Canada has been engulfed by a whirl of publicity over the last few months as its Liberal party swept the boards in the national elections. The new leader, Justin Trudeau, is young and dynamic, the polar opposite of his predecessor Harper.
Trudeau has already made some bold statements. Just 24 hours after winning the elections, he informed Obama that Canada would no longer participate in bombing Isis. He also promised to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees to start new lives in Canada.
Will Trudeau make Canada into the definition of a ‘good country’? What damage did the previous government do, and how can it be undone? Does Trudeau represent the true Canadian identity?
“We’ve become knuckle-draggers on the international scene, someone told me recently,” says Jeannette Hanna, founder of Trajectory and Toronto resident.
“People will be watching Canada carefully, especially at the upcoming climate change conference in Paris [COP21 in November/December]. If we offer something open and collaborative, it will say a lot for Canada’s willingness to reclaim strength by being a global citizen and a progressive society.”
“We [Canada] have a lot of ground to make up in international goodwill,” says Hanna. “We lost a lot of territory in our own self-image as well as global image.”
Canada has long been seen as a progressive and welcoming place. In the past it became a popular destination for those seeking to start a new life, many of them leaving behind difficult environments in countries such as Iran.
But the previous government began to erode Canada’s reputation for tolerance, in particular through its ‘control freak’ actions towards Syrian refugees. Harper admitted that his officials had been running ‘security audits’ on refugees’ files that had already been approved by the UN. As a result, the resettlement process for these people was slowed down, in a time of crisis.
Canada’s record on tolerance was severely tested once again by Harper’s stance on the hijab. Over recent years there have been just three incidents of women refusing to remove the hijab during their Canadian citizenship ceremony.
“The Harper government tried to make this into a big national and divisive issue. But everyone asked ‘why?’ Because it had very little to do with anything. He was playing to people’s worst fears, but it clearly didn’t work,” commented Hanna. “Canada was seen in the past as a ‘great multi-cultural success story’ – so to call into question our stance on refugees and tolerance, cuts pretty close to the bone.”
Jamie Black is a brand strategist and founder of Nouveau North, an online initiative to reclaim Brand Canada through media.
Black says: “It’s a fresh opportunity for a new government to address some of our biggest challenges – from climate change to indigenous rights and inclusion. Under Harper things were moving in a direction, which ultimately the majority wasn’t content with.”
“It was like a one-man vision to push us in a direction that was fundamentally against our nature. I’m glad it stopped in its tracks.”
Hanna added: “The [election] has been a pivot on the values that really define our sense of place and what we care about as a nation. That was really what the election was all about. It was more than just a rational discussion about the economy,”
“We’re going to be a different voice in the global conversation, an alternative voice – not US-lite.”
This article was first published on PlacesBrands