Canada Day 2012: Pride? Or Shame?

I realize this post is way on the late side for Canada Day but I try to give myself time to ponder before I publish writing that arises from passionate emotional reactions. Added to that is the chill that is occurring on free speech in Canada as a result of Harper’s Conservatives, so much so that the international writers’ organization PEN has now designated Canada a country of concern. ( The artist Franke James has had funding for her work withdrawn by the federal government for her criticism of Canada’s oil sector. ( And now playwright Michael Healey has resigned from Toronto’s prestigious Tarragon Theatre because its director is worried Healey’s play about the Prime Minister could land them in hot water. ( In this, my Canada? Did I fall asleep and wake up in Libya? So please, when you read this post, resist the temptation to call me a prophet of doom and gloom and try to understand the reality that faces us in this country. 

Gotta love the irony: the image of the ultimate ‘rebel’, the punk, holding our flag for the Canada Day parade. Meanwhile, freedom in Canada continues its decline… Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

This year Canada Day was one of the saddest days of my life. I grew up loving Canada, feeling it had so much to offer the world, a vision of an egalitarian society where no one had to go hungry or ever be without medical care. Okay, so I swallowed the brainwash pills. Still, I have to believe that the ‘Just Society’ Trudeau spoke of was most likely to be achieved in our country.

And yes, most Canadians chose to ignore our First Nations huddling on reservations not much different than slums in Third World countries. But we’d begun to make amends with the peoples whose land we stole. A compromise, of sorts. Often a bad one, but at least the effort was being made, instead of just saying, “Suck it up. We’re the winners, you’re the losers.”

Pierre Trudeau—the last Prime Minister of culture, education and freedom this country has known. Courtesy

Pierre Trudeau was that rare breed in politics: an erudite, passionate man of great wit and depth. Not afraid to flip the finger to convention if it got in the way of his vision for a Just Society. True, you can’t legislate justice, people have to evolve into it. It takes generations, long after laws are changed that prevent discrimination. But Canadians were at least willing to try. As musician Nick Lowe wrote, “What’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?” As it turns out, there may be more to laugh about than I thought. That is, if you can keep yourself from crying.

When the Conservatives bullied through their disastrous omnibus budget bill in June this year I felt as if I’d been struck upside the head. It was the final blow to everything I’d believed about Canada the Just, Canada the Good. This from a political party that may well have employed fraud to achieve its ‘majority,’ its so-called mandate. To undo 40 years of progress in protecting the environment at the stroke of a pen is astonishing. It’s the Might Makes Right philosophy in action; the Vandals sacking Rome. Only instead of a weak emperor being forced to capitulate, today’s Vandals did it from inside the PM’s Office.

The real Prime Minister of Canada: Tom D’Aquino, former CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, who have written much government policy.

But of course, Harper—like most heads of state—is nothing but a hand puppet. The real Prime Minister sits in the offices of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), not 24 Sussex Drive or Parliament Hill. Up until January 2011 that made CCCE chief Thomas D’Qquino the de facto Prime Minister of Canada. Since then it’s been the CCCE’s new CEO John Manley. ( These are Canada’s One Percent, who earn more on their first day back to work in January than you and your spouse will in a year. They own corporations and ‘think tanks’ who have become the biggest Welfare Queens of history: they lobby Parliament Hill for (and get) billions in tax cuts, exemptions, grants, and interest-free loans. (Well documented by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.) The Conservative omnibus budget bill handed the CCCE and the industries they represent the keys to the treasury. Meanwhile, God help you if you’re Mom and Pop Main Street and owe Revenue Canada a few hundred bucks.

Always the sign of a decaying civilization, when it’s overrun by officials who lack all conscience. The social contract conceived by Rousseau, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Ashes. These are people who would chop up and package their grandmothers if it made them rich. With legislation like the omnibus bill, they are dismantling civilization. Our infrastructure is already crumbling, now they want to take more money out of the pot? Taxes support civilization. Want paved roads? Water and sewer systems? Public schools? Public transit? Health and safety inspectors? None of these will ever turn a profit as private ventures. That’s why taxes were invented. (Excluding of course the frivolous taxes imposed by the monarchy prior to the introduction of an elected Parliament.)

It’s the ultimate evolutionary dead end. When a species becomes too addicted to self-destructive behaviour to stop before it exits stage left. Too bad we have to take so many others down with us. But hey, the CEOs and their Conservative buddies quickly add, “If we’re gonna go, we’re gonna go in style.” Or, if you happen to subscribe to the Prime Minister’s wacky brand of evangelical Christianity, just reserve your seat in the heavenly shuttle while God descends in a homicidal rage to wipe out all but ‘the chosen.’ So who needs to protect the environment? Milk it for all its worth, then toss it away like a gum wrapper.

Patrick McGoohan, star of the cult classic ’60s TV series The Prisoner, where former spies are kept like vegetables in a remote village.

Watching the celebrations this July 1st I had to wonder if anyone in the crowd was thinking about these issues. Sure, it’s a party day—I get that. We get time enough to worry about the state of the world every other day. But for me, coming so close on the heels of the omnibus bill, it was a hollow sham. Watching everyone, I was reminded of scenes from the classic 1960s British TV series The Prisoner, where Patrick McGoohan plays a retired secret agent who is kidnapped and taken to a remote village. The Village masters use every unscrupulous trick in the book to try to get him to spill his secrets. But the Prisoner is a man of integrity and refuses to submit, though in fact he has nothing to hide. Meanwhile, the rest of the inmates of The Village are kept busy with pointless celebrations, cheering and waving on command. Some of them actually love their captivity.

A NATO flag has no place amongst the flags of Canada’s provinces. Silverton BC Canada Day parade, July 1, 2012. Photo Sean Arthur Joyce

The appearance of a NATO flag for the first time in a community Canada Day parade was a shock to me. This is a military alliance, not one of our constituent provinces. Why are we playing into the Conservatives’ militarization of Canadian culture? Could it be that in a capitalistic society, wars are highly profitable? (For a few, anyway.) We’re already spending more on the military in Canada than we have at any time since World War II and we aren’t even a nation at war. Once again I’m reminded of scenes in The Prisoner with brainwashed Village inmates waving meaningless banners like trained dogs. And Village headmaster Number Two chuckling as he watches on his private surveillance screen. What’s he laughing about? You paid for it all, sucker!

Face it, the One Percent have absconded with the loot. They have abandoned society. Canada means nothing to them but a place to plunder. You mean nothing to them. Your families mean nothing to them. So I have to ask: Are we a people who want to be proud of our country? Or ashamed? What will it be next Canada Day?

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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