Today, under a glorious sun and with a fresh breeze blowing, I took a walk through the main campus of U of T. The old, elegant stone buildings had a faintly musty smell that carried on the wind. History brushed against each sense in turn.
The campus itself was alive, vibrant with students basking in the warm sun, tossing a ball, heading to or from class or quietly reading a book in the shade of an ancient tree. A couple pairs of professors sat on benches, dissecting world events. There were more than a few parents accompanying March Break Uni tour kids, eyes wide with trepidation or excitement about what the future holds for them - which is probably a bit of both.
There were youth in short shirts, tank tops or no tops, taking the first chance to bare skin in months. There were fashion statements galore - prep, Emo, indie, worldly. I saw a girl in hejab riding a skate board and one fellow in formal wear. I noticed the variety of appearance, first - the diversity of ethnicity came next. The crowd was a rich mix of lineages; East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, First Nation, African, even a few folk of decidedly Northern European descent.
What a wonderful thing it is, I thought to myself, to be able to walk around a place of learning, the shore where new ideas lap at established wisdom, freely. What a gift to be surrounded by so much diversity and find it encouraging, not threatening.
To me, that's Canada.
I was downtown to see a friend in hospital. The friend is a University student; it was thinking about her that led me to walk the campus. This friend had been struck suddenly, frighteningly by an illness the doctors were still trying to decipher.
My friend was lucky to live in this country, and especially lucky to live in a city with so many hospitals. I shudder to think what could have happened if she'd lived somewhere without an established, public health care system. More than that, the open communication between our hospitals and professionals across the system means there is a good chance that, if her illness has been dealt with elsewhere, that knowledge will make its way to her doctors. This friend takes comfort in knowing that her academic year is not automatically in jeopardy. I take comfort in knowing her life is in good hands. We have a system, and people in that system, who understand that sometimes, things like this happen. The goal is to accommodate success, not punish misfortune.
That's my Canada, too.
During a recent election campaign, I managed a GOTV team on E-Day that consisted entirely of New Canadians from India. I thought it fantastic that, even before they had wrapped their heads around a whole new culture and world view, these young men were excited to participate in our democracy.
One of our poll clerks was of African extraction. It was the first real black person my team had the opportunity to interact with. One of these fellows, a young Sikh with a turban and beard, bravely told me he felt uncomfortable dealing with the black man. My advice was this: don't ever let fear define you. Fear closes doors, cuts off opportunities. I reminded this gent that he, too, looked different from others around him. When you get down to it, we all do - the questions is whether we focus on those differences, or instead appreciate our basic human similarities.
He took the poll and ended up having some great chats with the clerk, breaking down a barrier and opening up a new opportunity to understand. In so doing, my Sikh friend embraced the best that Canada has to offer.
Yesterday, I had the privilege to chat with Justin Trudeau; he'd just given a speech on an idea we enthusiastically share - the idea of Canada. The same day, I had a brief message from Federal Minister Tony Clement, thanking me for sharing an idea on staff transition strategies with him. How many places in the world can an average citizen freely engage with not just politicians, but politicians from opposing Parties?
- Life-long learning, available to everyone.
- Strength through diversity.
- Universal health care that’s there when you need it.
- An unwavering commitment to overcome differences and share opportunities.
- Accessible, transparent, collaborative governance.
That’s what Canada means to me.