Great day for Canada .. and if you’re among the Canadian people you might as well toast yourself!

Jul 1st, 2006 | By | Category: Canadian Republic

On Canada Day a young man’s thoughts – or woman’s of course – turn to … well, Canada. And Canada, the late Robertson Davies used to tell anyone who might be listening is “the kind of country you worry about.”

On Canada Day 2006 it seems wisest to concentrate on Canada in its deepest and most mysterious sense – which is what an event like a Canada Day is supposed to be celebrating. And there are nowadays some good enough reasons to worry that Canada in this sense stands in increasing need of some sort of big shot in the arm.

Canada as a real country has of course always been something of an evolving experiment. Until 1931 British imperial officials across the sea ultimately looked after the foreign policy of the original confederation of 1867. There was no such thing as a Canadian citizen, as opposed to a British subject resident in Canada, until 1947. And so forth.

The last big injection of vital popular energy into the evolving experiment was the official proclamation of the present independent Canadian maple leaf flag in 1965. It replaced the old British North American red ensign, with the Union Jack still in the top left corner.

Fortunately, for whatever bigger Canadian future fate may have in store, in the summer of 2006 another such bold lurch into history is waiting in the wings.

It involves severing the very last and now very vague remaining ties between the British monarchy across the sea and the more or less fully grown sovereign Canadian people. (In all their awesome diversity and two official languages – aboriginal peoples of Canada, people of Quebec, multicultural society, and all regions of the vast and magnificent geography, etc.).

Not too long ago the big Canada Day worry about this prospect was that it might never happen. But lately things have been bubbling more vigorously. Mr. Harper’s Conservatives shrewdly played to the emerging new mood with their “Stand Up for Canada” slogan in this past January’s federal election.

A few years back the former federal finance minister John Manley became the first deep-thinking Canadian politician to raise the practical prospect of standing up for Canada by bidding a respectful farewell to the British monarchy at last. Now it has been reported that Ken Dryden is making quiet noises about the same prospect in the current Liberal leadership race.

Contrary to what some say, getting from here to there is not rocket science. As such other former self-governing British dominions as India and Ireland have shown, all you have to do is substitute the governor general for the British monarch as Canada’s official ceremonial head of state. (While, possibly if not altogether necessarily, changing the name of the office from governor general to president too.)

As matters stand, the governor general theoretically represents the old sovereign British monarch across the sea. In the new ultimate stand-up Canada the governor general will represent the new sovereign Canadian people.

Both the present incumbent, the excellent Michaelle Jean, and her immediate predecessor, Mme Clarkson, have already helped set the stage for this mild and modest transformation, by their forward-looking performances in office. But it is also at this point that the most up-to-date reason for worrying about Canada comes into focus.

How is the new ultimate independent Canadian ceremonial head of state going to be chosen? The present method of having the prime minister alone select the governor general, as a routine federal patronage appointment, clearly won’t do. It has already worn very thin in the new age of accountability in Ottawa, regardless of who the governor general is supposed to represent.

Perusing a growing collection of newspaper clippings acquired since the last Canada Day in 2005, you can see the beginnings of a worrisome new great debate on this subject. Some, for example, would have the new head of state chosen by an elite group from the Order of Canada (what is that again?), instead of, somehow, by the sovereign Canadian people themselves.

The good news is that there is still enough time to make a sensible decision in the end. Meanwhile, the best way of not worrying too much, as you celebrate Canada Day this year, is to just select a cool drink of your choice from the cooler, and raise a toast to the Canadian people.

However the new head of state is chosen, it’s about time the Canadian people he or she will finally report to started getting some of the credit and recognition we have so long deserved. What better way is there of showing your loyalty and support for Canada than toasting yourself?

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