there are surely hundreds of factors involved (not just corn), Mexico is now largely run by drug cartels and the US is talking about spending billions on building a wall all along the Mexican border, and I can’t help but think that the shift from a farming economy in northern Mexico to unemployment or factory work (as Canadian and US manufacturers set up in Mexico for lower labour costs) factors into this somehow. Of course that’s difficult to prove, but my point here is that the way a trade deal is negotiated can have effects that go far beyond any particular industry or product.

I have a book called Smart Globalization: The Canadian Business and Economic History Experience, which makes the case that Canada has historically only signed onto trade agreements when they were clearly beneficial to Canada. In the past nine years Stephen Harper has signed trade deals with 39 nations without the input of Parliament, which means that our system for ensuring that something is in Canada’s best interests (i.e., the system of regional representation called Parliament) was bypassed. Can we really be sure that all of these agreements are tilted in our favour?

Problem #4: Trade Deals Limit Sovereignty

The goal of a trade deal is to set clear boundaries that nations cannot cross in regard to how they regulate industry and trade, and to ensure that those boundaries are firm enough that investors can trust that they will not change. For example, the trade deal that Stephen Harper signed with China will take us decades to withdraw from even if we start immediately. We can’t simply back out, and we can’t change the terms unless China agrees. If we wanted to change the terms because it turned out to be bad for us, then that would mean that it was very, very good for China, so why would they agree to change it? In this sense, trade agreements are laws that govern the actions of nations, and therefore overrule national laws.

This is particularly dangerous because we live in a rapidly changing environment, especially due to climate change. If we decide to enact regulation on an industry that is affected by a trade deal for the sake of preserving our environment, for example, we are open to being sued by any industry from the other nation that is currently, or even could someday be, profiting from that industry. We’ve been sued numerous times under NAFTA, and BC was recently threatened with a lawsuit because it refused to export water to the US. Much of BC and the US west coast are in a drought; one would think that bottled water sales should take a back seat to conservation in a drought, but NAFTA has no such provisions. If Canadian municipalities, provinces, or our federal government were to legislate regulations on polluting industries, such as putting a price on carbon at the source, we could face serious economic consequences because of our trade agreements. There are enough economic arguments against taking action on climate change without adding the threat of getting sued in a secret international trade court that supersedes the power of our own government.

Problem #5: The Nature of International Trade

International trade functions on the economic system of “comparative advantage” (for a full rundown on how this works, see the Economix link at the beginning of this post). The gist is that some places are better at producing some products than other places. We all have our strengths, and it’s comparatively cheaper to produce palm oil in Costa Rica than it is to produce it in Canada, while it is cheaper to produce seal skins in Canada than in Costa Rica. Therefore, it is economically advantageous for both Canada and Costa Rica to trade with each other than to produce each others’ products. The argument makes sense economically, but there are a number of problems with it:

a. Comparative Advantage is calculated almost entirely in financial terms

It really comes down to “is it cheaper to make this here, or can we save money by getting it from China?” But what if it wasn’t just about what is cheaper? What if we were actually concerned about the environmental or human rights issues in these other countries? You can, of course, try to reduce social and environmental costs to financial terms by putting prices on them, but then you run into the problem of commodifying the commons: is it really a good idea to make clean air and water into something to be traded on an international market? Not really, even if it were possible; can we really put a dollar figure on the forests that were lost in Costa Rica to plant row upon row of oil palms? For the most part, we do the opposite: environmental and social costs are externalities, which is another way of saying that we don’t even count them – we have removed them from the equation, leaving them to be paid by the poor, or by our children or grandchildren.

