In a search of the Internet of a definition for identity, the following seemed to best reflect my own understanding of the word. Identity: the sense of self, providing sameness and continuity in personality over time. Each of us has our own identity. It usually relates to our ethnic or racial origins and our beliefs. As Canadians we ought to have an idea of the Canadian Identity. Unlike our personal identity, it is not possible for all of us to share sameness and continuity in ethnicity or religious beliefs. There are numerous historical and contemporary examples of countries that have tried to impose a belief system on their entire nation, and it never works. As Pierre Trudeau once said, “A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.”
So, how can we determine what is the Canadian Identity? We are different from our neighbours to the south. Indeed, our people are unlike any other peoples of the world. What makes us unique? To answer this question we need to look at a country that is probably the most similar to our own- the United States. We all hate to be mistaken for Americans, but what makes us different? Let’s consider some of our differences. We do not have a death penalty. We do not have the right to carry a weapon. We have more rules and regulations. We are a larger country with a much smaller population. Until recently, we were not a target of international terror. Why do these differences exist?
Generally, our laws seem to be somewhat kinder and gentler, although some might call them weaker or ineffective. Our laws reflect our belief in the ability of a person to change and in the belief that mistakes can be made. Our refusal to allow our citizens to bear arms reflects our trust in others and the systems we have created. While we trust the systems we have, we believe that rules and regulations are necessary to protect our citizens from unscrupulous behaviours.
Secondly, we are fortunate to have avoided the violent histories that many other nations have endured. We have seen the success of negotiation over revolution in our drive to nationhood. We have been able to embrace the successes of our neighbours and learned from their blunders. Because of our smaller size, the reverse has not been true. The economic influence of the United States has caused us to emulate them more than we like to admit. Our governments have often made decisions to keep America happy rather than do what we truly believe to be the right thing. This brings me to the things that define our identity. We favour negotiation over conflict, collaboration over competition and, when necessary compromise over the need to be "right".
Other parts of our uniqueness that people proudly point to in discussions of national identity are our official policies of bilingualism and multiculturalism. Why are these policies special? They acknowledge the value of diversity and the contributions of others to our prosperity and understanding. Acceptance and understanding of others is an important human value and the basis of true friendship. Internationally, Canadians are thought to be friendly.
In sum, our identity needs to fit a wide variety of people from many places across this vast country. It must reflect core values that we all can agree upon. And, it must be uniquely Canadian. Compassion, friendship and understanding are universal human values. Few countries come close to governing themselves accordingly, but Canada has improved more than most. Our attempts to govern ourselves by these core values has given us some moral authority in the world and has made us unique as a nation. This is our Canadian Identity.
In recent years our moral authority has diminished and our role in the world has become uncertain. But, just as a person's identity changes from cradle to grave, so does a nation's. As a people, we need leaders like Tommy Douglas and Pierre Trudeau that can inspire us to do better. We need governance that is not rooted in narrow religious or economic ideologies but in the human values of compassion, friendship and understanding. We can no longer rest on our past modest accomplishments. Canada may be the best country on the planet, but we can do much much much better.
(Includes all 2002 to date Weekly Features with descriptions)