This is our life. No dress rehearsal.

Rebecca: Let’s fix the education system

Rebecca MacDonald is a tour de force. Rebecca impresses upon her friends the urgency of looking at the “here and now”

My Canada Project

Duleepa Wijayawardhana

February 13, 2017

Rebecca MacDonald is a tour de force. I met Rebecca at the literal turn of this last century at a Scottish New Year party in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The next time I saw her, she was standing proud singling the Canadian anthem at my Citizenship ceremony. Rebecca impresses upon her friends the urgency of looking at the “here and now”, not settling for the status-quo and a passion for literature and questioning everything.

Q. Tell me bit about yourself and your life in Canada?

A bit about myself, eh, I’ve lived in Canada most of my life, even though I was born in the UK because my Canadian father was in the Canadian navy on exchange with the Royal Navy. All this made me a “Canadian Born Abroad” when it came to citizenship until I was 21, at which time I had to reconfirm my “Canadian attachments” and gain full citizenship. Like many immigrants I have a Canadian Citizenship card and not just a passport. That’s always made me feel a bit strange. The only home I’ve ever known is Canada, but by an accident of birth I had to “prove” my attachments. On the other hand, someone who, by accident of birth was born in Canada, might never have to prove the same attachments. Just a different way around I guess, and it has made me fiercely protective of my Canadianess.

I’ve lived in 5 different provinces — Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland & Labrador and New Brunswick in that order. I currently live in my dad’s hometown of Montreal. I’ve also lived in the United States and the United Kingdom. And while I’ve travelled coast to coast in Canada, I have yet to go to our glorious north. Something I hope to rectify soon.

I am the eighth generation of Canadians on one of my patrilineal lines and a first generation Canadian on my matrilineal line. In other words: the blended Canadian, part immigrant, part “Crazy Canuck”. I’m a wanderer in careers, in life and in interests. My one constant is always the country I come home to. I am also lucky in that I know have two hometowns now, St. John’s through love and Montreal through family.

Q. When you think about being Canadian what does it mean for you?

“Canadian” immediately brings forth images of the vastness of my home and its nature. I picture different things, sometimes the grandeur of the Rockies, other times the stony beaches of Newfoundland and sometimes that long dull winter drive along the 401 to Toronto. When I’ve lived overseas, or even changed provinces, it is the landscape that always brings me home. I remember the first time I drove home to Montreal from St. John’s. As we came across the Quebec border into the wide open farm land along the river valley, I just felt at ease: it was what I recognized, this was my landscape. Coming over the Champlain Bridge into Montreal, the friend driving with me commented on how he could almost watch me change; I was home. Funnily enough, when I took the ferry back to Newfoundland years later and began the long drive through black spruce along the Trans-Canada from Port-aux-Basque to St. John’s, the smell of the spruce and pine and the long narrow, largely empty highway also made me feel right at home.

My favourite painting is F.H. Varley’s “Stormy Weather, Georgian Bay” and my favourite poem is A.J.M. Smith’s “The Lonely Land”. Both evoke my favourite landscapes of this country. Those rough and rugged places that have been formed over millennia and helped to form its rough and rugged people, “strength broken by strength but still strong,” as Smith so beautifully wrote. “Canada” to me is a hard place, but a hard beautiful place full of cracks and crevices to explore. As another Canadian poet wrote, “cracks are where the light gets in.” Despite its cold dark winters, vast barren landscapes and deep dark forests there is light here, and it is so beautiful.

Q. What makes you happy about Canada? Where do you feel the happiest in Canada?

What makes me happy is that we are so vast and diverse, not just in landscape but in people. And even if we still face many of the same problems of the rest of the world, we largely live in peace, try to help one another, love to laugh, sing, dance and play. We are giant in structure, but small in population and so most of the time we all have the space to breathe.

I feel happiest outside wandering in the nature of my homeland with the people that I love. That might be wandering in downtown St. John’s or Montreal, or hiking the coast of the Bay of Fundy or strolling along a beach on one of the Great Lakes. Take me outside with a friend and I am happy. The other place I am happiest, and this is probably a nod to my East Coast heritage, is sitting in a kitchen with a cup of tea, a few friends or family members and listening to the CBC!

Q. What frustrates you about Canada?

We belittle ourselves too often and spend too much time looking south. We get distracted too often by our southern cousins and I think it is often to our detriment. We talk more about their problems and issues than we do fixing our own. Our history is fascinating, but we don’t know it, our culture does exist — damn it — and it is so fascinating. I don’t think we need to be chest pounding patriots or claim, as so many do, that we are the best, but we need to do a much better job of educating our residents and citizens alike about the history, wonders and dangers in our country. We need to do a better job at education.

Q. Where would you like Canada to be in 25 years when we celebrate 175?

I’d like us to fix our education system and teach our children to be better thinkers and more conscientious citizens, artists, dreamers, innovators and educators. I’d like to see free public education and health care for all and the abandonment of private schools and private health care entirely. True equality only comes when those two basic rights are provided equally to all. As long as the rich can pay their way to “better” education and health care, true equality will remain elusive. I’d especially like us to do more to fix the education system and health care for our indigenous peoples and include their narrative in the education of all non-indigenous Canadians.

I’d like our judicial system to run more smoothly and for us to come up with better solutions than just incarceration. Too many of our young men, and particularly our young indigenous men, are wasting away in our prison systems. I’d like us to be more involved and aware of our judicial process to ensure its protection and high standards. I’d like our electoral system to better reflect what Canadians want. “First-past-the-post” doesn’t cut it any more and we need a better balance.

I’d like us to try and innovate more to provide solutions to some of the world’s problems, including our own. I’d like us to listen to each other better so we don’t risk breaking apart as we nearly did in the 1990s. I think that something that might help us understand each other better is maybe focussing on more inter-Canadian exchanges. In thousands of high schools across the country students go on Europe trips and trips to the United States, but how many go see the other provinces? How many go to the Territories? I encourage international trips and an understanding of our global connections, but lets also “know thyself.” I’d like us to ensure that every worker has a living wage. I’d like us to have more than just our parliamentary cabinet represent women more equally and ensure that every little girl and boy has an equal opportunity to shine.

Q. If you have one piece of advice to give someone being born in Canada today, what would it be?

Fight for what’s better. Conquer apathy. Volunteer more. Read more about our country and our people. Don’t believe everything the media, your teachers or politicians tell you. THINK, LISTEN and QUESTION. Don’t throw out old ideas just because they are old. Don’t shut people down because they don’t understand you or your experience: help them to see. Respect different ideas, but don’t compromise on human rights — human rights trump all. Religion, ethnicity and the right to have a good job should never allow us to deny what is most essential: human dignity and respect. Don’t get lazy. Just because you were lucky enough to be born in a free and tolerant society, don’t think it’s perfect or that it will stay strong without a lot of hard work and the energy, participation and effort of every Canadian resident and citizen. Protect the beauty that is here. Try and fix some of the ugly that is still left. Leave every place you visit a little bit better than when you found it.

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