b. Comparative Advantage on a global scale depends on cheap transportation

Transportation is shockingly cheap, when it’s scaled up to the level of global trade. There are apples that are grown in England, shipped to South Africa to be waxed, and then shipped back to England to be sold and eaten. Because they’re being shipped on a massive scale, and alongside other more profitable goods, the cost to transport them back and forth is almost negligible in terms of dollars and cents. But when it comes to the environmental cost of shipping a product around the world in order to shave a penny off of its per unit price, it’s astronomically wasteful and leads to some strange contradictions. For example, take a hybrid car: made with a hybrid electric engine to save on fuel consumption, the amount of fuel consumed in the process of collecting its various parts from their place of manufacture around the world actually eliminates most fuel savings and resulting lower carbon footprint the hybrid engine may have provided. And what happens when we run out of oil, or when oil becomes so expensive that shipping is no longer so financially viable? (We can make electric cars, but electric container ships? We have a lot of work to do to innovate ourselves out of this hole.) We’ll lose an awful lot of comparative advantage at that point – so what will happen to our trade deals then?

c. Comparative Advantage destroys resilience

The more we trade with outside nations under the logic of comparative advantage, the more we’ll focus on our strengths, which means we’ll invest more and more into a few profitable industries. We all know the primary product of Saudi Arabia is oil, but what else do they produce? Can their economy survive without oil? What will happen to them when they run out, or if there’s a war and their oil wells are set on fire, or if the rest of the world weans itself off of oil? The more we depend on a few products, the less resilient our economy is. Taken to its ultimate end, comparative advantage can lead to every nation in an interdependent state of vulnerability.

Take the Irish Potato Famine as an example. All of Ireland was producing the same kind of potato – one product that employed 2/5 of the population. It just so happened that a particular type of potato bug liked to eat that kind of potato. Had they been growing several varieties of potato, the bugs wouldn’t have spread so quickly or eaten so many potatoes (they only like the one kind); had they been growing crops other than just potatoes, it might not have been that bad at all. Instead, a million Irish people died and another million immigrated, dropping the population of Ireland by about 1/4. England’s potatoes all came from Ireland, so their potato market would have been decimated, but they ensured enough potatoes for England by taking all of the potatoes that survived the bugs, which is why so many people in Ireland starved.

When we invest heavily in a particular industry or product, we tie our national economy to that product. In Canada, our dollar has recently dropped in value significantly, and this is due primarily to a drop in the cost of oil. While the oil sands only actually make up about 2% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), investment in that industry makes up a more significant portion of our nation’s prospects – and the drop in oil prices hurt investor confidence, sending oil stocks plummeting as fast as the international cost of a barrel, all thanks to Saudi Arabia flooding the market with their cheaper oil. Thousands of Canadians are out of work, and Canadian corporations have lost millions or billions of dollars, and the ripple effects of this are wider in our economy in general because of the degree to which we have invested in oil. If we had a more diverse investment, say, in clean energy technologies and systems, we could better respond to a change in the marketplace. That’s resilience: the ability to survive the unexpected. Diversity is the key to resilience, but comparative advantage focuses us on specialization. Canada’s specialization, it appears, is exporting our natural resources as cheaply as possible, which is not only unresilient, it is economically foolish.

Problem #6: Climate Change will Disrupt International Trade

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but South Carolina is under water. They haven’t had this much rain in a thousand years.

The thing about climate change is that it’s not just that things are getting warmer, they’re getting weirder. A small change in temperatures can change entire weather patterns, leading to stronger and less predictable storms. Is this really the best time to be increasing trade across the ocean and shackling ourselves economically to nations that are more vulnerable to climate change?

We’ve already talked about how international trade agreements put us into a state of interdependent vulnerability, but how much more vulnerable will it get if there are environmental barriers to trade? We can’t simply pretend that business will carry on as usual as the world continues to warm and weather becomes more extreme.

Conclusion

That’s enough reasons for me to think that the Trans Pacific Partnership isn’t in our best interests – because it, and trade deals like it, do not account for our changing world. We need to shift from a carbon economy to a clean energy economy, and from a consumption economy to a conservation economy, if we want to be prepared for the changing climate and do our part to minimize the change that will occur.

