Shine a (Northern) Light: Canada after Trump

(first published November 9, 2016)

It’s inconceivable and heartbreaking to watch our neighbours do this to themselves. We have been allies and friends, trading partners and continental collaborators for generations. We were so used to them holding up a light to the world that it’s disorienting, this sudden darkness. We don’t know what the America of this next presidency will look like and we can hope for the best. But it is clear that Canada needs to decide how we as a country will act in the coming years, what values we are going to choose to embody for ourselves and the world.

We have always said that there was strength in diversity, in inclusion, in equality of gender, in welcoming in people from other parts of the world. We have always said that we will help each other, and never let anyone fall so far that they can’t get back up. That’s what we tell ourselves. Now is the time to lean into those principles. When doors are closing, we have the opportunity to welcome skills and talent of all kinds from all places. When minds are closing, we have the opportunity to work together to foster innovation and creativity, to solve hard problems and incubate new ideas. When hearts are closing, we can embrace, accept, and cherish people of all kinds, address injustice, help those in need, and be the stronger for it. This is the real, tangible opportunity available to government, to business, and to each of us as citizens in Canada right now.

We are heading into a difficult time. We don’t know how hard or for how long. But as someone who makes his living in business, I know that one of the ways opportunity knocks is when you find something undervalued that you know has greater worth. Our neighbours to the south just elected a government that discounted the value of women, immigrants, gays, lesbians, transgendered people, people of different colours, people with different religions. They sold short the rule of law, social safety nets, healthcare, diplomacy, open borders and free trade. It is a turning-back of the clock that hasn’t been seen in 75 years. But it is also an opportunity for any country, including Canada, who sees value in those people, ideas and institutions that are being rejected. We want and welcome those people, that diversity, that enterprise and industry and creativity. We have the chance to bring the best of the world here to us. Time to look at The Century Initiative and the Canadian government’s recommendation to increase immigration. This is our time to open the doors and double down on the potential of people.

Events in the U.S. should also force us to take a hard look in the mirror. If this election teaches anything, it’s that people lash out when they lose hope; people who feel disconnected from their government may choose to burn it down rather than make it better; issues unaddressed can smoulder and then explode. So while we are striving for a more open, dynamic Canada, we need to make sure that the benefits are felt by all, not just by a few, that we own up to injustices that have been allowed to linger, and that we strengthen the traditions and institutions that help us take care of each other. Because now we know that people left behind won’t stay quiet.

We can hope that the coming years won’t be as dark as it looks today for our neighbours to the south. We can hope for checks and balances, the next election cycle, an engaged populace and the legendary better angels of their nature. But we also need to use this time to decide what kind of country Canada wants to be. History tells us that countries who turn their backs on the world don’t thrive in the long run. Countries who are welcoming and diverse, who seek to reach out and welcome in, are the ones who gain ground and become stronger. We should go into this time with eyes open, sure of our values, aware of the challenges, and show how a country that embraces hope instead of fear can grow and prosper. It may not be as big or shine as far, but for the next while anyway, we’ll make our own light.

The Uses Of Sorrow
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.”
— Mary Oliver, Thirst
Michael Tamblyn