My brothers and I grew up on military bases across Canada and in Europe. I remember watching my father polish his shoes to a bright shine every morning and put on his cap and his freshly pressed uniform and go off to parade. He was a World War II vet, stationed in England with the RCAF when he met my mother. Her husband had been an Australian pilot who went missing in action over the ocean — his body was never found. She was a young widow with an 18 month old toddler, my brother Keith. Their home had been bombed and she was homeless and terrified.
My father married her and brought them back to Canada. Back to Moose Creek, Ontario, a small town near Cornwall, because he knew they’d be safe here. This was where his family was, his community.
It was why my father had gone to war, to protect this country he loves so much, to make sure it was a place where it was safe to raise a family. It’s why so many new Canadians have come to this country, have fled countries that are torn by war. Because they know that they will be safe here too.
This election has become a referendum on the things that make us proud to be Canadians, the things that connect us, and the things that hold us together. Like community and family. Respect for the democratic values that people like my father fought to protect.
What Canadians want, I think, are leaders who inspire us. Leaders who appeal to the best in us, not the worst of us. Leaders who understand that it’s okay to disagree, who understand that from discussion and debate came a stronger Canada, not a weaker one.
The greatest Canadian leaders have always reached out to us by reminding us of the things that are important to us, the way Canadians are the first to step up when there is a crisis or a disaster, at home or around the world, that we are good neighbours, the way we try to do the right thing. People like Louise Arbour, who left a job at the Supreme Court of Canada to travel around the world prosecuting war criminals. People like Mike Pearson, who won the Nobel Prize for turning us into a nation of peacekeepers, and Lloyd Axworthy, who was also nominated for a Nobel Prize for his work in banning landmines around the world.
Ordinary Canadians ‘get’ this too. That is why, in 2004 when the Liberal government called for 500 people to give up their Christmases and travel to Ukraine to observe the presidential elections there 4,500 signed up in a matter of days. Standing in Independence Square on December 28, 2004 with 200,000 cheering Ukrainians, who wanted to be just like us, who wanted to have a country just like my Canada, is one of my proudest moments.
I think politicians sometimes forget how willing we are to do the right thing once we have leaders who can point us in the right direction. It is about leadership, the tone set at the top, that sets that course for us, that lets us walk proudly through even the greatest dangers.
I had relatives who fought in World War One. They faced mustard gas, a new weapon used to attack soldiers for the first time. When mustard gas hits, the skin blisters immediately on contact. People choke, and have difficulty breathing. They are disabled, often blinded and in terrible pain.
Alden Nowlan, a Canadian poet, wrote about the Battle of Ypres in 1917 which was when mustard gas was first used. When the attacks hit, the Moors ran; the French ran after them, trying to stop them. But the Canadians kept marching. They marched in English uniforms behind a piper playing Scotland the Brave. They marched in impeccable formation, every man in step. They were almost the only troops in that section of the front who did not break and run: Canadians held the line. Nowlan writes:
“Perhaps they were too scared to run.
Perhaps they didn’t know any better
– that is possible, they were so innocent,
those farmboys and mechanics, you only have to look
at old pictures and see how they smiled.
“Perhaps they were too shy
to walk out on anybody, even Death.
Perhaps their only motivation
was a stubborn disinclination.
“Private McNally thinking:
You squareheaded sons of bitches,
you want this trench
you’re going to have to take it away
from Billy MacNally
of the South End of Saint John, New Brunswick.
“And that’s ridiculous, too, and nothing on which to found a country.
It makes me feel good, knowing
that in some obscure, conclusive way
they were connected with me
and me with them.”
The Conservatives forgot in this election that Canadians do stand strong, sometimes out of stubbornness, and sometimes out of innocence, but always out of principle. And that we have always stood up to bullies. This is part of what being Canadian is.
It’s what the Conservatives have tried to unravel, with their arrogance and their attempts to break up our sense of community, with name-calling and wedge issues, and repeated attacks on our democracy, with their failed attempts to scare us, to make us believe our communities are not safe.
As if safety is achieved by putting more people in jail.
It’s about being connected in our neighborhoods. Knowing that the weakest among us are protected, and that we won’t lose our homes if we become ill because we have a health care system. Knowing our seniors are looked after. And knowing that the newest Canadians, immigrants and refugees who have chosen this country are safe here too.
In this campaign, Michael Ignatieff made speeches about these things that brought tears to my eyes.
He reminded me of the country I thought we had lost under Stephen Harper, the country my father fought for, the one our troops die for every month, sometimes every week, in countries where people are willing to sacrifice their lives for democracy. Ignatieff understands that if democracy doesn’t work, nothing does.
Ignatieff ran a good campaign. He waded into town halls, answered questions from all corners, laughed, engaged, connected with other Canadians, and at times, made speeches that soared. He made a point of shaking hands with protesters from other parties – showing a respect, an ability to listen, that our Prime Minister has so sorely lacked these past few years. He rolled up his sleeves and gave it his all. He implored us to ‘rise up’ for Canada.
I’ve decided to vote for Michael Ignatieff because he’s a good leader with the potential to become a great one And because, unlike Jack Layton, he’s the only opposition leader with experienced Parliamentarians standing beside him, to support the hard work of regaining what we almost lost with Stephen Harper, as we try to turn this great country around .