Once upon a time there was a man who loved his country. He had been taught to do so by his parents and grandparents.
It was they who had told him the Confederation story – how Canada became a free and democratic country in the first place. It was also they who told him how immigrant families like theirs had made the hard and deliberate choice to make Canada their home and how the pioneering generations had sacrificed much to build the country, even sacrificing their lives in wars to preserve the freedoms Canadians enjoy.
His parents also taught him that every Canadian has an obligation to “give back” to the country in some way and so he decided that he would do so by seeking public office. When first asked by the news media and electors why he was entering politics, he naively replied, “Because I love my country.”
“Because you love your country? Who do you think you’re fooling?” was the swift and harsh response. “People in this country enter politics to redress grievances, to advance particular interests, to get publicity, to build public careers and to enjoy the pay, perks and pensions – not because they love the country.”
His pollster likewise advised that professing to be in politics for love of country was an utterly untenable and indefensible position, given that more than two-thirds of Canadians believe politicians to be unprincipled, untruthful and motivated by the desire for personal gain, not public service.
And so, reluctantly, he ceased speaking publicly about his love of country. He developed other, more rational and acceptable explanations for his political involvements and behaviours – explanations that reinforced rather than challenged the cynicism of the media and the electorate.
And of course, when love of anyone or anything is not expressed, it begins to shrivel. Soon, he no longer spoke about his love of country at all, not even to himself or to his children or grandchildren.
Only on Canada Day, when he attended the obligatory Canada Day celebrations and joined in the obligatory singing of the national anthem, would he sometimes feel the old affection stirring once more in his heart. And he would find himself wondering how much different the country and its politics might be if Canadians could believe that their country is still capable of commanding “true patriot love” – in the hearts of its citizens and even in the hearts of their elected representatives.
Preston Manning is president and CEO of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy.