Visiting Ottawa this summer, I glanced up at the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill and saw the Canadian flag flying from its famous perch atop the spire. It is a lovely sight at any time. Way up there in the breeze, it stands out straight and true, a patch of brilliant red and white against the sky. This time, though, I found tears clouding my eyes – tears of gratitude.
I feel grateful for many things in these troubling and confusing times, when so many people are suffering hardship and loss. One of them is having the simple good fortune to live in this wonderful country. How lucky I am – how lucky we all are – to inhabit such a stable, tolerant, prosperous, moderate, fundamentally decent place.
The world is confronting the biggest crisis in recent memory. Many countries are flailing, including our great and admirable neighbour to the south. Canada, by contrast, is faring remarkably well.
Our leaders aren’t peddling quack cures for the coronavirus or playing down the extent of the threat. Though our politics can be silly and sometimes ugly, they have not yet descended into the swamp of demagoguery and deceit we see breaking out all around. As popular as it is to scorn politicians as thieves or fools, most of ours are essentially good people. They have responded to this challenge sensibly and responsibly. Even the loosest of cannons have absorbed the gravity of the moment. They have a very hard job: to reopen the country while keeping people as safe as possible. They are doing it to the best of their abilities, which is all we can ask.
At their side is an extraordinary group of public servants: our public-health officials. Some of them have become heroes of the moment. They deserve to be. Guided by the discipline of science, they have given the country the best advice they can about this deadly and little-understood illness.
Most Canadians have listened to that advice. They have washed their hands and kept their distance. The number of real deniers and anti-maskers is trifling. It’s a reach to say that this springs from some kind of moral superiority – how Canadians always put “we” before “me” – but, whatever the reason, they have obeyed the rules.
Many have gone further, donating their time, energy and money to help others pull through. Along with the understandable anxiety, this crisis has brought forth a surge of generosity and solidarity. Canadians are as one in their appreciation for the brave personal-support workers, emergency-department staff and other everyday champions of COVID times.
Of course, this country has its faults, too many to mention. Like others, Canada was late to understand the size of the threat and slow to react. It failed woefully to protect the old and the sick in its care homes. It failed to protect migrant workers. Its neediest neighbourhoods have suffered disproportionately, underlining its divides of race and class. An overdue reckoning sparked by the George Floyd killing has forced this country – like others – to shine a light on the sins of its past and the inequities of its present.
But even as we struggle to overcome the faults, we should remember the virtues. They are legion. Our democracy is strong, embedded in the bedrock of the law and guaranteed by an admired constitution. Our diversified and powerful economy, though staggering, is sure to rebound as the country returns to work. Our triumphant multicultural cities are a marvel of successful coexistence. Though we are right to grapple with our prejudices, Canada is at heart an open and accepting place. Judged against an ideal, we fall short; judged against the world as it is, we shine.
While Canadians naturally worry about how we will get through this and how life will change when it is over, they still have great faith in the country. So they should. Its future is bright. Its strengths are manifold. Now more than ever, I thank my lucky stars that I live in Canada.
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