Notes for remarks to students of politics and law, Atkinson Faculty of Liberal and Professional Studies, York University
Our diversity as a society is a great source of strength, but also a source of great responsibility. It is our responsibility to fight to ensure that our diversity does not lead to exclusion. …It is not enough to provide rights, although rights are the bedrock of our society. It is not enough to be tolerant, although tolerance is essential. We have to inspire and demand from ourselves the discipline to understand, celebrate, and protect what makes each of us unique. Preserving the dignity of our neighbour preserves the dignity of us all. …
It is not enough to demand good government; it is not enough to demand more police, tougher sentencing, more detentions. We must also demand good citizenship. We must ask at least as much of ourselves, as we ask of our government.
Every election is important, and every election defines our future.
This election is about a creative, compassionate Canada, about how to advance our fascinating, diverse, cosmopolitan society, and promote greater peace and humanity. It is about building up our strength and unity as Canadians so that Canada can make a contribution we can be proud of in our global village.
Yet with all our potential to be a force for good nationally and internationally, there are those who want to drag us down, take us apart, challenge our unity, our sense of national purpose.
They do it under the slogan “more power to the provinces”. They do not have the political courage to admit they stand for a lesser Canada, a diminished Canada. They lack the vision to speak for and build a dynamic strong Canada.
There is no single issue in this campaign called “national unity” because every issue in this election campaign is about what unites us. Every issue concerning people in Toronto Danforth is about what unites us.
National unity is all about Canadians working together to make Canada and the world a better place for our children and grandchildren.
This election is about building a Canada where achievement is measured by our commitment and responsibility to our fellow citizens, not by our level of consumption.
This election is about building a Canada which is the greenest country on the planet, in which the minister of the environment is on a par with the minister of finance.
This election is about building a Canada where our children can travel and work freely, as citizens of a community, of a nation, of the world.
This election is about expanding the opportunities for all Canadians to be the best and the brightest in whatever they choose to do. The Canadians who will find the technologies of the future to make environmental preservation coincide with economic prosperity, who will discover new sources of renewable energy, find the cures for cancer, promote good governance and development in struggling developing countries.
National unity in a free and diverse country such as ours is not something that is imposed from the top. Nor is it a vote in a referendum every 5, 10, or 15 years.
National unity is the act of Canadians working together, keeping faith with those who have come before us, to build a country that matches our brightest dreams for the future.
It is about ensuring that we have the tools needed to advance our goals as a nation – institutions that reflect our shared values and that are able to project those values to the world.
National unity means having a bold and visionary national government, a Liberal government, that takes advantage of the great economic performance of our country and pursues strategies to invest heavily in areas of long-term benefit to Canadians. In research and development of renewable energy sources, science and technology, the environmental causes of ill-health, how to reduce our waste. In the education and support of all our young people to ensure that we all have a creative, prosperous future in this, one of the greatest countries of the world.
We must focus on what we share, and stand up to those who would focus only on our differences. In the inspiring words of our Governor General, Michaelle Jean: “The narrow notion of ‘every person for himself’ does not belong in today’s world, which demands we learn to see beyond our wounds, beyond our differences for the good of all.”
We require a bold and visionary national government, a Liberal government, to guarantee social and economic justice for all Canadians.
We need a bold and visionary national government, a Liberal government, to establish the essentials of Canadian citizenship – clean air, clean water, our parks, healthcare, child care, parental leave, public education, handgun control, equality of opportunity for everyone.
We need a bold and visionary national government, a Liberal government, to continue to rebuild our international reputation and enhance our influence in our increasingly shrinking world.
We need a bold and visionary Canadian presence at all the bargaining tables around the world – from the peace tables of Northern Ireland, Rwanda, Darfur, to the ongoing Kyoto conference negotiations, to the World Trade Organization, to the United Nations, and so many more.
When Canadians have put their shared values into action, whether in the cause of landmines or in the negotiation of the recent global convention to protect cultural diversity, we have proven our worth as global citizens and have won respect around the world.
