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The Globe and Mail

How to show true patriot love? Spend Canada Day with six former PMs

It's Canada Day up Canada way, and what are you going do?

You could celebrate by singing some old Stompin' Tom songs and remembering the glory of his time observing this country without ever solemnizing it. You could watch this strange new show Siberia (NBC, 10 pm.), which is "a fictionalized reality" show that is, if I've got this straight, a blend of Survivor, The Amazing Race and Lost. Sixteen people are dropped into the remote Siberian territory of Tunguska. They soon realize they are not in the reality show they signed up for – or are they?

Or you could get up early and watch a marathon of Panic Button (Space, starting at 6 a.m.), a Canadian-made, "high-impact, bone-chilling" reality series in which participants attempt a maze that offers escalating horrors – germs, snakes, spiders, or being buried alive.

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Alright, that might not be your choice on Canada Day and nobody would question your judgment. You might be busy having that backyard barbecue with Bachman-Turner-Overdrive tunes turned up, way-loud. Whatever it takes, Canada.

Here's a suggestion – spend time with all six living former Prime Ministers.

Seriously. Don't go telling me this is a dull Canadian way to mark Canada day. It is, in fact, splendidly dignified.

I'm talking about Beyond Politics – Canada Day Prime Ministers Marathon (CPAC, 2 p.m.), and it's a fascinating bunch of consecutive programs. Catherine Clark, daughter of Joe Clark, does engaging and informal chats with the six living former Prime Ministers: John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Kim Campbell, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, and her dad, Joe. At times hilarious and at times poignant, these informal conversations with Canada's former leaders are good TV.

The chat with Turner is especially compelling. I didn't know that he was a helluva athlete or that he was born in England and his father was the theatre critic for the Manchester Guardian. Also, that he saved John Diefenbaker's life by rescuing the man when he was drowning. In fact, I gather, hardly anybody knows that. "Ooooh," Clark says when Turner talks about the early death of his father. Later Turner sits there, looking chuffed, when Clark is impressed by the fact that he ran at the L.A. Coliseum in 1948 with 100,000 people watching, and he qualified for 1948 Olympics, but was injured and couldn't compete.

Clark's first question to Jean Chrétien is, "what were your mom and dad like?" As Chretien chats away, in a leisurely manner, about his family and youth, Clark says such things as, "Oh, no kidding!" And at times, as Chrétien is in a reverie of reminiscence about his mom teaching him how to knit, or such, Clark can barely get in a question. When she talks to Joe Clark, she begins with, "It's great to have you here, Dad," but declares that it's nerve-racking to interview him. Joe Clark is eloquent about Alberta and chuckles a good deal telling tales of his childhood. One thing that emerges is Clark's brief flirtation with sports writing, a prospect that horrified his parents. Also, he was almost expelled from college.

The point, always in these chats, is to get beyond the fixed image of a former Prime Minister that the public may have imagined. Mostly, it works. Mind you, Martin seems a tad more reluctant than most to allow much probing. But there is a great story about his mom expressing to Mackenzie King her skepticism about King's greatness as a politician.

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I'm not going to give everything away here. You can watch the interviews with Mulroney and Campbell and figure out your own take-away from the encounters. All I'm saying is this – in the rivers of babble that flow on this day about what it means to be Canadian, there is only one truth: We can do whatever we want to celebrate. And that's the whole point of being Canadian. Dull, dignified or mad. That's us. Me, I've seen the chats with the six living former Prime Ministers. I'm going the BTO route and cranking up Stayed Awake All Night.

Canada Day live from Parliament Hill (CBC, 11:30 a.m.) is hosted by soprano Measha Bruggergosman and features performances by Carly Rae Jepsen, Metric, country star Terri Clark, Radio Radio, Marie-Mai, and a special performance by Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Chris Hadfield. There are some speeches, too.

All times ET. Check local listings.

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