Finding Canada’s identity from abroad


“I’m sure I could learn a lot more from you than you could from me,” said Peter Mansbridge, anchor for CBC’s The National, to an audience of Wilfrid Laurier University alumni on May 14.

Mansbridge presented a keynote address at Professional Development Day 2010, an annual event hosted by Laurier Alumni to promote networking, leadership and ideas.

Although Mansbridge felt his formal education – he did not complete high school and has no post-secondary training – was incomparable to those in the room, his more than four decades at the CBC covering issues across Canada and the world allowed him to provide “a reflection on the country we live in.”

“We’re often consumed in some level of doubt on what our role is,” observed Mansbridge, on the much-debated issue of defining Canada’s identity.

Yet as the debate continues at home, Mansbridge shared three stories of his interactions abroad in which Canada had a clear and powerful meaning.

While covering the devastation in Sri Lanka following the 2005 tsunami, an eight-year-old girl approached Mansbridge following his broadcast on a beach, pointed to the Canadian flag pin on his lapel and told him “Canada good.”

Investigating the meaning of her comment, Mansbridge discovered that she had received treatment and vaccinations from two Canadian nurses who came to Sri Lanka at their own expense to utilize their skills and provide aid.

“For that little girl for the rest of her life … she’ll remember that day,” said Mansbridge.

Earlier that year, Mansbridge reported from the Netherlands on the 60th anniversary of their liberation in the Second World War, which included a parade of Canadian veterans.

Interviewing a Dutch woman in the crowd on why she brought her young son to the parade, she said, “I want him to know what a Canadian is.”

Mansbridge went on to explain that the knowledge of the Canadian sacrifice for Dutch freedom in the Second World War is passed on through generations and that “they never forget us.”

The final story Mansbridge shared was that of an Afghan woman who, after receiving her Canadian citizenship and completing her schooling, returned to the war-torn country as a member of the Canadian troops to help the women there understand their rights.

To Mansbridge, the lesson to be learned from these instances is clear. “What it means to me … what we show through these stories is that we are a country that cares.”

He went on to remark, “We care about our neighbours, we care about those on the other side of the country and we care about those on the other side of the world.”

Canada’s compassion and desire to provide aid is what brings us respect and recognition from the international community.

“We’re pretty lucky,” concluded Mansbridge. “Other people in the rest of the world would trade a lot to be sitting here.”

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