But that is not enough. There is much more that we must do.
We must invest the necessary resources in our peacekeeping capacities, our military, our international activities, and our defence of North America. Our international reputation and influence is a source of pride, but is never something to be taken for granted. It is something to be earned and maintained through hard work and, at times, great sacrifice.
Our diversity as a society is a great source of strength, but also a source of great responsibility. It is our responsibility to fight to ensure that our diversity does not lead to exclusion. And this duty to fight shall never end.
It is not enough to provide rights, although rights are the bedrock of our society.
It is not enough to be tolerant, although tolerance is essential.
We have to inspire and demand from ourselves the discipline to understand, celebrate, and protect what makes each of us unique. Preserving the dignity of our neighbour preserves the dignity of us all.
Here in Toronto and across our nation, we have the right to safe streets and to security of the person. The recent gun violence and shooting deaths is an assault on all of us. It requires that we take direct and effective measures to stop those who commit these evil acts. These criminals, in whose behaviour none of us can recognize ourselves, should know that all those in public office will do whatever is necessary to stop your senseless violence.
It is, however, not enough to demand good government; it is not enough to demand more police, tougher sentencing, more detentions.
We must also demand good citizenship. We must ask at least as much of ourselves, as we ask of our government.
We therefore have a responsibility as citizens to help pull our communities together to figure out how some of our young people are so marginalized to the point that they have no empathy, no compassion, no conscience.
How do we repair this tear in our social fabric? Is it because we have turned our backs on critical social programs? Do we attach too high a value to materialism? Do we lack good citizenship, social solidarity, strangers helping strangers, friends responsible for friends? Have we spent too much time talking about our differences, instead of what unites us?
We must find the answers with an urgency and determination unparalleled in recent times.
We also have a responsibility to ensure that the fundamental values of equality of men and women, and non-discrimination, are never dismantled under the guise of “less government”.
This requires a refusal to pander to prejudice and parochialism. This requires moral leadership.
In this I am proud of the record of the Liberal Party which, despite enormous pressures from certain quarters, has not only defended same sex marriage as a legal requirement of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but as a logical extension of the basic ideals of equality and diversity that underpin our inclusive society.
So Liberals know what kind of Canada we want.
And we know that if Stephen Harper’s so-called “open federalism” takes root, Stephen Harper will simply divide up Canada’s assets among the provincial premiers and close up shop.
But what kind of Canada is Jack Layton’s Canada?
Jack Layton and the NDP who set aside an alliance with the Liberals to play sand box politics with the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives in order to provoke this election.
Jack Layton and the NDP who want to weaken, not strengthen the federal government’s role in the national unity debate.
Jack Layton and the NDP who want a government that does everything for everyone, but will also tie the hands of the federal government in the name of provincial rights and decentralization.
Jack Layton and the NDP who will transfer federal taxing room to Quebec, and perhaps other provinces, thereby weakening further a federal government that is already one of the most decentralized in the world.
So much for national standards. So much for pulling together for the common Canadian good. So much for coherence and a decisive national government.
In Jack Layton’s Canada, like Stephen Harper’s Canada, the only thing that we will have left in common is Tim Horton’s drive-throughs.
My Canada is a compassionate, creative Canada that is more than a sum of its parts.
My Canada is one that that can achieve great things and contribute to creating a better world for us all.
We deserve bold and visionary leadership in Ottawa, a national government that is not making deals with separatists, a government that is building up our nation, not ripping it apart.
We need to assure the best representation possible for Canadians from the one truly national party, the Liberal Party, that can and does say the same thing from the Atlantic, to the Pacific, from the Great Lakes to the Arctic Ocean. The party that has, can and will elect MPs from all regions. The party that can elect MPs from cities, from farms, from the outports, and from the small towns that make up Canada, not just from one region or province.
Elections define our future. Make your vote on January 23rd a vote for the future of this great country.