When you add to it the fact that the TPP endangers supply management, expands copyright on medications to keep their prices higher for longer, and threatens an open internet, it’s not just a bad deal for Canada, it’s an affront to our values: the family farm is already threatened, and this could lead to a greater industrialization of agriculture; the cost of living for our seniors is already sky-high, largely due to medication costs, and this deal will make that worse; and the internet is the greatest cultural and innovation hub in world history, and this deal will put it under the kinds of controls that restrict access, increase costs, and stifle the flourishing collaboration and community that has characterized our engagement with the internet thus far.

The Green Party has opposed this deal from the beginning. It’s not that we’re against trade – by no means! But trade deals like this go so much further than simply trade, infringing on sovereignty and having massive environmental and cultural effects. A Green government would re-open Canada’s trade agreements, renegotiating where possible to ensure we have the freedom to act to conserve resources and address climate change and injustice. We would also seek new trade agreements that address a more thoroughly assessed comparative advantage that takes the sustainability of an industry and the resilience of a nation into account. Because our best interests are always our long-term best interests.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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On Refugees

For the last few days, all I can think about is Alan Kurdi. The first picture I saw of him was an artist’s rendition of Alan laying facedown in a bed, and I liked it because it reminded me of my son Sam, who is just a year old. “Sam sleeps like that too,” I thought. Then I saw the image it was based on, realized that he wasn’t sleeping, and I broke down. I’m not normally prone to bursting out in tears at work, but it’s happened a few times in the past few days as I continue to process it.

It’s amazing how quickly one photo can change the world.

There have been refugees in Syria for years. Long before there was ISIS, Bashar al Assad was killing his own people en masse. Syrians cried out for help back then, in 2011 and 2012. Canada condemned Assad, and issued sanctions against Syria, but the number of refugees has been steadily growing since then, and while we heard about it from time to time it was rarely headline news. It was just numbers from a far away place, until it suddenly became humanized this week.

Children are more human than the rest of us. They embody the preciousness of life, both in the sense that their life is fragile and vulnerable, and in the sense that they enjoy even the smallest things in life. My little Sam can’t wait to be awake every morning, and gets more joy out of a window crank than I do out of…well, out of anything (except maybe Sam himself). In a world divided by sex and race and religion and politics, children remain undividedly human, blind to their differences and universally representative. It’s easy to dehumanize adults; it’s nearly impossible to dehumanize children – and who would? They embody our hope for the future, our best features and qualities, and our love itself.

When I think about Alan Kurdi’s picture, I also think about other iconic and disturbing images of children. The Vietnamese girl splashed with napalm and the starving Sudanese child being stalked by a vulture come to mind. I won’t post them here, in case like me you feel too overwhelmed to see them right now. But the point is that these images put the most human of faces on international crises – the faces of children.

Since then, we’ve begun to look at how to respond, and it’s degrading quickly. We politicians have jumped over each other to promise to bring in higher and higher numbers of refugees, and it’s turning into a pissing match. The Conservatives want to bring in another 10,000 refugees over 5 years; the NDP says they can do that by the end of this year; and the Liberals and Greens are saying 25,000. Meanwhile, there are nearly 60 MILLION displaced people around the world. We have to do better than 25,000; people are dying today. This should not be a partisan issue of which party can one-up the others; we should be coming together to save lives.

The difficulty of bringing in more people is that our refugee system is not built for this. But like I said, these refugees didn’t pop up overnight, so if our system isn’t built for this, what is it built for? Currently, refugees are designated as part of the immigration system, and it can take up to 4 or 5 years to get into Canada as a refugee. This is insane. By definition, a refugee is someone who is in danger; they don’t have 5 years to wait. But this is the system we have. Here’s a brief story that outlines the situation:

 

Here’s what we’ve done in the past:

Here’s what we’re doing now:

In short, we’re not doing enough, but we’re hampered by an inadequate system. The government brings in less and less people, unless Canadians stand up and demand more. That’s what we did in the 1970’s: the Boat People crisis in Vietnam led to tens of thousands of Canadians stepping up and volunteering to sponsor refugees, and we moved 65,000 people. When Canadians volunteered, our government stepped up and provided planes to ferry people to Canada. The same thing is happening in other nations, too: over ten thousand Icelanders, spurred on by their own government’s insufficient response to this crisis, have called for more Syrian refugees to be taken in there. On issues like these, it appears, when people lead the governments follow.

