Spirit Quest

Nurture it!

There is a spirit in this country's people that is open, peaceful and liberal

By The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

The Reverend Doctor Hanns F. Skoutajan

Years ago my travels occasionally took me to what was then beyond the Iron Curtain. When travelling I always made sure that I had the maple leaf pin on my lapel.

On one such occasion I had several Americans as companions. They were pretty left wing, politically and religiously. Nevertheless, one of them asked me whether I was a real Canadian patriot proud enough of my country to identify myself publicly with the True North Strong and Free.

I felt comfortable enough with my colleagues to tell them that I wore my Canadian emblem not only to show that I am a Canadian but also that I was not an American. Although they were quite critical of the policies of their government, I sensed that they felt somewhat slighted by my remark but also downright jealous. One confided when we were alone that he wished he could have that attitude about his country.

On another occasion an American actually asked me for one of my pins to wear. It was not uncommon in those days that young American travellers sewed Canadian badges on their backpacks. It was safer to travel as a Canadian than a citizen of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, especially outside of western Europe.

No longer so! Something has happened to our image in the last few years. In the last nine months people all over the world have put much hope in the presidency of Obama and the popularity of the country that elected him. (Sara Palin could fix that easily.)

Our images have switched especially after the presidency of Wobble You Bush when the US image had achieved its nadir. As the US rose in estimation Canada plummeted. I was reminded of this by Lawrence Martin's article in the October 15 edition of the Globe and Mail.

He asked the question whether, "our guy, Stephen Harper, be short listed, middle ranged, long listed or worse?" for the Nobel Peace Prize.

He maintained that "the Nobel jurors wouldn't touch him with a barge pole."

Until recently Canadians have basked on the international scene in the afterglow of the accomplishments and attitudes of Lester Pearson who also won the peace prize, of Elliott Trudeau, who often stuck it to our neighbour's presidents. Chretien got high marks for refusing the invitation to get embroiled in Iraq. Canada was known and appreciated for its progressive attitude on international affairs, particularly its role as a peacekeeper and caring for the integrity of the global environment. Our immigration policy has also been very generous.

There has been a very noticeable change in Canada. Harper's government has shown little interest in disarmament or global warming. Our prime minister is well known as an uncompromising supporter of Israel. The world did not hear a whisper of criticism from Canada of Israel's attack on Gaza and the Lebanese venture earlier was called a "measured response," although a Canadian UN observer was killed in his observation bunker by the shells from the Israel Defence (offence) Forces. Nor have we stood up and supported Canadians in difficulty abroad. The case of Maher Arrar has left a stench all over Canada.

All this has happened while the Harper government was in a minority position in parliament. One wonders and worries what a Conservative majority government might accomplish.

I believe that Canada is a Peaceable Kingdom. Most of us despise violence. We believe in international cooperation not exploitation. Social justice is important to us. We love our Medicare and CBC still. We are concerned about the health of our planet. I would hate to see all that change. It would mean turning against our very nature.

Americans certainly are more religious than we are. Their churches, synagogues and mosques are full of worshippers while Canadians are more secular. The Religious Right south of the 49th parallel wields great influence in the political sphere. Canadian religious institutions hold virtually no power; Evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist Canadians envy their co-religionists on the other side of this once longest undefended border. Indeed, some of these churches have emulated Americans, setting up a lobby in Ottawa using the American model and expertise.

Harper himself worships in a very conservative church in the eastern suburbs of Ottawa. Once a member of the United Church, he left because of the church's progressive stand on public and faith issues, particularly because of the ordination of gay, lesbian and transgendered ministers.

Polls, even those who give the Conservatives a significant lead in standings do not accurately portray the Canadian picture. There is a spirit in this country's people that is open, peaceful and liberal (note lower case).

Nurture it!

October 23, 2009 — Return to cover.