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Sabrina Maddeaux: Canada Day virtue signalling shows how far we’ve fallen

Sabrina Maddeaux: Canada Day virtue signalling shows how far we've fallen

Another day, another Canada Day cancellation. In the last two weeks, three major cities canceled the celebration of the National Day of our country. First Calgary, then Toronto and Vancouver.

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Each municipality had its reasons and, in any case, those reasons embody Canada’s recent derailment from common sense and good governance.

Maybe you like fireworks; you might think that these are loud distractions that we could do without. But it’s not about bursts of light in the night sky—it’s about a country so broken that it won’t or can’t celebrate its very existence.

In Calgary, the city cited several reasons for downgrading traditional fireworks to an “enhanced pyrotechnic display,” including noise and overcrowding, as well as the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned nearly all Chinese immigrants from 1923 to 1947. The city also cited sensitivities around truth and reconciliation, with one councilor citing “racism” and “colonialism” as reasons not to celebrate.

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The problem: There is little or no evidence that Chinese or Indigenous communities have asked the city to drop the Canada Day fireworks. Count. Sean Chu told CTV, “I’ve talked to a lot of leaders in the Chinese community and they all say the same thing: ‘Oh, we didn’t know anything about that.’ ”

He continued: “If we’re going to use 100 years of the Chinese Exclusion Act as a reason, at least we’ll tell the community or ask them, ‘Is this appropriate?’ ”

Yes, one would think that the logical response to the exclusion and disenfranchisement of minority communities in the past would be to… well, include and empower them. But not in today’s Canada. Today, politicians care much less about what marginalized groups actually think, feel, want or need. Instead, they engage in empty, even counterproductive, virtue signaling.

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“Indigenous people are Canadian. We have every right to celebrate Canada Day, even if others choose not to,” wrote Melissa Mbarki for the National Post. “Removing a holiday or celebration that unites Canadians is not reconciliation. Actions like this further divide us.”
She also aptly pointed out that the rejection of fireworks, or any other kind of Canada Day celebration, appears nowhere in the 94 still very unresolved calls for action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or even in the largely ignored 231 calls for justice from the National Inquiry into the Missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.

But why does hard, meaningful work when low-hanging, bright fruit, like the cancellation of the Canada Day fireworks, allow for easy celebration—giving back to marginalized communities be damned?

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It seems the City of Calgary couldn’t come up with a good answer to this, as city administrations reversed their decision, after much backlash from the public and the knowledge that 10 councilors were putting together a proposal to reinstate the fireworks. The show has been rebooted, though a city press release says it “remains committed to addressing cultural sensitivities while respecting Calgary’s diverse makeup.”

As for Vancouver, the city announced that its fireworks will be permanently discontinued “primarily due to rising costs.” But Port of Vancouver spokesperson Alex Munro added: “We also decided last year to take our July 1 event at Canada Place in a new direction, following national conversations about how best to celebrate Canada Day in light of the tragic findings at the schools.

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Last year, Montreal and Strathcona, Alta., canceled their annual Canada Day parades in part because of lingering concerns about COVID, but also because of the financial cost. That cities can no longer afford events they’ve managed to fund for decades — Montreal’s parade dates back to 1978 — is an economic red flag.

Inflation fueled by misguided federal policies, combined with poor municipal fiscal management and an unwillingness to increase self-sufficiency outside of federal and provincial spending is creating a death spiral in which cities can no longer afford, not just fireworks, but the essential costs of transit, housing and maintenance.

Although some American cities canceled fireworks last year, they did so not because of disingenuous social signaling or economic hardship, but because of inevitable supply chain issues and fire risks. They are often replaced by impressive laser light or drone emissions.

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Canadian politicians’ comfort in downplaying and canceling celebrations also speaks to a decline in patriotism and efforts to bring communities together rather than divide them.

This is not healthy for a nation, and certainly not for one that is desperately trying to hang on to its center while collecting new crises like Beanie Babies. Collective identity, shared experiences and purpose, and yes, pride, are key to our ability to move forward.

As usual, Toronto has found a unique way to jump on the Canada Day bandwagon in Toronto. The city said it would not hold the celebrations at Nathan Phillips Square due to “resource constraints”, before immediately reversing the decision.

What he failed to mention in his original announcement is that Toronto hasn’t actually hosted a celebration at that location since 2017, and its main fireworks display has historically been held at Ashbridge Bay.

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It’s fitting that this somewhat misleading news comes as the city continues to lobby the federal government for $235 million to plug its budget gap, which looks more like a budget canyon. The seemingly politically calculated charade epitomizes Toronto’s failure to embrace fiscal responsibility and the overall dysfunction at City Hall.

If Canadians from coast to coast are unable to put on fireworks or parades this July 1st, perhaps they can use that time to reflect on the political immaturity and fundamental frivolity that got us here. The cancellation of public celebrations of our national birthday reveals the country’s urgent need for better public leadership and policy.

National Post

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