So let’s lead. I know that the people in Provencher are the most generous in the country (actually – this is documented). And I know that Canadians in general are already responding en masse, searching online for how to sponsor Syrian refugees. This link is really important – it includes links to a lot of information, including a list of organizations that can help you sponsor a refugee. One local organization that didn’t make CBC’s list is MCC, which has a number of ongoing projects to help.

Let’s set aside electoral politics and work together to help these refugees. This is not an election issue, it’s a human issue. If we can step up and demand to open our nation and our homes to people in need, the only question our candidates and party leaders should have to answer on this topic is whether they’re prepared to follow where we lead them – to a more compassionate Canada.

For Alan, and Sam, and all of the children this world is not worthy of,

Jeff

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“Sleep tight, little one.” Taken from facebook. If this is in copyright violation, please let me know and I will remove it.

 

The Senate, Party Cooperation, and Importing American Politics

Two things have me scratching my head this week: the general excitement around killing the Senate, and some communications I’ve received from organizations that want all of the “progressive” parties to work together. I’ll start there.

Progressive Cooperation

First of all, it’s hard for a Green candidate to agree to “working together” with other parties, because the way it is proposed that we “work” with them is to drop out of the race altogether. The way that Greens can best support Canadian democracy, according to these groups, is to not exist. But we do exist, and the reason we exist is because we represent a real alternative to the other parties. For example, these proposals always aim to “unite the Left,” which isn’t actually true: the Liberals are a centrist party, the NDP is a leftist party, and the Green Party is generally socially progressive but fiscally and economically conservative, with policies based on practicality and wisdom rather than the political leanings of our members or constituents. We don’t define ourselves by the political spectrum at all, which in itself ought to be enough to keep us from getting lumped in with the political left.

Second, the reason they want us to go away is because of fear that our presence on the ballot will “split the vote”. The idea is simple: if a Conservative wins in a riding with only 45% of the vote, with the rest of the vote split among the Liberals, NDP, and Greens, it seems obvious that if the NDP and Greens didn’t run a candidate the rest of their voters would have voted Liberal, and therefore it is the NDP and Greens who are keeping the Liberals from winning. People have used this logic to say that “Elizabeth May is helping to elect Conservatives.” Of course, that assumes that Green voters would otherwise have voted Liberal or NDP, which is an enormous assumption. Many of my supporters have voted Conservative (or Progressive Conservative, Reform, Alliance, or Social Credit) all their lives, but are frustrated with the Harper Conservatives and have joined the Greens because they see us as a viable alternative. If the Greens weren’t there, they would have either voted Conservative, or not at all. And that’s the other point here: Greens don’t “steal” votes from leftist parties – the votes we get, we earn by engaging communities with grassroots democracy. Elizabeth May nails it when she points out that Greens draw votes from (what is sadly the largest voting block:) non-voters. When we run, more people vote.

Third, and most concerning, is that these groups that want to “unite the Left” are pushing us toward American-style democracy and a two-party system. While it’s possible for a third party or independent to run in American elections, the two main parties are so deeply entrenched that they are the only two viable options. This leads to a system that is so polarized that partisan squabbling in the House of Representatives led to a partial US government shutdown and a possible debt default that would have sent the entire world into recession. Both American parties distinguish themselves through polarizing rhetoric, yet govern almost identically, as their healthcare plans show: the Obama vs. Romney presidential election was focused on Obama’s healthcare program (Obamacare), which was almost identical to the one Mitt Romney had instituted in his own state as governor (Romneycare), but the rhetoric between them thoroughly divided the country. This type of politics is divisive and deceitful, and leads to all ideas being stewed down to a compromised position of what will appeal to roughly half the population. That’s no way to unite a country as large as ours and with our distinct cultural and language groups; we are diverse, and a diverse population with diverse ideas needs a diverse political climate. Entering a two-party system just to defeat the Conservatives is short-sighted and foolish, and will only ramp up the same negative rhetoric that the Harper Conservatives have mastered.

