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Put Out More Flags!

Feb 15 2012 8:33 AM
Each Flag Day I mount a full-size Maple Leaf in one of the front windows of my house. It looks terrific and definitely gives me a warm glow. And it reminds me how proud I am to belong to Canada. But this morning as I performed my yearly ritual I found myself feeling mighty lonely. On my street in Toronto there was not a single other Canadian flag to be seen.


But I think it says something about the current sour mood of the country. No doubt it's related to our general sense of alienation from politics and politicians. It seems we're almost embarrassed by our leaders. There isn't an ounce of genuine idealism or a drop of vision to be found among them.

But that shouldn't stop us from putting out our flags on National Flag of Canada Day. To do so is to express pride in the kind of country we've created, not support for the sorry crew who are currently running the place.

Happy 47th Flag Day!

Yet Another Flag Day

Feb 6 2012 5:57 PM
I hope I'm not suffering from flag ennui, but the approach of the 47th anniversary of the proclamation of the Canadian flag finds me, for lack of a better word, indifferent.  And my mood seems to reflect the temper of the times here in my home and native land. The Harper government's strange obsession without outdated symbology isn't the reason, but is sure doesn't help. Where's the patriotic fire that brought our flag into being in the first place?

We Canadians love our country but we feel increasingly detached from the way it is being run. In Ottawa, our new majority government ignores facts in order to pursue its particular ideological agenda. In my home town of Toronto, our silly mayor who claims he wants to cut costs pushes against all reason for expensive subways and buried LRTs the city can't afford. Politicians in general are held in the lowest repute I've seen in my 61 years. I'm sure if Jonathan Swift were alive today he'd be having a satiric field day.

By the time February 15 rolls around, no doubt I'll have summoned at least some of my usual pride in patria, which remains in this uncivil world one of the more civilized . Not that we don't have a long way to go. However, here at least we are allowed to hope.

Happy almost Flag Day.

Symbolic Mud

Dec 18 2011 11:33 AM
It's been months since I've made an entry in this blog--but not for lack of topics to write about. In fact, I put my long absence partly down to my sense of discouragement. I can't begin to express how disappointed I am with our current government's recent meddling--without any kind of popular sanction--with our symbolic legacy. I'm referring, of course, to the recent decisions that restore pre-1965 names to our armed services: Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force, etc. And to the conscious and very public moves to emphasize the British component of our national heritage.

Why did we have the Flag Debate in 1965 except to supersede the only colonial-based names and symbols with names and a primary symbol that could stand for a much more diverse country? Can your imagine Expo 67 being called The Royal Canadian World's Fair. Had someone told me a year ago that these moves would be made, I'd have laughed and dismissed the notion as patently ridiculous.

To use a cliché that seems mild given the situation, I'm shocked and appalled.

What's almost as appalling is the lack of protest--except from a few members of parliament. If ever there was issue ripe for the Liberal rump to seize and make their own, this is it. It was the great Liberal prime minister, Lester Pearson, who gave us the flag. It was his successor, Pierre Trudeau, who consolidated our post-colonial identity. What the government is doing is the equivalent of creating symbolic mud. This when it should be building on our 21st century identity as one of the most diverse and tolerant countries on earth.

I'm not a card-carrying member of any political party. But I have to say, "Shame on the Harper government for playing petty politics with our national emblems."


Jul 2 2011 6:23 AM
This is my first blog entry since Flag Day, February 15. Why the the long silence? It's certainly not because of an absence of great events: the Arab Spring (now a discontented summer); the Canadian federal election (with its radical re-alignment of our political party system); the announcement of the beginning of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan (a beginning that may never end); Canada's official retreat from its important combat role in that same conflict. Ordinarily, any of these developments might have sparked some thoughts about Canada's sense of self and its place in the world. Yet my electronic pen has been idle.

Yes, I've been busy, too busy--it's the way of our contemporary world. But so are most of us and so am I most of the time. No, the reason clearly lies deeper than surface distraction.

