As a proud Canadian, I’ve chosen today – Canada Day – as the official launch of my author webpage and first writing blog! So I think it’s only appropriate today to ponder these two questions: (1) What does it mean to be Canadian and (2) What does it mean to be a Canadian writer?
Canadians are known as lovers of hockey, poutine, cottages, maple syrup and profuse apologies. Contrary to long-held misconceptions of our neighbours to the south, we do not typically live in igloos, travel by dogsled or eat blubber. Nor are fur trading or lumberjacking our primary occupational choices. We pride ourselves on our bilingual heritage, our history of peace-keeping and our ability to proudly display our Canadian flag on our luggage and backpacks when we travel internationally.
But perhaps today, on Canada Day, we ought to consider those things we most value as Canadians, those things that quintessentially define us as a nation (if there exist such things), and consider what we’re prepared to do to protect them. For while we’re known as the great nation of apologizers and we wear that label with something approaching a quiet smug pride that it reflects our fundamental politeness, perhaps we do have much to apologize for. Our historical treatment of our First Nations people comes to mind. We would do well to remember some of the harsh truths from our past lest we run the risk of repeating our transgressions.
We have always prided ourselves on our superior healthcare and education systems, yet we are letting these fundamental privileges slip away incrementally. It’s the incremental nature of the changes that are perhaps most dangerous – most insidious. Much like the touted frog who knows enough to jump out of a pot of boiling water, but who stays put in the pot to an untimely blistering death if the water temperature is increased incrementally, are we perhaps allowing those things that made us quintessentially Canadian – those things that defined us – slip away?
I read another writer’s blog today; Joseph Maviglia wrote about protest songs and music. It got me to thinking about the historic value of art as a form of protest. Are the arts, that have long-served as a nation’s moral compass, shying away from controversy, politics and protest? Is it a writer’s obligation to shine the light on these thorny issues, to push our culture to be the best it can be? If so, are we serving that function?
This brings me to my second question to ponder: what does it mean to be a Canadian writer today? With the declining role, if not disappearance, of true investigative journalism; with increased globalization and decreased value on human input; with growing supremacy of money as a driving force over human value; with lip-service to political correctness in the face of increased incidents of sexism, racism and homophobia; with our lack of recognition and respect for our French language and culture; with the inexplicable increasing popularity of purported leaders such as Rob Ford, George Bush or Donald Trump; with the dramatic and increasing separation between the rich and poor; with the growing, tragic demise of our independent bookstores in favour of large corporate box store interests; in the face of our ongoing failure to address climate change in a meaningful way so as to protect our planet for future generations … [pause for big breath and chance to allow this litany to percolate] … is now not the time for writers to step to the plate and use our pens to wield the power that comes with knowledge – knowledge that comes from the power of the word?