There is still something of the spirit of Roopnarine Singh in Montreal's Canada Day parade. And that's good.
Singh, a Trinidad-born cardiologist, is 70 now, and retired in 2005 from running the parade he began in 1977, on the first July 1 after the Parti Quebecois first came to power. This year's parade takes place downtown tomorrow.
Singh's patriotism was always of the open-hearted, open-handed, and uncynical type. His first few parades were modest efforts, but the annual event has grown since, partly no doubt precisely because of the sincere spirit Singh exemplified.
We have seen plenty of the other kind of Canadian patriotism in Quebec, the chequebook kind that reached its nadir with the sponsorship scandal. Somebody in Jean Chretien's Ottawa had decided that splashing cash around would make Quebecers love their country more, a notion that was calculating and contemptuous even before it turned criminal.
Before, during, and after the scandal years, Singh kept his parade going, always on a shoestring budget and never with much government money. This year's edition of the parade was plagued with financial difficulties until Ottawa came through with a modest enough $40,000 to help stage the event, which is now organized by Claude Leclerc, who worked with Singh in years gone by.
We understand that there are costs associated with an event, and the money must come from somewhere. But all the same, it's rather a pity that there was an unseemly little public squabble before the cheque came through.
There is, alas, something distinctly Canadian about demanding a federal subsidy to celebrate Canada Day. Cheques from Ottawa seem to have become an incontrovertible "Canadian value." That's a pity, because real patriotism, it seems to us, should swell up from the people, not flow down from the government. By this measure (and probably most other measures) Singh is a real patriot; Jean Lafleur not so much.
When it comes to patriotism Canadians are stolid, not exuberant. We also tend, a little, to take our country for granted: survey results from the Dominion Institute show that Canadians know rather little about our country, and less than we used to about our history and institutions. For too many Canadians, the Institute's Rudyard Griffith suggests convincingly, citizenship is a convenience rather than an affirmation of shared values.
The growing number of dual citizens seems to confirm that view. Is Canada just a convenient hotel? Still, before you condemn those who choose dual citizenship, please note that the Dominion Institute survey found that immigrants show greater knowledge of many facets of Canadian history and government than do the native-born.
Whatever the reasons, Canada Day tends to be rather a low-key holiday for most people across the country.
In Quebec, of course, Canada Day is doomed to compete, in a sense, with La Fete nationale, a province-wide party fertilized with plenty of provincial government money. Fortunately the people know better than their governments, and in recent years we've seen little of the partisan whooping and worse that sometimes characterized the two holidays. (Remember Pierre Trudeau getting bottles thrown at him in Montreal in 1968?)
We like to think that Quebecers of all political views now understand that there is no need to choose between Quebec and Canada, and so no need to be strident about one or the other. A poll published this week in La Presse suggested that Quebecers have a high degree of attachment to both Canada and Quebec, which is just as it should be.
And anyway, doesn't it make a nice change to spend the slow-paced week between the two holidays without yet another political fuss? Some say the real federalists' parade is on St. Patrick's Day, anyway.
In any case, it's worth remembering, in metro Montreal, that there are numerous Canada Day events tomorrow, just as there were numerous Fete Nationale events last week. Some cities and boroughs have parades, some have parties, concerts, fireworks ....
There are many ways to celebrate Canada Day, and none of them is wrong. So go to the parade downtown, or to something in your town or borough. Or just mow the grass, or sit on the balcony with something cool. Or, if you're a nurse or firefighter or the like, go to work to take care of the rest of us.
But wherever you observe the day, don't bother looking for Singh, because he has moved back to Trinidad. Retiring to the sun, too, is a Canadian value.