The Parkland Page

October 1, 2010 Ricardo Acuña

The Canada we want and how to get IT

Editor’s note: The following article is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Alberta Teachers’ Association or its members.

If you were asked to describe Canada’s values, policies and international role to someone who knew nothing about our country, what words would you use? Polls and historical records tell us that your description would likely include some of the following attributes: democratic, multicultural, diverse, tolerant, an honest broker, a peacekeeper, moderate, caring and just.

From Wilfred Laurier’s prediction that the 20th century would belong to Canada, to Pierre Trudeau’s vision of a “just society,” to Mel Hurtig’s National Party and Maude Barlow’s Council of Canadians, high-profile Canadians have used the words above to not only describe what Canada is but to articulate their vision of what Canada could be.

At the Parkland Institute (in our capacity as researchers and educators), we seek to identify the gap between the ideals espoused by rhetoric and the realities demonstrated by policies.

For example, how does the rhetoric of Canada as an honest broker hold up against Canada’s unquestioning support for Israel’s policies and actions in Palestine? Or how do we justify Canada’s claim to be multicultural and diverse in face of the federal government’s efforts to label a boatload of Tamil refugees as dangerous terrorists and criminals?

The contradictions in how Canadians see Canada are numerous. Canada is one of four countries to vote against adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Witness the police attack on and the government’s attempts to silence legitimate protests at the G20 in Toronto, and the government’s move to defund organizations like Kairos, the Canadian Council for International Cooperation and the Canadian Arab Federation because they critiqued government policy or disagreed with its ideology. And what of the government’s refusal to force Canadian mining companies to follow the same safety and environmental standards in the developing world that they must follow in Canada?

Gaps between a country’s vision of itself and that country’s actual policies will always exist, but in Canada over the past five years that gap has grown exponentially. If we understand and support our government’s policies at home and abroad, then we need to be honest with ourselves and change the words and rhetoric to describe ourselves to each other and to the world. However, if the values listed above express what Canadians want their country to be, then we must realize that we’re moving in the wrong direction and take steps in the right one.

That is the goal behind the Parkland Institute’s 14th annual fall conference, “Rewriting a Country: Towards a Just and Peaceful Canada,” to be held at the University of Alberta, November 19–21, 2010.

With the help of confirmed speakers Margaret Atwood, Marci McDonald, Linda McQuaig, Murray Dobbin, George Elliot Clark and others, participants will explore what Canada looks like today, from home and abroad, and how far we have moved from the values and ideals we still claim to espouse.

More important, through dialogue, breakout sessions and formal and informal discussions, participants will determine what it will take to get us back on the right path toward building the Canada that could and should be.

As always, it is important that teachers and other educators participate in these discussions. The process is largely an educational one—it is primarily about moving to a place where we can look critically at the world around us, identify how it compares to the values and ideals we say we believe in and take action to bridge that gap. We hope that teachers will take this challenge seriously and attend the conference.

For more information about the conference or to register, visit the Parkland Institute’s website (

Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute, a nonpartisan public policy research institute at the University of Alberta that has been researching public policy, publishing alternatives to public policy in Alberta, and hosting public educational events since 1996. For more information about the institute or its work, contact the office at 780-492-8558 or visit

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