So, yes, Canadians have too much debt, and we have treated aboriginal populations poorly, and nefarious anti-democratic practices have taken hold in federal politics, and our productivity lags, and our attempts to limit carbon emissions have been erratic, and our military has been run down, and our foreign aid budget is sliding, and the CBC is starved for money compared with other countries' public broadcasters, and senior corporate types make too much money, and inequality has been rising, and to this list, dear reader, you can surely add your own critique.
Critiquing, after all, is what we journalists do (among other things), to the extent that in focusing on today's problems we miss underlying currents that should make us celebrate (modestly, being Canadian) on this national day.
Almost everywhere we look today in advanced Western European democracies, we see evidence of ethnic tensions, of backs turning against the "other," of unease with pluralism. We see, post-Charleston, that Americans are still plagued by the Civil War, fought while Canada cohered into a confederation.
No country, it might be argued, has handled continuing mass immigration with as little social and political disruption as Canada. There are no backlash parties here – no National Front, no UKIP, no anti-immigrant parties of the kind that have sprung up and flourished in Scandinavian countries, no battles about immigration as in the United States. Canada accepts more legal immigrants per capita than any country. Canada is one of the very few countries where pollsters find a positive attitude toward immigration.
Canada is an experiment where people of different backgrounds and languages can live together in harmony – not perfect harmony, but remarkable harmony nonetheless by international standards.
Aboriginals will decry this observation, with reason, since for a very long time they were pushed to the margin of the country's consciousness. Today, by contrast, scarcely a week passes without some non-aboriginal leader apologizing for past practices toward aboriginals. What good all these apologies will do remains to be seen, but one supposes they represent some kind of an attempt, however halting, to find new paths toward a better future.
It is much harder than some advocates of the aboriginal cause understand to make these apologies stick in a country whose pluralism masks a deep integration impulse.
One secret of pluralism's Canadian success is that no group that has arrived here during the past century or more has demanded, and received, special treatment. So that whereas we place multiculturalism on the high altar of national symbolism, and allow people to self-identify, as individuals and collectivities, as being from there or there, within a remarkably short period of time, by world standards, people integrate.
This impulse to integration makes those who have gone through it perplexed when aboriginal peoples claim special privileges based on longevity of occupation. These newer arrivals were not around, nor were their ancestors, when policies were adopted that are today much resented and condemned. Immigrants have their own share of stories of struggle and uprooting.
We shall be searching for quite a while to find accommodations between aboriginals and non-aboriginals that are satisfactory to both, and these accommodations, from which we remain still very far, will never be perfect. But then perfection is the enemy of Canada, which is an arrangement more than a strict definition of what a country must be.
As internal arrangements go, the fundamental one has always been, and remains, between French- and English-speaking citizens, they being by far the largest groups. Other countries have split apart on this sort of dividing line, or are teetering near the brink, including old and successful ones such as Britain and Spain. We have endured two referendums, constitutional battles, political fights, linguistic psychodramas, demands and backlashes, but today, some sort of accommodation has been found – an accommodation that will never be permanent, that will shift with events and personalities, but that will not be upset by those who want to break up Canada. The country has endured, and will endure.
But it has done more than endure; it has flourished by any reasonable measure, offering its people, by world standards, an enviable standard of living, social peace, respect for law, robust public institutions and a sense of civility for which we should be grateful and that we must never take for granted.