Who Says You Can’t Go Home?

The one time Wild Bill Hickok failed to sit with his back to the wall and his eyes on the door he was shot in the back and killed. The one time. I read that old west legend in grade school but it must have resonated strongly.

I’ve always been cautious, rarely committing fully to anything, usually keeping my options open. I rushed headlong into marriage once only to emerge six years later with a reinforced reluctance to stick my neck out. Blind aggression in poker is usually an expensive reminder to stay within myself. Not too long ago I took what I thought was a minimal risk crossing the street and even that turned out badly.

Though the memories have been blocked I’m pretty sure I looked both ways before stepping off the curb that night. Regardless I’m faced with the prospect of starting over and thanks to the unconditional love of my sister it looks like I’ll be doing so in Canada. Not in southern Ontario where I was raised though. When I’ve progressed to the point where I can walk on both legs again the plan is to head west, old man, to Calgary, Alberta.

Being me I have reservations. Mostly foolish ones of course. Will I be able to handle the cold weather? Can I avoid being too much a burden to my sister and her husband? Will I make a good uncle for my eight-(nine?)-year-old nephew? Will I be able to wake up at five in the morning to catch Manchester United live in the Premier League on Saturday or Sunday mornings? The last one is actually the most doubtful but I’ll figure something out. I always do.

What’s interesting is despite ‘returning’ nearly seventeen hundred miles–sorry, twenty-seven hundred kilometers–from my childhood home, I’ll be coming full circle in a political sense. When I left Hamilton, Ontario to take a bite out of the Big Apple in 1983, Pierre Elliot Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada. By the time I invade my sister’s normal family life in Calgary Justin Trudeau will be well into his first term in the same office.

For some reason I’m excited about that; it feels like a good omen. After all the apple rarely falls far from the tree and Pierre Trudeau was perhaps Canada’s greatest Prime Minister. His policies and presence made the Great White North a global influence for the first time. Even before my life-changing event I kept an eye on Canadian goings on, mostly in the cultural sense–sport and music–but, because of Trudeau’s legacy, the political scene too.

On the whole Canadians have a reputation for being more conservative than Americans. That’s an alarming thought if you subscribe to the contemporary Republican Party’s definition of conservatism. An intransigent, intentionally divisive philosophy is not the Canada I remember.

Unfortunately the nearly decade-long reign of Stephen Harper was beginning to take on an almost Tea Party-esque identity. The party sought to ban niqabs–the scarves which cover the faces of Muslim women–during citizenship ceremonies. They proposed setting up hotlines for citizens to, in true Orwellian fashion, report on suspicious neighbors of Middle Eastern heritage. And they eschewed humanitarian efforts to take on a larger combat role in that region, while allowing the economy to stagnate in order to balance the national debt.

My memory of Canada was an open country where all cultures were welcome. I used to spend endless rainy and snowy days in a Portuguese friend’s basement playing tabletop hockey, his mother happily fattening us on spicy rice and seafood dishes. My parents befriended an Indian couple who ran the corner store, and stayed friends, visiting them often even when they moved thirty miles away to the small town of Grimsby. My grade school classes were filled with second and third generation immigrants of Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Portuguese, and German descent. There were kids of African heritage as well. Even I was an immigrant, having been born on Long Island. No one made a big deal of any of it. There was no such thing as an Asian or African-Canadian; you were just Canadian.

Under Stephen Harper, though, lines were being drawn. Canada was hardening. When a government is elected three times in succession I suppose it’s natural for it to drift progressively further from the center. And that’s the thing about Canada. It isn’t conservative in the American sense; it’s moderate. Aside from having to shovel hundreds of times your weight in snow annually it’s a great place to live. The countryside is stunning, the neighbors friendly, if overly apologetic, and most Canadians wish to keep it that way. For everyone.

So if you weren’t a Tory doing your best imitation of Wild Bill it wasn’t too difficult to see political change coming, even from a hospital bed in South Florida. My internet connection wasn’t providing me with a live feed of Peter Mansbridge anchoring CBC’s The National, but the political ads during breaks in Hockey Night in Canada were telling a story if you were only willing to listen.

Even though Canada employs a parliamentary system where you vote solely for your local MP and not the Prime Minister the campaign commercials don’t reflect that. They’re all about the party leaders. In this election several Tory stars discovered to their dismay votes were being cast not on their personal record but on the desire for new leadership and a new leader. Conservative ads blindly fed into the sentiment, not featuring Mr Harper at all. Rather they focused solely on Justin Trudeau, his youth and inexperience, loudly proclaiming he was “not ready.”

Foolishly, those ads showed the same images as their Liberal  counterparts: a handsome, enthusiastic, cheerful Justin Trudeau. They warned, with cash registers ringing in the background, such youthful enthusiasm would be costly and Canadians ought to trust the Tories who had been in control for the past nine years. The Tory message was simple: we are afraid of this man.

Tom Mulcair, the official Opposition Leader for the New Democratic Party, which going in held something like a hundred more seats than the third-placed Liberals, was left out in the cold. In his ads, he criticized both Trudeau and Harper, but the emphasis was on the former, further stoking the Liberal fire in voters. As well, he came across as the type of easy-going dad proudly and blindly wrapped around his daughter’s finger, not the strongest image a candidate to lead a country can project. With Harper absent and Trudeau forcefully expounding on the positive qualities of Canadians, the writing was on the wall.

Given the Liberals needed to improve their parliamentary presence five times over to gain a majority, my cautious nature thought it more likely they’d win a tenuous minority, and that it would be a close thing. Sometimes, though, even a turtle needs to stick its neck out. The Liberals gained an unprecedented one hundred fifty seats in the election, rode a surging wave of popularity to a majority government, and made the prospect of moving to Canada not quite so daunting.

A Trudeau was Prime Minister when I left the country and another will be when I return. Talk about coming full circle. Even better, with a bum leg I won’t have to shovel any snow.

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