“Sunny ways” in Canada

Canadian voters chose a hopeful future not a hateful one when they elected the country’s new Liberal government last October 19.

“Sunny ways, my friends, sunny ways, this is what positive politics can do,” Liberal leader, now Canada’s new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said that night in his victory speech. He had led his party from third place to first, in terms of the number of seats in Parliament, with an election campaign that was markedly different from the divisive one the now-former Conservative government ran.

I’d be willing to bet it’s no coincidence the new government is expected to present its first budget to the Canadian Parliament on the traditionally first official day of spring, Monday, March 21, or the day after. It is, after all, the season of hope. And in Hope Ness where I live, beside the Hope Bay Forest in the Hope Bay Nature Reserve, spring has already arrived.

In fact, this year official spring is happening earlier than usual. The vernal equinox, when the sun is directly over the equator on its way back to the northern Hemisphere, will occur the night of Saturday, March 19, or just after midnight, Sunday, March 20 depending on the time zone.

I won’t be surprised if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes reference when the time comes to the first “sunny ways” budget closely coinciding with the arrival of the spring sun. He and Finance Minister Bill Morneau will no doubt speak hopefully of the prospect of a new economic era for Canada, as it seizes the opportunity to lead the country into a new, sustainable future. I would anyway, if I were them.

It’s more than economic: many people in this country are hurting; that’s a reality, especially in certain parts of the country, in the wake of the oil-price collapse. But there’s also a hopeful feeling afoot, a spirit that says, given a chance, Canadians, old and new, are ready to work, to come up with new and innovative ideas, and make things happen.

I’ve been around now for quite a few years, and I can tell you it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this much hope for Canada. How much of it has to do with “sunny ways” and a change in government, I don’t know. But I do think we needed a breath of fresh air, a different, less dour outlook than the one that was starting to make the country seem Incomplete.

We needed to change the trend toward a dangerously narrow, national outlook to something much more expansive, more inclusive, more open, and most of all, more inspiring. The human spirit needs all those things to thrive, to be creative, to face a troubled future, and help make it better. It’s the only way “going forward” that makes any sense. Building walls, closing borders, pandering to narrow-minded hatred, makes none. That is hopeless, not hopeful.

We have issues in this country, to be sure. But this is a good time to be Canadian, and a good time to feel good about who we are as a people and a country in the world today: a multicultural community showing people of every national background, culture and religion can live and work together in peace.

We tend not to realize how highly regarded we and our country are in the world. Time and time again I’ve heard how, when Canadians travel abroad, eyes light up and smiles break out when people in other countries find out where they’re from

I heard a story on CBC Radio2 one morning this past week about the experiences of two refugees who, after long and literally tortuous journeys, found their way to Canada. Both spoke of being treated with exceptional kindness by Canadians border officials and ordinary Canadians they met upon arrival.

“You know, there’s a reason why Canadians are considered to be nice people,” one man said, when the first Canadians he met in this country, including those in uniform, didn’t seem to think there was anything unusual about the good and decent way they were treating him.

There are cynics among us who expect the bloom to go off the Justin Trudeau rose soon enough. They’ve been predicting it ever since he and his majority Liberal government were elected.

And yes, it’s fair to say, raising expectations and engendering a spirit of hope comes with a level of risk. Woe the leader who does not deliver, or worse, appears to have led people down a garden path with false hopes. For what it’s worth I don’t think Justin Trudeau is that kind of person. Mistakes will be made, no doubt; Canada, for all that it’s worth, is not an easy country to govern. One thing for sure, no one person can do it alone. Cooperation, consensus-building, and public engagement is the only way, and the “sunny way.”

Trudeau, his wife Sophie, and their three children were given a warm and, I think, enthusiastic official and public welcome in the U.S. capital at last week’s State Visit and State Dinner. It was the first such event for Canada and a Canadian leader since Jean Chretien in 1997.  And considering the importance of the two countries to each other, it was long overdue.

Apparently Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama have become good friends. But by law a U.S. president is limited to two terms in office, so Obama has to leave the White House at the end of this year, to be replaced by . . . we can only hope.

In a few days the federal budget will give us a more detailed sense of where “sunny ways” will take Canada for the next year and more. I have a good, hopeful feeling about what we’re likely to hear.

A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in March, 2016

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