A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted February 27th, 2017 on Niagara At Large
“That’s what they picked for our flag? I hate it. It looks like a beer label.”
I was an elementary school student in Welland in 1964 when the great debate over Canada finally getting a flag of its own was in full flame, and I heard disparaging remarks like that over and over again. Most of the remarks came from older Canadians of British ancestry about any design for a new flag that did not have a Union Jack or Red Ensign on it.
And many of those same Canadians who were so much against then-Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson efforts to deliver Canada a flag of its own were once all “British subjects” – even if they were born in this country!
Can you believe it? Up to 70 years ago, every person who was either born in Canada or had immigrated to the country and earned their papers to live and work here – even if they were originally from Italy or Poland or any other place outside of Great Britain, were British subjects!
That was true right up until January 1st, 1947, which is really not all that long ago, when then-Prime Minister Mackenzie King paved the way for the rest of us by becoming the first person sworn in as a Canadian citizen – an act that was as objectionable to many at that time as paving the way for a flag of our own was in 1964.
But ‘the times, they were a-changin’, declared a song a very young Bob Dylan struck a chord with a year earlier with a baby boomer generation coming of age. And by February 15th, 1965, when students at my school gathered out front to witness Canada’s new flag being raised for the first time, the country was coming of age too. Plans for a big 100th birthday bash (that would see the world come to Expo ’67) were in the works and a more energetic, hip individual who soon would be Canada’s first prime minister born in the 20th Century was waiting in the wings.
Memories of the pride so many of us who were of that boomer generation felt during that first flag raising came back to me this past Friday, February 24 when, on a day off from parliament sitting in Ottawa, Liberal MP and former Port Colborne mayor Vance Badawey went from Port Colborne, to Welland and my community of Thorold in his Niagara Centre Riding to raise the Canadian colours in honour of ‘National Flag Day’ (officially observed each February 15th) with gatherings of locals.
“With this year being the 150th anniversary of Confederation, our flag takes on additional meaning. It symbolizes all that we are as a nation, a collection of individuals, each with our own unique story but united in our belief of acceptance, tolerance, and equality,” said Badawey in a statement prepared for the occasion. “In these turbulent times, our flag, and the remarkable diversity that it represents, should be celebrated.”
Turbulent times, indeed.
Don’t get the wrong idea. I don’t make a habit of wearing a Canadian flag in my lapel. Some of the people wearing it or waving it the hardest are the same people who do and say things that run contrary to the decent, democratic things that flag stands for.
Some of them, like that screwball Kellie Leitch, who polls show is now running neck-to-neck with another Trump wannabe, Kevin O’Leary, for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party, go around braying about how much they are into protecting “Canadian values.” So much so, that she was to screen anyone who wishes to apply for immigration status for whatever her definition of Canadian values is, which seems to be a frontal assault on the “acceptance,” “tolerance” and “diversity” Vance Badawey was talking about in his statement.
Over the past 52 years since the Canadian flag was first raised, we have gone through a lot of turbulent times in this country, and we still are going through some with concerns over trade deals our current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, seems so eager to sign, pipelines for transporting crude from the Alberta tar sands to the east and west coasts, and a number of other matters.
Why is Canada the only developed Western democracy, aside from the United States, not to have a universal pharma-care program to go along with our medicare? Why are some of the richest people in Canada still being allowed to use loopholes to fly an estimated $200 billion in unpaid taxes out of the country each year, while young Canadians accumulate crippling levels of debt to pay for a post-secondary education that is far less likely to land them a decent-paying job than it would have 20 or 30 years ago?
Yet even with all that, the concerns we have in Canada pale against those our friends and neighbours face across the border in the United State right now, with the dark clouds of totalitarianism forming over their heads.
When I go there and talk to them about what is going on in their country now, many of them feel sick about it. And when I return and see that flag flying from polls on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge, it’s a lovelier sight than it was when I first saw it raised 52 years ago.
To learn a little more about National Flag Day and our Canadian flag by clicking on – http://canada.pch.gc.ca/eng/1449158599459 .
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“A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders