Guest post by Graham Watt
Harold’s note: This is the post that I would like to have written, but Graham says it so much better than I could have.
Springfield, a small community in New Brunswick, has been in high dudgeon in past weeks, after the principal of Belleisle Elementary School there, cut out the playing of O Canada at the start of each school day. The reason given was the objections of some parents to their children having to stand and sing the anthem.
I have a 10-year old daughter attending public school here in New Brunswick, and she has always had to sing O Canada each morning. In fact, down here, it’s quite common to still hear God Save the Queen at some school and civic events. Evidently while colonialism is slowly ebbing, it is being replaced with good ol’ American patriotism. The many recent letters to local newspapers extolling the virtues of patriotism and hooking it onto the O Canada anthem is perhaps another indication of how this part of the country has become a pale imitation of the U.S., where everything and everyone must have a reputation as a stalwart defender of freedom, and hopefully, a missing arm or a visible wound, preferably still bleeding. Not quite the Deep South, more like the Deep East.
O Canada is a wonderful anthem, a bringer of tears during emotional moments, be they Olympic victories or the sight of our poor soldiers returning home in boxes, having given their lives not only for their country but also for misguided foreign policy. Must we play it every day in schools, like a song for some brand we’re trying to sell? Why not keep it for occasions that merit our tears of joy or sorrow? Why not keep it for those who have earned its playing? They are the brave lost ones who have no recourse, nor do their families, but to be proud that they kept their word, and did their duty.
The playing of O Canada every day in schools, is supposed to celebrate the country and make us all proud. Exactly what are we proud of? That we’ve become employees and managers but not owners in our own land. That we rank 17th out of 23 industrialized countries in rates of child poverty? That we’ve killed all the fish, cut down all the trees, dug up all the coal, sucked out the world’s dirtiest and most expensive oil? That we keep saying we want to keep our beloved public health system while our business elites keep wanting us to get rid of it so they can pay less tax and make more money with a private system?
Are we proud of watching U.S. television programs so much that we have next to no original work of our own? Proud that we use another country’s television programs to describe ourselves? So that when a possibility of a coalition government forming occurs in our parliament (a perfectly normal event in a parliamentary system) we cry unfair, coup d’état, because “Hey man, they don’t do that in the U.S., so we can’t do it here”? Is this a reason to sing O Canada? Are we proud that we don’t offer our children civics courses in school? Or that any immigrant to this country knows more about our political system than we do ourselves? Are we proud of being in Afghanistan to help build schools for children while tacitly ignoring the plight of our aboriginals here? The same aboriginals whose life spans are the same as in the poorest third world countries? The same aboriginals who saved our sorry asses each excruciatingly cold winter of our ancestors’ arrivals here? Canada is in the top 5 in the UN’s human development index. Our aboriginal population is in 78th place. Do we think of this when we sing we’ll stand on guard for thee?
And exactly why are we trotting out the tired old word “patriotism”? A state that Samuel Johnson said was the last refuge of the scoundrel? Why? This is one of the few countries in the world that grew out of peace and not revolution or violence. That’s its charm and its promise too. That might be something to proud of if we’re not of the current machismo bent.
So why are we outraged about a school principal who stopped the recorded anthem every morning, when we trash the same anthem incessantly, trivializing it at every baseball game, every hockey game? Exactly what are we so proud of every school day? That we’ve cut back on education so much that our children are among the lowest scorers in literacy in the country? That we have fewer doctors per thousand people than every other OECD country but three? Have we done some reflecting about our country? Do we have enough confidence to look at its failings as well as its successes? Have we thought about how during World War 2, when Jews needed safe refuge they were turned back by our government, the classic explanatory phrase which summed up the attitude being: “None is too many!”?
We should think of that next time we stand to hear the familiar strains of O Canada. Think of how this country is more than a hockey game or a pale imitation of another country. Somewhere good and sometimes not so good. We should reflect on how we might cut back on the puffing up of our chests, and get our hearts and souls into remedying some of the enormous social problems we face by actually realizing we’re not a smaller version of some other fantasy country. That would be a good start. And perhaps think that past all the faults and the timid advances into a vast and wild land, we finally built something unique in North America, not by grabbing and stabbing, but by sharing and caring.