Monday, 8 June 2015

Silence is not the answer to Calls to Action

One of the age-old questions in recent Canadian history is “Why was the Avro Arrow cancelled?” Put two Avro Arrow enthusiasts together in the same rom and you will hear at least three theories.

The most plausible theory I have read comes from a published doctoral thesis of Prof. Sean Maloney, a military historian at the Royal Military College, Kingston.

Quoting the Chief of Air Staff, speaking of the newly elected government of John Diefenbaker in 1958, Maloney says “they came in with an avowed intention of cutting military expenses and raising old age pensions, etc. and it all costs money...”

In other words, the newly elected government had other priorities than new aircraft for the RCAF and the Arrow was cancelled for that reason alone. There was no political will to spend money on weapons when promises had been made for better pensions for seniors.

I raise this in the aftermath of the release of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this past week in Ottawa. The commission was struck to investigate and listen to the stories of the residential schools, which the commission said, “... can best be described as 'cultural genocide.'"

The commission also urges the government and all parties in residential schools, including the Anglican Church, United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church, Roman Catholic entities party to the matter and the Jesuit Order to move from apology to action.

Pope Francis has been asked to come to Canada to offer apology to the First Nations peoples.

The churches have said in their response to the commission, “We acknowledge and welcome the specific calls to action that offer direction to the churches in our continuing commitment to reconciliation.

“Above all, we welcome the Commissioners’ Calls to Action as providing the basis for a wide and transformative conversation among Canadians about the better future we intend to foster, not just for Indigenous peoples, but for all of us who long to live in a society grounded in right relationships and equity.”

From the government of Canada, so far, silence. Except that they will wait for the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Which will not occur until after the next election. Not a “thanks very much”. Not an acknowledgement that the recommendations shall be seriously considered. Nothing.

We have an opportunity in Canada to start a new path. We have the chance to engage in conversation. We have a chance to learn our own history from those who experienced it, not from the triumphal writings of those in power. We have the chance to listen to stories, both good and bad and to walk forward in mutual respect and trust.

But there appears to be no commitment on the part of the current government for that to happen.

In the last sixty years, this country has done some incredible things to make the lives of Canadians better. We started pensions and unemployment insurance. We developed linguistic equality between French and English. We started the Canada Pension Plan, and other social initiatives like universal health care..

In 1958, the government of the day changed priorities from military spending to social spending.The government “saw visions and dreamed dreams”, to paraphrase the prophet Isaiah. And the result was that our life and our country is now immeasurably better.

We need that kind of visionary leadership and political will now.

I am under no illusion that the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will take time. It will take generations. But if we commit to doing the work now to build relationships and establish trust, it will be the work of our children, our children’s children and their children and beyond to build on our foundation.

Silence is not an option for Canadians. We need visionary leadership and we need it now. Let’s begin.

Rev. David Shearman is the minister of Central Westside United Church, Owen Sound and host of Faithworks on Rogers TV - Grey County.