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In this parochial country, do we have what it takes to unite in a crisis?

By Andrew Caddell      

We should support leaders who find ways to unite us, not divide us, as we approach the next federal election.

A campaign to put Paul Henderson in the Hockey Hall of Fame brought the man who scored the winning goal for Canada in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviet Union to Parliament Hill on Jan. 28, where he met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among other MPs. Photograph courtesy of Justin Trudeau’s Twitter
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OTTAWA—There are moments embedded in our minds as Canadians that we remember so vividly that we can say where we were, what we were doing, and who we were with when they occurred.

One of those moments was the winning goal scored by Paul Henderson in the Canada-Soviet Union hockey series, in the eighth game in Moscow, on Sept. 28, 1972. The elation felt by the millions of Canadians watching at home that afternoon was tangible.

I was studying at University of Ottawa, and the hundred or so students crammed into the residence common room exploded with cheers. Complete strangers hugged and cried at the narrow 6-5 victory. English and French, we went into the streets and sang O Canada in both official languages.

I have seen that expression of unity a few times in my life, notably when the “No” sides managed to win the referendums on Quebec separation of 1980 and 1995, and when Canada triumphed in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

This week, Henderson was in Ottawa on his 76th birthday to meet MPs, on the heels of an Angus Reid study detailing growing resentment between Canadians.

It stated that “As a federation, Canada has long been home to simmering regional tensions,” and emphasized antagonism between the West and East, in particular Quebec.

Quebec Premier François Legault did not help change that animosity, after handing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a list of demands including funding for transit, more provincial control in the selection of immigrants, and Ottawa turning over some taxation authority to Quebec. Legault then jetted off to Paris, where, styling himself as Quebec’s “head of state,” he met with France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

The Angus Reid study is a reminder Canada is “provincial” in nature, not surprisingly, given we live on a land mass second only to Russia in size, with a population less than that of Poland and a little more than that of Peru.

I know the vastness of our country, having travelled it by car, train, and bicycle. At 25, I decided to travel to every region and work in journalism or politics for at least a year. Over a decade, I worked in Quebec City, Calgary, Montreal, St. John’s, Ottawa, and Toronto and visited every province.

I learned our parochialism is both a liability and an asset. On the downside, few people I met in Western Canada had ever travelled east of Winnipeg, and few in the East knew the West. In Calgary, I was an “Eastern bastard;” in Newfoundland, a “come from away.” In Quebec City, I was disliked more for being a “montréalais” than a “maudit anglais” (damned English). In time, I was accepted in each place.

But on the plus side, Canadians know their communities intimately, and are proud of them. They welcome people into their homes and stay where they are because they are fiercely loyal.

Unfortunately, they don’t realize how much they have in common: the people in my village of Kamouraska, Que., share much with Atlantic Canada and the West Coast. Our urban neighbourhoods are so much alike. And millions joined with Humboldt, Sask., when that town suffered such a grievous loss upon the deaths of 16 local hockey players in a collision with a semi truck last year.

However, more Canadians seem to care about their neighbours to the south than their own fellow citizens. The same people who have never travelled east or west have been to the United States dozens of times. Hundreds of thousands winter there. And we obsess about the politics of a foreign country and not our own.

At this moment, we are being squeezed by the United States on trade, as tariffs remain on steel and aluminum, and NAFTA 2.0 (also called USMCA and CUSMA) has not been ratified. Our own citizens are being held hostage by an authoritarian Chinese government. At home, we can’t build anything anywhere to grow our economy, while our cities struggle to deal with the flow of new arrivals, both legal and illegal. More people want to slag our history than defend it. Those of good faith want to do better, but know nothing can be accomplished unless we work together.

There has to be a way to solve our problems, to revel in our differences as well as our similarities. We live in one of the best countries in the world and we need to be reminded of that, by meeting our fellow citizens, our friends, neighbours, and relatives and engaging them in discussion about our own country, not someone else’s.

In this federal election year, we should support leaders who find ways to unite us, not divide us. Perhaps we need another Henderson to score a winning goal.

Andrew Caddell is retired from Global Affairs Canada, where he was a senior policy adviser. He previously worked as an adviser to Liberal governments. He is a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a principal of QIT Canada. He can be reached at pipson52@hotmail.com.

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