Sorry. It’s the Canadian way. Apologies and handwringing are a cornerstone of our Canadian vernacular. Just say “sorry” and offer your regret.
Cut off someone in the produce section of the grocery store? Sorry.
Offer a different point of view or opinion? Sorry.
Is John A. Macdonald the first prime minister of your country? Sorry.
Whatever the offence, Canadians expect an apology. In this era of ready-packaged regret, our leaders are the great apology makers. Statements, removed statues, fawning tweets, and official plaques all mark our very best “sorries.” While an appropriately placed reparation might be helpful to mend divides, what we need today more than Canadian apologies are Canadian apologists.
Apologists are thoughtful people who make clear, cogent and concise arguments in defence of something. They might contend for democracy, or free speech, or a value, or a political perspective, or a religious point of view.
Canada needs a new generation of apologists. Canada needs people who defend the federation. Canada needs leaders, politicians and thinkers who make clear arguments for Canada as a country, as an ideal, and as a people who have something to say. Canada needs people who are proud of our country, our talents, our resources, our diversity, our economy, our history, and know how to say so. After the sorries are over, we need to craft new language that celebrates and gives a reason for our great nation. Canada needs a robust and well articulated apologetic.
We’re often sorry to be Canadian, but we shouldn’t be. We have a country worth celebrating, worth defending and worth articulating in the global forum of ideas. And it is this clear articulation of ideas that is often sacrificed on the altar of the immediate apology.
Consider MP Maxime Bernier. He shared some views on Twitter that caused a firestorm of demands, not for a clearer articulation of his views, not for an apologetic for his perspective, but an apology. Consider the heckler at that rally in Quebec, or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to her. Politicos and partisan onlookers made demands, not for a cogent reasoning between opposing views, but an apology from one side or the other.
Demands for apologies are the great clean sweep of pressing issues that divide us. Simply demand a heartfelt “sorry” and the issue is covered and buried, we might even score a vapid political point or two in the process. But when our only tool is a bludgeon that beats apologies out of our adversaries, it’s time for a new toolkit. What if our demands were deeper than a coerced “sorry”? What if we urged politicians to explain themselves, and actually listened, and took care in our critique? What if question period in the House of Commons was about answering questions, not barking for apologies? What if our politicians were truly apologists who clearly made a case for their point of view, listened to other options, conceded where appropriate, and courageously advanced the tone and content of our civic dialogue?
It’s time we apologize less and craft a fresh apologetic for what we believe and hold dear. Canada needs thoughtful apologists who craft a defensible vision for our country. Canada is a place and a people, but it is also an idea. Ideas need people who clearly contend for them, and work to make them better. Our country is worth it, and that’s something I won’t apologize for.
Former journalist-MLA Bruce McAllister is executive director of the landowner advocacy group Rocky View 2020.