There’s an important lesson here for nation-building in Canada. Bringing immigrants to Canada is only half of a successful strategy to grow our workforce and population. The other half is making sure we have welcoming communities to facilitate their successful integration into the social, cultural and economic aspects of our civil society.
As a young man who left his old and celebrated country of Greece to live in a new country full of promise and potential, I was immediately struck by remarkable comparisons. I was leaving a country with limited economic potential and settling in a country with tremendous economic opportunity. I was also leaving a country that had invented democracy to embrace a country that was fully committed to practising democracy.
However, Canada was a different country, with a different language and a very different way of doing things.
Most immigrants are deeply aware of the challenges and hardships of moving to a new country. That’s when immigrants see the value and benefits of mentorship which offers a clear pathway toward their successful integration in new social and economic environments.
Having outstanding mentors was a foundational trajectory toward my social integration, supporting my first steps in Canada and directing my career to a successful outcome. Two of my early mentors stand out in my memory. The first was Joey Smallwood and the other was George Stanley. Both left an indelible imprint in my personal life and professional career.
As an international graduate student at the Memorial University of Newfoundland, the significance of being in the presence of Smallwood, the only living father of Confederation, was lost on me. But over time, I became more appreciative of this period being foundational in shaping my love for Canadian politics, informing my public speaking and teaching capabilities, and sharpening my understanding of Canadian public policy.
I spent many afternoons at the Newfoundland legislature, sitting in the legislature’s public bleachers watching Smallwood in action. He was amazing: a seasoned Newfoundland politician who led his province to join the Canadian Confederation. At a professional level, Smallwood helped me take my first baby steps in Canadian public policy.
One of the take-aways from my exposure to Smallwood was his oratorial strategy to repeat important points three times, using different words and phrases. It’s a tactic that I practise to the present day in my lectures, with much success.
Every February, when the anniversary of the Canadian flag is celebrated, my thoughts turn to my friend and mentor George Stanley, who designed the flag. Stanley served for many decades as a professor of history and dean at the Royal Military College in Kingston. Upon his retirement, he served as New Brunswick’s 25th lieutenant-governor.
During Stanley’s tenure as lieutenant-governor, one of his official duties was to sign new legislation into law. In that capacity, he would drive deputy ministers crazy. Always the professor, he would carefully read the submitted legislative text. After that, he would circle inappropriate words with a red pen and suggest alternate sentence structures on the margins. Most of the legislative acts that reached his desk were returned to the responsible deputy minister awash in red ink and extensive corrections.
Stanley taught me the power of history. He was an eloquent advocate that history can explain the present and serve as an inspirational compass for the future. This was evident in his ceremonial uniform, his inspiring speeches, and how he defined his role as the Queen’s representative in New Brunswick.
Few new Canadians have had the honour and the privilege to have fallen in love with Canadian politics because they were inspired by the only living father of Confederation. And even fewer have experienced the thrill of shaking the hand of the man who designed the Canadian flag.
As a new Canadian, I was indeed fortunate to have been guided by the very best mentors and role models Canada had to offer.
Dr. Constantine Passaris is a professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick and a recipient of the Order of New Brunswick.
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