Canada 150: Reconciling who we are with who we want to be

We all want to feel good about what Canada stands for. From progress on LGBTQ rights, to communities coming together to support new immigrants, to modest steps toward reconciliation, there are reasons to be proud of how far we’ve come in 2017.

But are we prepared to move beyond pride—to acknowledge just how much more work needs to be done?

For over 35 years, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been promoting public policy solutions grounded in ideals of social, economic and environmental justice. We’ve always believed that public policy can play an important role on the road to social transformation. But today, on the occasion of Canada 150, we are asking ourselves tough questions about the role of public policy in reconciliation.

Canada was founded on stolen Indigenous land. For at least 150 years, public policy—including the residential schools program—has attempted to make Canada’s first inhabitants disappear, physically and legally, as distinct peoples. This much was, once again, made crystal clear in the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015.

Today, Indigenous people in this country experience shocking levels of poverty, inadequate access to clean water and housing, disproportionate levels of arrest and incarceration, unequal levels of health care and education, the exploitation of their resources, and the regular abuse of treaty and land rights. Aboriginal women are murdered or go missing at rates far above any other part of the population.

In these and other ways, Canada is still a colonial state, a relic of the past. If we can’t recognize this reality on the country’s 150th anniversary, when is the right time? If we can’t use this moment to celebrate the idea of a better, more equal society, what, exactly, are we celebrating?

Canada 150 is the right time to learn lessons from our past, commit to righting historical wrongs, and make good on the promise of Canada to be a truly just and equitable society. We cannot afford—socially, financially or morally—the status quo. We cannot pretend that this is the best we can do. Because we owe ourselves and future generations, and especially those who have borne the brunt of colonialism, neoliberalism and austerity, far more.

We know that that the system isn’t working for so many of us. We know that rhetoric and platitudes are not an effective defense against inequality in all its forms. We need concrete alternatives—thought out, costed, and defended, in solidarity with our neighbours of all walks of life—to move forward together.

Think of where we could be with affordable, accessible national child care. With national pharmacare and dental care plans. Where no one goes without affordable housing or clean water. Where there is no poverty. Where public transportation is so good (and free) our cars are almost redundant. When everyone can retire with dignity.

There would be profound economic benefits to creating and investing in social programs. But more importantly they provide the basis from which we can create a more just, equitable, sustainable and connected society, where differences between generations, neighbourhoods and communities can become our greatest strength—not statistical proof of our failure.

Above all, we must deliberately put Indigenous voices and lived experiences at the centre of policy-making conversations in Canada—from robust consultation on resource projects, to direct involvement in housing and health care services in Indigenous communities.

Here at the CCPA, we are steadfastly committed to the policy research that will set us on a path to real reconciliation, and reaffirm our commitment to equity, sustainability and solidarity for all. Social progress cannot be left up to chance, half-hearted political efforts or even good intentions.

We know governments—even self-declared well-meaning ones—often need to be pushed to do the right thing. We promise to be there with the research and analysis that support bold and ambitious policy goals, and make the case for equality and sustainability that much harder to ignore.

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