If we had a two-party system, every government would be a majority government. With a Prime Minister like Stephen Harper, who exercises very tight control of his MPs including how they vote and what they say in public, the government would function as an extension of the PM rather than the PM being one member of a representative body. Thank goodness there’s still a Senate to check his power!

For now.

The Senate

The NDP has long argued that we should abolish the Senate, seeing appointed Senators as undemocratic. Before he was Prime Minister, Stephen Harper agreed: he argued that he would never appoint a Senator. To date, he has appointed 59 of them – more than any other Prime Minister in history. Now he’s claiming that he’ll never appoint another Senator. I don’t blame him, as several of his appointees are currently in criminal court. The reality is that reforming the Senate (e.g., to make Senators elected) would take a constitutional change that would require more than half of the provinces to agree; abolishing it would take constitutional changes that would require all of the provinces to agree; and almost everyone acknowledges that getting them all to agree would be nearly impossible. So Stephen Harper said this week that he would simply refuse to appoint any more Senators until the Senate dies or reform comes – which would also be unconstitutional, as it would lead to provinces not being proportionately represented in government. But aside from the technicalities of reforming or abolishing the Senate, is it really a good idea? Let’s look at the options.

The Conservatives have long argued for Senate reform to require that Senators be elected rather than appointed. This seems like a good pro-democracy move, but let’s look at why we have a Senate in the first place: to put a check on the power of the House of Commons. The House represents the will of the people, but the will of the people can change like the wind, and the people aren’t always the most informed. The Senate exists to provide “sober second thought” to any bill that passes the House of Commons, and Senators are supposed to be chosen from the best of us, people who thoroughly represent Canadian identity and have a track record of good judgment. They are chosen to think twice while the rest of us are only thinking once. If they were elected, they’d be just as accountable to voters as the House of Commons is, and the same people would be voting for Senators as vote for Members of Parliament. How could a Senate be elected, and therefore accountable to the will of the public, and still maintain their purpose as a check on the power of the public? An elected Senate would effectively be another House of Commons, and make our whole legislative system unnecessarily complicated and competitive. And thoroughly American, too: the U.S. Senate is elected, and serves as just another battleground between the two main parties. It’s not a system that inspires confidence in anyone’s ability to govern, because that ability to govern is constantly dependent on the other party being willing to cooperate, since at any given time the House and Senate may be held by different parties. Cooperation cannot be forced, and democracy in itself is not a good – it needs to be able to function, and in the case of the Senate democracy actually impedes its functions.

The NDP, on the other hand, want to abolish the Senate altogether. And as the Senate scandals keep coming, Canadians are more and more inclined to agree. But the answer to a corrupt or dysfunctional Senate is not NO Senate, it’s a functional Senate. And I have trouble thinking that the NDP would be happy if there were no Senate while the House of Commons is dominated by a Conservative majority, if the alternative was a non-partisan, functional Senate.

The Green Approach

That is what the Green Party supports: a functional, non-partisan, chamber of sober second thought. I think Justin Trudeau was on to something when he kicked Liberal Senators out of the Liberal caucus – Senators should not be subject to party discipline. I would also propose that Senators continue to be appointed, but that there be qualifications they must possess, and perhaps a two-stage appointment process wherein they are chosen from a pool of candidates named by the provinces (an idea worth exploring, at least). There should be clear rules of conduct and spending for Senators, of course, and they should not be shielded from the law any more than anyone else, but it is well worth our tax dollars to have a body in place who has the resources and freedom they need to evaluate legislation based on what is best for Canada rather than what voters want at the moment.

