Reflections of Canada – now that the party’s over

by Bruce Mason

It’s been 150 years since the old province of Canada was carved up into Quebec and Ontario and joined by the hip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in Confederation. We’re spending a cool half billion – plus security, promotional items, provincial expenditures and other unforeseen costs – to celebrate. Never mind the big bucks spent on beer, flags and assorted props and memorabilia. Some of us even learned to utter “sesquicentennial.”

The feds picked up the tab for 500 “projects” – 3,285 were pitched – for everything from the Gros Morne Summer Music Festival in Newfoundland and Labrador to a giant game of snakes and ladders in Calgary and Ontario’s six-story high, 11 ton rubber duck, which cost $150,000 to rent and transport to six cities. In the Lower Mainland, the SkyTrain stopped running to an overflowing Canada Place. There were so many parties and goers that a mobile application and website, Passport 2017, was created, to the tune of $1.3-million, to help us find nearby events in all this glorious and much-touted diversity.

Refelections of Canada book cover
The provocative book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston

But one of the biggest surprises had to be the number of citizens who opted to utilize, at least part of the day, to reflect on the current state of their nation. I spent July 1 with a remarkable book I had been saving for the occasion. It’s been getting a bit of a buzz in the press and deservedly so. Reflections of Canada: Illuminating Our Opportunities and Challenges at 150+ Years delivers on its promise on the book jacket “…to communicate a complex and engaging landscape of what Canada is at this point in its history. This is a book of lively, respectful and thoughtful debate.”

The book is a product of UBC’s Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. Founded in 1996 through a donation from Peter Wall (of iconic Wall Centre fame) of $6.5 million shares in the Wall Financial Corporation, it was worth $15 million at the time. It was the largest single private donation in the university’s history. The institute is a significant community of scholars; more than 450 faculty associates “address fundamental research questions through collaborations that transcend disciplinary boundaries.”

The book includes a foreword by Governor General David Johnston, a preface from UBC president Santa Ono and an introduction by the editor, followed by a poem, “Diverse by Design,” from George Elliott Clarke, who will soon be an artist-in-residence at the Institute.

However, it is the first of 41 easily accessible essays that sets the tone and hits the reader right between the eyes. This is a collection that is more provocative than celebratory and “Practising Reconciliation” starkly lays out our collective “horrific reality.” It is conversation between three scholars who work in partnership to locate the burials of children who died at the Indian Residential School on Kuper Island, now called Penelakut Island, in the Salish Sea. And if you still don’t get reasons for the urgent need for Reconciliation, you will find them here in a handful of pages.

The book covers the state of Canadian democracy, environmental challenges, changes to our health-care system, income and other inequalities, the Arctic, arts and culture, technology and even relations with China. In “The Hygiene Hangover,” UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay and public-health physicians Perry Kendall and David Patrick address the unfortunate consequences arising from Canadians’ zeal for cleanliness, which include a sharp rise in asthma rates and other auto-immune diseases.

If you experienced the viral video of Trudeau’s explanation of quantum computing, you will enjoy Philip Stamp’s, “A Quantum Parable,” which offers a different take on the topic from PM Justin Trudeau. While Canada has been a global leader in quantum computing, it could be on the verge of hemorrhaging high-tech talent by not supporting Burnaby-based D-Wave, an innovative pioneer in the field. Stamp likens it to Avro, the Canadian company that manufactured the world’s most advanced fighter plane in the late 1950s: the CF-105 Avro Arrow. At its peak, the company employed 50,000 people, but after the program was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government, it led to a massive “brain drain.”

There is much more to recommend in Reflections of Canada. In the months that still remain in 2017, on the beach, in the fall and during the onslaught of an uncertain Canadian winter, this is a must-read for a sober analysis and for answers to ubiquitous questions, such as “What’s happening?”, “What now?” and “Will Canada grow into it’s legacy of hope and leadership in the world?

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.

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