In thinking back of the past few months, one theme takes the foreground: my growing awareness of the malaise in our body politic. I'm not only talking about our recent national election, possibly the shallowest federal electoral contest in my lifetime--which is saying a lot!--but about Canadians' increasing disinterest in politics and politicians, a mass civic disengagement that bodes ill for our future as a healthy, functioning democracy. Voter participation in elections at all levels continues its downward trend and our political discourse has degenerated almost exclusively into image management or image annihilation. (The systematic destruction of Michael Ignatieff's credibility--based on misrepresentation and half-truth--is only the most egregious recent example of this pandemic of mean-spirited negativity.)

Whether or not you support the policies and admire the overall competence of the Stephen Harper government, you should be outraged at the continuing erosion of the power and effectiveness of our elected representatives that Harper has nurtured. Our current PM is not the first to hoard power in the PMO or diminish the responsibility of the individual members of parliament, but he has taken this trend to an alarming extreme. (And no PM in Canadian history has run such a one-man show or shown such disrespect for the crucial notion of ministerial responsibility.) A recent series of exit interviews with retiring MPs sound two major leitmotifs: 1)  They are treated like movie extras by their political parties and their particular talents and expertises habitually ignored; 2) They detest  the on-camera antics expected of them during  Question Period and almost uniformly assert that their most important work is done in committees away from the media eye. (But try to imagine our current PM entrusting an all-party committee with a task as sensitive and momentous as the selection of a design for the new Canadian flag--as did Lester Pearson in the fall of 1964.)

By general media estimate, Michael Ignatieff ran an excellent campaign. The crowds who greeted him were large and enthusiastic, but the only story that the electorate could hear was the phony one about the guy "just visiting" that the Tories had so cleverly brainwashed us with. (I'm not a Liberal or a particular fan of Ignatieff but he's a man of great accomplishment and enormous talent who would probably have made a pretty good prime minister. He certainly deserved a fair hearing.) Jack Layton ran exactly the same campaign he ran last time, but his party spent real money in Quebec for the first time and ran a very clever advertising campaign that positioned him as the soft nationalist alternative to Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc. Then during the French TV debate he got off a single sentence that pushed the right nationalist buttons. Now he's got more MPs from Quebec than any other province--many of the embarrassingly unqualified--and stuck with a position on Quebec that is, for a national leader who hopes to actually form a left of centre government, untenable.

I could go on. But I think I'll dig out my Canadian flag, dust if off and display it proudly--but sadly--in my front window.

More on Canada's "democratic deficit" in future blogs.

Happy Canada Day to all!


Feb 15 2011 9:48 AM
And happy 46th birthday to our national flag.

If you haven't already, get out your own flag and fly it or display it in solidarity with the many who would like to see this day turned into a national statutory holiday for all Canadians.

How Will You Mark Flag Day?

Jan 20 2011 10:14 AM
On Tuesday, February 15, the Maple Leaf will celebrate its 46th birthday as Canada's national flag. In various towns and cities across the country there will be ceremonies, both public and private, to mark the occasion. The biggest of these will be the official ceremony on Parliament Hill. (No doubt in a few corners of the land one or two will raise the Canadian Red Ensign in atavistic opposition.)

A few days before the 15th, I get out my own flag and mount it to fill one of the front windows of my house in Toronto. The window isn't quite big enough for the whole flag, which means that the design overflows the frame-- a nice metaphor of how the flag has grown in stature and in meaning. But when I walk around my neighbourhood, I don't see many similar signs of celebration. And it's hard not to conclude that, like their flag, Canadians take Flag Day for granted.

As I've often argued , it shouldn't be that way. With its single red maple leaf, the flag is the one truly pan-Canadian symbol, the bridge that links every citizen, regardless of heritage or ethnicity. And its birth represents one of Canadian democracy's shining moments.

If you've got a Canadian flag folded up and stored somewhere, bring it out for Flag Day. Drape it from your apartment balcony or display it through a front window or, if you're lucky enough to have one, run it up your flagpole.

Flag Day is a reminder of how blessed we are to live in such a fortunate country with such deeply embedded democratic institutions. It should also remind us that without an engaged citizenry, those institutions will ultimately wither.
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