Monday, November 24, 2008

Nation builders?

Continuing on the theme of my last blog... this Saturday the Globe and Mail ran an editorial about nation builders. Apparently each year the paper solicits nominations of "those among us who have made a special contribution to Canada as a nation".

Past nominees seem to be rather in line with the Globe's reader demographics - i.e. banker philanthropist Don Johnson, politician Ed Broadbent and Mike Lazaridis, the blackberry guy. Others are people known for their bravery or courage under fire, the likes of Maher Arar, paraolympian Chantal Petitclerc and an Armed Forces sergeant.

But what is a nation builder? One could argue that a man who invented a device that has changed the speed at which business and politics are conducted, a device that seems a necessity for anybody who's anybody in Ottawa, has certainly influenced Canada or least Canadian way of life. But does that make him a nation builder?

This has got me wondering about what makes a national hero, or even a personal one. The people who I have admired and who inspire me are rarely public figures. They are friends or acquaintances who have touched me with their generosity and wisdom. They have qualities I admire and they have inspired me to give back, slow down or reach out... But I do not know if I would call any one of them my 'hero'.

I read once that one should seek out heroes. But that has always seemed like somewhat of a romantic notion. No one is perfect and I believe it is dangerous to put anyone on a pedestal. They higher we raise them, the farther they have to fall when we realize they, like all of us, are fallible.

So do I really want a hero? I'm not so sure. I still would like to see a political figure like Obama here in Canada - a person who inspires, challenges and raises people out of their apathy and political disillusionment. And I think it is good to recognize people who have made significant contributions to communities and nations, just as it is a good reminder to me to acknowledge the people in my own life who have taught and inspired me.

So while I can't say I agree with all of the Globe's nominated 'nation builders', I applaud the initiative. As a global recession looms and the papers are full of doom and predictions of failure, it was nice to read something which got me thinking about something a bit more positive.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We need a Canadian Obama

We stayed up last night to watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Now I couldn't vote in that election and I don't live in the United States, but his speech, his monumental victory, brought tears to my eyes.

It may be hard to believe what politicians say, but Obama's rallying cry for change, for racial harmony and cooperation goes beyond politics. As the camera panned people's faces, you can see how is message is touching them, resonating with them, inspiring them.

In fact, watching the crowd of over 100,000 people in Chicago cheer and wave at their president-elect, I couldn't help thinking back to our recent Canadian election. The contrast between what was happening last night south of our border and what happened here last month is depressing.

I went to an all-candidates debate in my community. I watched our party leaders point fingers and snipe at each other on national television. I can't say I was ever inspired or moved even remotely close to tears. I can't remember if I stayed up to watch Harper's acceptance speech. If I did, it was obviously not that memorable.

When was the last time a Canadian politician, or even a widely-known public figure, inspired this nation? (Someone told me this morning that Pierre Trudeau had done that. I wish I'd been around to see it - but that was 40 years ago).

I know that Canadians don't tend to blow their own horns or shout out our patriotic pride. But perhaps it is time for a leader who does it for us. A leader who reminds us of our heroes and their legacies, great men like Lester B. Pearson, Tommy Douglas and Terry Fox.

Today I am celebrating with Americans and with people all around the world - celebrating an historic moment and what will hopefully be a catalyst for real change. But I am also hoping that we, as Canadians, will be inspired to consider ways that we can change as a nation and ways that we can find pride in our country, in each other and in our history. That we will ask of our politicians to do more than stick to the party line and argue about tax cuts or municipal infrastructure. Like Obama has done for Americans throughout this campaign, I wish that our politicians would remind us of what it means to rally the power of democracy, to build upon the legacy of what we are most proud of, and to believe that together, real change is possible.