If Canada Day on Parliament Hill was a dry run for the nation’s 2017 birthday party, we might be in for some soggy cake icing and spluttering candles.
Regular downpours in the morning and afternoon were responsible for dampening much of the fun both on the Hill and in what is known as the parliamentary precinct along Wellington Street. Those who did turn out in Canada-loving red and white gave it their best to look, sometimes a little frantically, as though they were having a good time. Mostly, they just milled around, avoiding puddles, diving into sheltering doorways when another deluge began, or lining up at bag check stations to be inspected by Mounties before being allowed onto Parliament Hill itself.
Some rising Canadian musical stars from across the country also gave their best efforts to create a celebratory atmosphere, but were forced to do so from a massive, overshadowing stage surrounded by so much technical gear it was almost impossible to see the performers.
Even if they had been granted the visibility of singing from the top of the Peace Tower, however, the heavy police presence made the mood as festive as the average airport x-ray lineup. It was understandable given, as Prime Minister Harper pointed out, that only a few months ago a gunman on a rampage inside and outside Parliament was responsible for two deaths—his own and Cpl. Nathan Cirillo’s. When your capital city has been in lockdown, as Ottawa was last October, beefed up policing at large public events becomes just another wearying fact of life that has to be accepted.
Still, Canada Day has become synonymous over the years not just with formal celebration but also with informal relaxation. Its name could be changed to National Kick-It-Back Day, and no one would raise a peep of protest. Sure, we fête the founding of our country on July 1, 1867. But we also put our feet up and have, you know, fun.
Nowhere is this truer than in the national capital, where the July 1 party traditionally marks the moment when the political parties have shut down Parliament, and (almost all) the politicians have gone home for the summer. To party without parties, and without politics, is as good as reason as any for turning out on Parliament Hill sporting red-and-white face paint or paper maple-leaf flags in your hair.
It would be a stretch too far, I think, to blame this desultory Canada Day on awareness that this year the politicians will be in our faces all summer long as the ramp up begins for an October election. But it seems unquestionable that Canada itself, in this summer of 2015, is in a more sober, serious mood than in previous years. Is that because the issues facing us are even more somber than usual? Actually, it might be just the opposite.
Without doubt, the economy is going to get some bumps and bangs over the next while as low oil prices, ridiculously overvalued real estate, and even the Greek debt default work their way through the system. But the overall feeling, quite justifiably it seems, is that the current government has managed us to a pretty secure place economically—at least to the extent a Canadian government can.
Constitutionally, yes, the Supreme Court is utterly out of control, but no one particularly seems to care. The government thought Canadians might be vexed about the usurpation of Parliamentary prerogative, but quickly backed off when it discovered the nits it was picking only made the Court more popular. Senate reform? How many bad apples will it take before we send the whole barrel over Niagara Falls? No one seems to know or care. What are certain about is that we are a distant galaxy away from the sense of panic that gripped Canadians 25 years ago following the collapse of the Meech Lake constitutional accord and the eruption of aboriginal conflict at Oka, Quebec. No one wants to stir all that up again.
Does all this make us content or complacent? Or, alternatively, just biding our time until the election in October becomes Alberta-style Throw-the-Bums-Out Day?
Could it be that what lies ahead is less the risk of soggy icing and sputtering candles for our 150th birthday, and more the waiting promise of fresh faces bringing entirely new energy to Parliament Hill on October 19?
Damp as Canada Day was, after all, we have a long hot summer ahead to watch and see what’s in the air.