I recently asked my 12-year-old granddaughter what makes her most pessimistic about the future.
Canada 150 is a celebration designed to bring the country together, but in the manner of the “big ones,” it is also a time for memories, and those memories highlight one great national divide – between those of us who remember Expo ’67 (even if only there in spirit), and those who don’t. Admittedly the latter comprises 70 per cent of Canadians who were not yet born or still toddlers at the time, including millions of new Canadians who have since swelled the population to nearly 36 million from 20 million (“Maintenant, nous sommes vingt million,” as Bobby Gimby’s Expo jingle put it, an earworm permanently lodged in the brains of a generation) – an 80 per cent increase, even though the birth rate dropped by a third over the same period (to 1.6 births per woman from 2.4 in 1967).
It’s all very well to mark the sesquicentennial of Confederation, but the new Dominion was still very much harnessed to Britain’s apron strings at the time. So it is perhaps the 50th anniversary of that big birthday bash in Montreal that is more worthy of celebration. With the world invited, it was Canada’s coming of age party, the flowering of its national identity. And a heady time it was for this country – for women (with, among other things, the launch of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women), for gay rights (“The government has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” declared young justice minister Pierre Trudeau, decriminalizing homosexuality), for biculturalism (the “Bi and Bi” commission was underway, declaring Canada a country of two founding nations and languages, though it did not forestall the FLQ from igniting bombs in Montreal). There was music in the street, flowers in our hair, and draft dodgers were pouring over the border.
The country has not so much changed since then as matured. It’s not all perfect, but multiculturalism has replaced biculturalism, including woefully belated recognition of Indigenous Peoples as the true progenitors of the country centuries before 1867. Women’s equality is largely entrenched and gay marriage well established. Disenchanted Americans are still, or once again, looking to Canada. Peace and love hasn’t entirely worked out yet, but there is still much to be grateful for.
I recently asked my 12-year-old granddaughter what makes her most pessimistic about the future. “Trump” was her perhaps not surprising reply. Then I asked her what made her most optimistic about the future. “The present,” she said. What is it about the present? “Everything. I think life is great!” As it should be for a typical healthy, happy kid in a generally stable, secure and prosperous country. And that’s plenty of reason for a party.