And in regard to cooperating with other parties, I’m all for real cooperation: working across party lines to move good ideas forward. Deciding ahead of time who gets to participate and who doesn’t in order to eliminate opponents is not non-partisan cooperation, it’s hyper-partisan strategy. The Green Party has consistently extended olive branches of cooperation to other parties, and they have consistently rejected them. The NDP recently suggested a coalition government with the Liberals to avoid another Conservative minority, but the Liberals rejected it. It seems that everyone is interested in cooperating when it serves their own ends, but not when the only ends it serves are those of Canadians in general. I am reminded of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” I don’t want credit, I want a long-term future for a Canada we can all be proud of.

This Fall, I hope that’s what you’ll be voting for: a sustainable Canada where partisan strategies don’t keep us from working together for the good of all Canadians.

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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On the Cusp of Greatness

Yesterday was Canada Day, and a very busy day across the country. I attended community events, talked with strangers, collected some signatures, and most of all, reflected on what I was seeing. I deeply and dearly love Canada, but on a day all about loving Canada, I wondered why. Why do I love this nation? Allow me to explain.

Canada Day is a time for nationalism, sentimentality, and political speeches. At Steinbach’s Mennonite Heritage Village there were speeches from the MP, the MLA, the Mayor, and the Reeve of the surrounding municipality, one after another. Each of them repeated the phrase “Canada is the greatest country in the world,” some with gusto, others with solemnity. I heard the same words from Stephen Harper on the radio afterward, in a clip from the celebrations in Ottawa. I tend to agree, Canada is great – but what does that mean? How are we great?

The thing that caught my attention, that made me question our seemingly obvious greatness, was the comments of a speaker from the Mennonite Heritage Village. He also said that Canada is great, but he said something else that stood out. He pointed out that when Mennonites first came to Canada they were promised the ability to run their own schools and teach their children in German, with their own curriculum. Not too long after that, however, the Canadian government decided that they must use Provincial curriculum, in English. Many Mennonites moved on to South America to maintain their cultural freedom, but many stayed. And in spite of this betrayal by the Canadian government of that day, this speaker didn’t think that any of the Mennonites who stayed in Canada would wish today that they had moved on, or returned to places like Ukraine and Russia. He’s probably right, but I immediately felt that his repetition of the Canada Day mantra, “Canada is great,” was different from the other speakers. They all spoke about Canada today, our position in the G7, the great things our current government is doing, etc., so that “Canada is great” sounded like self-congratulation; he spoke about the past, and in a way that caused his “Canada is great” to sound like a hope, or even a compromise. Like Canada is great because things turned out okay, but it’s great in spite of past double-dealing and conflict.

But not everything has turned out great for all Canadians. Some conflicts continue. Is Canada great for everyone?

Each of the speakers commented on the number of immigrants and new citizens at the event, noting how this Canada Day must be extra special for them as newcomers. I met a man in the park yesterday who is trying to improve his English quickly enough to renew his work permit, so that eventually he can get Permanent Resident status and continue on the long road to citizenship. I know enough newcomers to Canada to know that achieving citizenship is a powerful, joyful event, and that Canada Day has a different significance for someone who cannot take their citizenship for granted. But that’s just it: many newcomers cannot take their Canadian citizenship for granted, even after they’ve achieved it, because of a new law that allows the immigration minister to revoke Canadian citizenship from dual citizens. Also, not all newcomers receive as warm of a welcome as the ones celebrating at the Heritage Village yesterday: the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, has been quite vocal in his opposition to the idea that a woman whose face is covered as an expression of her religious beliefs can take an oath of citizenship. Pledging allegiance to Canada is not enough, apparently; new Canadians must also express their faith in ways that align with someone else’s view of what Canadians should do.

