Happy 149th birthday! As a Canadian citizen, I am writing you a letter today because I want to wish you nothing but happiness and success. I also want to take this opportunity to thank you as well as highlight the challenges you are facing in the year 2016 and beyond.
Like many Canadians, I have always been proud and grateful to be a Canadian citizen. I will never forget the admiration with which a border officer at Tokyo’s Narita Airport spoke the word “Canada” as he checked my Canadian passport. To be a Canadian citizen is a privilege and also a responsibility. A privilege because it’s one of a few stable democracies left in this world, an unpretentious country that has fully embraced the diversity of its global citizens. If anything, this past year serves as a reminder that Canadians are just so lucky to be in a part of the world that has remained unscathed from the cynicism and fear that have paralyzed other nations. However, being a Canadian citizen is also a responsibility because we need to uphold the Canadian values that have made this country so desirable in the first place. Nothing can be taken for granted.
Without further ado, here is my birthday present to you.
Canada the Good
Political winds: You have come a long way since the Harper days. I understand the political winds shift every few years. But generally I think our freshly minted Prime Minister has brought life back into Parliament. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he put Canada back on the map. But his sunny personality has somehow brought confidence back to a nation fed up with Harper’s polarizing leadership. Again, this reminds us that Canadians are centrists and reject any leadership that swings us too far in any one direction. After watching the October 2015 election, I have faith that we continue to live in one of those rare stable democracies when the rest of the world descends into chaos.
Open-door policy: In the midst of violence in the Middle East and when everyone else in the world slammed their door on refugees, you generously welcomed tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to give them another chance at life. I admit I felt conflicted about your decision but I put myself in their shoes. As a daughter of immigrants, I have no clue where I would be today if Canada did not welcome my family into this country. We have never been a country that turns away people because they are different. We have always been open to anyone seeking to have a better life and fulfill their human potential.
Peace: Not a day goes by that I do not think about the role of luck in our lives. Why is it that I am here in Canada while people in the Middle East are burying their loved ones every day? Or why ordinary people are dying from gun violence in a country as wealthy as the United States? Thank you for staying out of meaningless wars around the world and not getting bogged down in endless conflicts for fictitious reasons. It is because of your wise choice that we have peace in this country without fears of retaliation. It is because of the wise choice of our legislators that we can walk into movie theaters, clubs, schools and churches without putting ourselves at the mercy of deranged gun men. The more I watch CNN, the more grateful I am that in Canada.
Canada: A Work in Progress
Jobs and Economy: Like any other Western economy, Canada is not immune to sluggish growth. However, it does not mean that you should be resting on your laurels. We have a higher unemployment rate than our southern neighbour. There are more graduates from our universities than there are jobs available to use their talents. In the past, we were told by our parents and teachers to reach for the highest possible level of education. I have seen many people doing everything right only to be told later on implicitly that the economy has no need for their education. What a waste of human potential. For years, you have talked about emulating the German model of education – apprenticeship programs that fill in the skill gaps in our economy. But words are just words. We all know that one pillar of economic strength is manufacturing. Instead of lamenting offshoring our jobs to the Chinese or talking of destroying NAFTA, we have great opportunities in the area of drugs, medical devices and other high tech areas. We are not competing with the Chinese to see who makes more Barbie dolls but who has the expertise to be a leader in high-tech areas that will improve the lives of people everywhere. High-tech is not restricted to tablets and smartphones; it really means all industry areas that have a high impact on human lives. As the economy becomes more service oriented, let’s not forget that manufacturing is what creates wealth. We need to think far and beyond the election cycle: we need to think about what benefits the country in the long run.
Inflated Real Estate market: Maybe this country has become a victim of its own success. But the real estate prices in Toronto and Vancouver are beyond your wildest imagination. These places have become so desirable that they have become undesirable to the average Canadians who are not investor immigrants or have rich mommies and daddies in Asia. I can’t forget that day driving past a large billboard in a nice mid-town location. Starting price of upcoming town homes in this area? 1.2 million dollars. Yes, folks, get your deal while it lasts! Some people do not even make 1.2 million in a life time after taxes. If you are looking for anything decent in a walkable location, you will be indebted rest of your life. If not, you will just join millions of renters in the big cities who are lucky if rent does not consume 50% of their take-home pay. You see, as we celebrate you today in Ottawa, please think about the millions of Canadians especially the young who cannot boast to their children(if they can afford any) that they purchased their first home for $10,000 (those days belong to history books). Please think about their frustration that for all their hard work and contributions to this country, they will never be able to afford what to every generation is a symbol of the middle class life. That term “middle class” is pretty fluid I guess.
I know I am only a small voice among a sea of voices. I love this country with all of my heart. But every country in every era faces a unique set of challenges. It is not uncommon that our politicians are not equipped with the best set of tools to deal with our most pressing issues. However, in order for our country to retain its enviable position in the world, the issues I have discussed need to be addressed one way or the other. You have given so much of yourself to being a safe haven for the world’s most vulnerable and a dedicated peacekeeper in many parts of the world, but internally you are also a country with struggles, and it is your people who face these struggles. Canadians are known for their generosity and empathy for those less fortunate than they are, but if you can no longer guarantee the stability of employment, economic growth and affordable housing, then this could change everything this country represents. How can people be generous and welcoming if they themselves are struggling? As you celebrate this day, please think about this.
Happy Birthday Canada!