Past-Blasting: The Climate, 2007

This piece from February of 2007 was called “Citizenship, Climate Change…and Hockey?” It’s an orphan piece that never found a publication to call home, so now I offer it here. My nearly six-foot tall teen was then only seven, and merely bilingual. The NHL was struggling to recapture fan interest outside of Canada after losing an entire season to labour squabbles. Canada was still part of the Kyoto Accord. (We bow our head in shame, and remember when Canada deserved its reputation for internationalism.) I was not long removed from writing for Canada’s Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson, who had been succeeded in that office by Michaelle Jean.

We hadn’t imagined coming to China at all, and now we’re wrapping up five years on the edge of the Middle Kingdom. Look back. Waaayy back…

Last week saw a series of events that, after a whirl in the cerebral blender, yields a thoughtful stew on citizenship. It’s a bit like the musical “mash-up”, but without that unpleasant ringing in your ears. Here are some not-quite-random reflections on the meaning of the modern Canuck.

Two years ago last Friday, the National Hockey League finally suspended the 2004-2005 season. Canadian men (and a few women) grew more gloomy and resentful. No major sporting league had ever ditched an entire schedule, and the North American cultural divide widened. Canadian lovers of other sports hoped for a silver lining to the lockout, but were dismayed to find that hockey still dominated jock talk and writing. Meanwhile, American sports media – and the great majority of fans – barely noticed its absence.

And the citizenship connection? Well, you might have missed this surprising bit of civic mindfulness, but several NHL players declared the February 16 anniversary as “Save Hockey Day” – not so much to recall the lockout as to pay attention to the Kyoto Accord on climate change. ‘Bout time! I couldn’t flood our backyard for a rink until the end of January. Climate weirdness threatens northern sport, especially the sweetest kind, where children can romp on ice and snow for unhurried hours. The athletes are starting to get it. The good news on February 16, 2005 was that the greenhouse gas-limiting Protocols agreed upon at Kyoto, Japan in 1997 officially came into force. Russia’s ratification of the treaty had finally made it internationally binding. “Binding” is an interesting term in a world where the country which hosts the United Nations, ostensibly one of its biggest supporters, is hundreds of millions of dollars delinquent on its membership fees. (A lot of money for the U.N., but perhaps not for the U.S., whose annual military budget is over 600 billion dollars).

And the Americans, by far the biggest greenhouse gas jockeys on the planet, still haven’t ratified Kyoto. Canada has, though two years later our political leaders are still playing Did so! Did not! about whether we should try to meet our commitments, never mind how. However, the Kyoto Accord is only two, a toddler shambling about in that charmingly unpredictable way and saying just the darnedest things. Nurturing this global first response to the world’s climate crisis is good citizenship at every level.

Furthermore, it was 60 years ago that same Friday that the first formal Canadian citizenship was granted. February 16, 1947, 80 years in to the Great Northern Experiment, was the first day that Canadians technically were anything other than British subjects. (The first official Canadian? Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Write it down. Amaze your friends.) Imagine how French Quebeckers felt about that, when the thought crossed their minds. Or the Chinese or Ukrainian immigrants. Or the Irish. To mark the anniversary, our blazingly attractive Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, herself an immigrant, spoke to new citizens from around the world in our Supreme Court building. It’s a story that Canada has been telling over and over, at least for the last 40 years. The new Canadians’ smiles were wide, and their comments were uplifting and sweet, but their pledge is slightly troubling. They followed Madame Jean in affirming “that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, Queen of Canada…” We have more critical problems to solve, but symbols do matter. Maybe it’s time for a quiet and dignified adjustment to the loyalty we owe as Canadian citizens.

Another civic reminder came last week, with former GG Adrienne Clarkson’s welcome back to Rideau Hall for the unveiling of her official portrait. Most of the chief politicos of Ottawa were there, but more interesting to me were the artists and the throat-singing Inuit sisters; have you ever heard a live rendition of this eerie, sometimes guttural, visceral chanting? The Clarkson portrait is a striking combination of silence, nostalgia and toughness. (Not a bad description of the country, actually.) She is calmly defiant as she stands on a frozen lake and stares down the horizon. It is the first vice-regal portrait to have snow in it (more Canuck trivia). It arose from a warm friendship between Ms. Clarkson and the painter, Mary Pratt – the photo on which it was based was taken over 20 years ago – and features the soft blue parka that the former GG has worn since it was hand-made by an Inuit women’s collective thirty years ago.

All these elements made last week a good one to think about citizenship. And I’m pleased to report that after a worryingly late start to winter, my little guy is fiercely apple-cheeked after Olympian contests with his Dad on the outdoor rink around the corner. He put in six kilometres with his Mum on the Rideau Canal last Sunday. It’s all connected in this Canadian citizen’s mind, and it’s all good for the northern soul.

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