As we celebrated Canada’s 150th birthday, the Economist magazine praised Canada as an example to the world, stating, “[i]n an age of seductive extremes, it remains reassuringly level-headed.” It does seem that Canada, so far, is an exception to the great political and social disruptions we are witnessing across the liberal democratic West.
However, there are signs that Canadians are not so immune to the forces of disruption.
Last year Edelman’s Trust Barometer reported that for the first time Canadians joined the ranks of “distrusters,” with trust falling to its lowest level in 17 years. Individuals are losing trust in one another and in democratic institutions. Samara gave Canada a “B-“ in its Democracy 360 Report and expressed concern about the fragility of democracy.
Charitable giving in Canada is at a 10 year low - and donations are often correlated with community involvement. We are witnessing increasing anti-immigration protests, which some call identity politics of the ‘right,’ and threats to free speech on university campuses, which some call identity politics of the ‘left.’ People are retreating into social media-fostered echo chambers, and are identifying less with common interests and goals, and more according to their differences with others – the “us” versus “them” view of the world. Society risks losing the common bonds holding people together, other than those where people are in common in opposition to others. Increasing focus is on what divides us rather than what unites us.
Social fragmentation is threatening our sense of community. We cannot take for granted that the answer to Michael Adams’ question—Could It Happen Here?—is a definitive ‘no.’ Anyone who believes that trust and common bonds are critical to holding communities together – which, after all, is part of the definition of ‘community’ – and who sees that we may be losing sight of these common bonds, should be worried. What is happening elsewhere in the world could, in fact, happen here. If we let it.
We need to maintain, as well as strengthen, our sense of shared purpose for the future. We must remind ourselves of the language and of the reality of citizenship. While we talk about the many identities each of us has—often identities that distinguish, even dissociate, us—we need to recall the identity we all share: our civic identity. Our common identity as members of our community, our regions, that is as Canadians.
Leading up to and throughout Canada’s 150th year, the Calgary-based, citizens-based non-profit, imagiNation150 (i150), engaged Canadians in conversations about the future. Many shared hopes and fears emerged, as well as a series of complex and complicated challenges to face. i150 then developed a framework for further reflection, discussion, and action.