The View From Here – Political platitudes and grandiose abstractions tell us nothing about Canada

Tom Henihan

It is curious how federal politicians expound on Canada using a litany of abstractions: fortunate, wealth, opportunity, diverse… terms that shed light only on the biases or political pragmatism of the person speaking.

People who have never set foot in Canada, who know relatively little about the country could safely make those assertions.

In his Canada Day speech, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked about Canada’s development over the past 150 years, about the events and individuals that helped shape this Nation into the “extraordinary country it is today – prosperous, generous and proud.”

He spoke about later generations and newcomers who exemplify what it means to be Canadian: “ambitious aspirations, leadership driven by compassion, and the courage to dream boldly.”

This has a tone one might expect from some cheesy motivational speaker, using vacuous abstractions that drain the spirit and addle the mind.

Federal politicians are in the business of using abstractions and generalities at the expense of the tangible and the particular. They laud the national and the federal to the detriment of the regional.

Canada is not an extraordinary country today because the prime minister asserts that it is prosperous, generous and proud.

The federal government and its communications wing the CBC paint a lacklustre picture of Canada that offers no sense of terra firma, of the physical realities and the exceptional and varied landscape.

What is extraordinary is the country itself: the vast sweep of the land, the diverse topography that has provided so many ways and means of living to so many communities across the country.

What is extraordinary are those who contend with their immediate environments to sustain themselves.

Whether it is fishing, forestry, farming, mining or manufacturing, the people who live in each particular environment have received a mark of character unique to the individuals and communities of each region.

Of course, Justin Trudeau was not the only one to resort to abstractions in defining Canada on its 150th Anniversary.

Former Prime Minister Stephan Harper also got in the game with an open letter to Canadians with language no less abstract than Trudeau’s but considerably more florid.

Harper’s letter began:

Dear Fellow Citizens, As we mark the sesquicentennial of our Confederation, we as Canadians should stop to reflect upon how fortunate we are. In an era of unprecedented global wealth and opportunity, there is simply no better place to live.

Again statements that deliver nothing tangible: fortunate, wealth, opportunity and “simply no better place to live.”

True or not, these unsubstantiated platitudes tell us nothing about Canada, they tell us nothing about the cities, towns and communities we inhabit and like Trudeau’s they fail to express any galvanizing emotion.

Listening to Harper one would think that Canada was a prosperous corporation where all citizens should be grateful and happy to live within the gates of its compound.

Listening to the current prime minister one might think that Canada was founded on the principals of urban liberalism when in fact it was established primarily on rural communalism, on shared challenges and cooperation, with each region presented with its own unique challenges and its own particular rewards.

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