They say they are looking for "signature initiatives" for 2017 – but are not yet open to suggestions.
The government of Canada has promised more than $200-million for the 150th birthday party. Only 18 months to 2017 and less than two years until the July 1 sesquicentennial – and still nothing to announce.
They could go small – perhaps finding a word we can pronounce for the 150th anniversary – or they could go really, really big: We humbly suggest that the government of Canada rescind that "temporary" income tax that became law on Sept. 20, 1917.
Monuments are rising so quickly that by 2017 there will not be anyone left for Canadians to apologize to, so the search is on for something significant, something that – like that 1917 tax – will last forever.
There was actually no Canada Day bash back in 1917. It wasn't just that the War to End All Wars was on; there was no such thing as "Canada Day." "Dominion Day" began in 1879, and shortly after the Second World War the Senate bounced back a private member's bill that would have seen an official name change to "Canada Day." It wasn't until 1958 that the federal government decided a little official celebration might be in order – and committed $14,000 of temporary tax money to that end. The birthday party didn't get wild until 1967, Centennial Year, and is now the biggest bash of the Canadian calendar.
A search through The Globe archives proves that the celebration back in 1917 was virtually non-existent. People went to church rather than Parliament Hill to give thanks. "Anxiety shown in Jubilee sermons," said a large front-page headline.
It wasn't just the war in Europe causing this anxiety, but life at home. The Rev. W. Hardy Andrews of Queen Street East Presbyterian called for "the purging of the political life of the country from corrupt practices."
And there was widespread disenchantment – surprise, surprise – with that troublesome Canadian institution, the Senate.
"What ought to be done to improve the Upper House?" an editorial asked. The Globe listed some outrages but seemed to bemoan the fact that the "indignation has never remained long enough to result in abolition."
To mark the 50th anniversary, J. M. Dent & Sons published The New Era in Canada, which featured an essay by Sir Clifford Sifton calling for widespread reform to the Upper House: mandatory retirement at age 75, giving "retiring" premiers, lieutenant-governors and federal cabinet ministers the option of going to the Senate and allowing key provincial universities the right to appoint two senators for six-year terms. But, of course, nothing was done.
It is hard to imagine 2017 being as pivotal as 1917. That year saw the Battle of Vimy Ridge, which many believe created this country. It was the year Tom Thomson, who painted this country, died under mysterious circumstances. It was the year of the Halifax Explosion and the year the National Hockey League was born. And, of course, it was the year of the necessary income tax that would shortly – wink, wink – be lifted.
It was also a time of much debate over who, exactly, should have the vote. In all the many sermons covered that day, virtually all called for great men to step forward to provide leadership. None of the male preachers, apparently, called for the vote to be given to women. The Rev. Andrews, in fact, "urged the exercising of great care in giving of the franchise to those who don't understand our civilization" – though precisely whom he was referring to is difficult to say.
But it was happening, had already happened in Manitoba, and in 1918 Canadian women got the vote.
There was a small reminder of this Canada long past on Parliament Hill Wednesday. After the dignitaries had successfully air-kissed each other without an eye being lost to an umbrella, there was the singing of God Save the Queen followed by O Canada.
It was fascinating to follow the camera over the crowd as so many, particularly older Canadians, belted out the words they had learned in public school but stumbled and mumbled through the anthem. It is a curious reality in Canada that the only ones who know all the words, in both official languages, are anthem singers and politicians who know their lips are being watched.
With FIFA's Women's World Cup still on – though Canada has been eliminated – the wording of O Canada was once again under some scrutiny. A private member's bill earlier in the year failed to alter the words so they become gender-neutral and women need no longer have to sing "True patriot love in all thy sons command."
A modern-day senator, Nancy Ruth, has long spearheaded the need for change, demanding that the lyrics – which have previously been doctored several times – be returned to a version that goes "Thou dost in us command."
Unfortunately, this sounds like a first draft Shakespeare would have tossed in the wastebasket.
Senator Ruth, also unfortunately, has not had a great 2015 herself, having defended expensing breakfasts when she could have eaten aboard the flight she was taking. As she put it, "If you want ice-cold Camembert with broken crackers, you can have it."
That makes her a difficult spokesperson for the issue. Now, however, a new champion for change can be found in Gail Asper. Ms Asper, the force of nature behind Winnipeg's Museum of Human Rights, says it would have been "offensive" to have the Canadian soccer players sing the current lyrics had they gone all the way. She is launching a campaign to ask professional sports teams to open their games by having the anthem singer replace "in all thy sons command" with "in all of us command."
It's simple, accurate and literate – and Ms. Asper has a record for pulling off the seemingly impossible.
Perhaps this could be one small matter the government could have in place by 2017 – a tip of the hat to the suffragette movement that was gaining momentum back in 1917.
As for that "signature initiative" they are seeking for 2017, it is highly unlikely the government would finally remember to lift that "temporary" income tax. But they could still do something about the Senate.