That’s now, but Canada’s history of cultural assimilation goes back to before there was a Canada. Several articles online yesterday reminded me that Canada Day is not a day of celebration for our First Nations, whose history predates Canada’s by centuries. Canada is one of the richest nations in the world, it’s true, but our privileges are not shared by our Indigenous citizens, who were systematically stripped of their land, rights, and culture. To them, Canada Day is a celebration of the subjugation and disenfranchisement of their people, which remains an ongoing struggle. Mennonites were once betrayed by Canada, but now enjoy its benefits; First Nations are still betrayed by Canada, subject to the patriarchal Indian Act and the general refusal of the Canadian government to acknowledge and act upon the treaties signed so long ago. Is Canada really great? Were we ever?

Yet I have hope. Several years ago, the Prime Minister issued an apology on behalf of the government for enacting the Residential School system that took so many Indigenous children from their families with the goal to “kill the Indian in the child.” Recently the Premier of Manitoba apologized on behalf of the Province for the “Sixties Scoop,” in which Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and adopted by white families in Canada, the US, and the UK. And we’ve also recently celebrated the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which issued a powerful report about the extent of the abuse that First Nations have suffered at the hands of colonialist Canada. Survivors have had a chance to tell their stories, and we’ve had a chance to listen, and mourn with them.

Sharing stories gives our Indigenous people a chance to heal, but it doesn’t change the current situation. Apologies are an important symbolic step, but they haven’t led to any changes in the status quo. On one hand, they’re even quite negative: they remind us that, from the perspective of our vulnerable people, Canada has rarely been anywhere near “greatness.” But reports and apologies are incredibly important, because they give us a glimpse of what Canada could be. They give us a glimpse of Canada’s true greatness.

We are on the cusp of that greatness.

Canada is not great, but we’re so close that we can taste it. We’ve always been there, on the brink, able to see and celebrate the best in us even if it’s just out of our grasp. The Canada I so deeply love is not the Canada that was, or even the Canada that is (though they each have their moments), but the Canada that may yet be.

We’re not perfect, and we never have been. We’ve been downright awful at (far too many) times, but we’ve always been just a choice or two away from doing the right thing. We signed treaties, some of them in bad faith and some of them in good faith, and either way we have failed to honour them. But even to this day we remain just one or two good choices away from doing the right thing and making good on our old promises. We can honour the treaties, and doing so would make Canada truly great.

We pride ourselves on multiculturalism, but we press our newest citizens to conform to our ways of life and dress. We can be a truly multicultural nation, welcoming outsiders and celebrating difference, and doing so would make Canada truly great.

We pride ourselves on our international reputation as peacemakers and peacekeepers, yet we’ve reduced our involvement in the UN (we invented UN Peacekeepers, and used to contribute up to 3,300 at a time; now there are 34) and increased our involvement in NATO and interventionist wars on the other side of the world. We’ve pulled out of climate treaties, and frustrated the processes of international climate talks so much that we’ve been the repeated recipients of the ironic “colossal fossil” award. Our reputation has become more tied to the oil economy than to the natural beauty, conscience, and compassion that once defined us around the world. Yet we still have a place at the international table, we still have the ability to be leaders in peacemaking and care of the earth, and doing so would make Canada truly great.

I could go on. We are always, and have always been, at the cusp of greatness. I can see what it would look like for Canada to truly be the “greatest country in the world” as so many politicians said yesterday, and it’s because of that vision that I love Canada. It’s because of that vision of peace, justice, compassion, and honour that I continue to work toward those good choices, to try to bring out the best in our nation, to unlock that greatness. We’re not that great, yet, but we could be.

Today is the day after Canada Day, the day after the celebration of our greatness. Let’s make it the day we get to work, to build a better Canada that builds on the wrongs of the past by righting them, so that we can someday earn the title of “the greatest country in the world.”

Your candidate,

Jeff Wheeldon

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