33 years ago this month, Canadians went to the polls in a general election. The result saw Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark elected as the country’s youngest ever prime minister at 39.
His minority government was short-lived and few of its accomplishments are celebrated today, but Clark did have some interesting things to say about the idea of community.
Early in that 1979 campaign, he spoke to the Empire Club in Toronto, and he offered this vision of the land he hoped to lead.
“In an immense country, you live on a local scale. Governments make
nations work by recognizing that we are fundamentally a community of
It hardly ranked with Pierre Trudeau’s “just society”, or Wilfred Laurier’s declaration that “The twentieth century belongs to Canada”. At the time Clark made the speech, the pundits and editorial writers were still trying to define him, mostly in contrast to his Liberal opponent.
Nowadays the word community is an even more shadowy concept as we redefine politics and the mass media in digital terms. But here’s a definition I found in Wikipedia that I rather like.
“A community is a group or society, helping each other.
In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.”
Pretty murky stuff, but as I make a major change in this the seventh decade of my life, I have been reflecting on the various communities I have been a part of.
Besides being a resident of Winnipeg, Regina and Kenora Ontario at various times, I have belonged to several other communities. I have frequently put on a green jersey and declared myself to be a member of Rider Nation. That seems less important now as yet another season approaches.
I was raised in the Anglican Church, taking part in a variety of activities there. I am probably still best defined as a person of curious faith with many doubts and questions. The church is a community where I find social comfort and a sense of belonging.
In very recent days I had a profound encounter which made me realize that I could probably feel equally at home in a synagogue. More on that in a few days.
It was ingrained in me from a very young age that serving the needs of others in our communities is essential to nurturing a sense of personal wellbeing. I could never be a hermit or a recluse.
I have spent most of my working life as a journalist and broadcaster. We who practise such crafts are notorious non-joiners. As a young reporter in Winnipeg in the early 1970’s, I covered many a service club luncheon, looking for wondrous sound bites from the notables who spoke from the podium.
Sitting at the press table were definitely outsiders. We yawned and giggled at these older men who rang bells, sang silly songs and fined each other for a variety of strange offences.
Probably the most mysterious group of all were the Rotarians. What exactly were they about? That was a question that was never really answered for me until the new millennium when I joined Rotary for the first time.
It was in Kenora, and my motivation for joining was to make connections in the community. Rotary was and is the leading service club in that beautiful place on the shores of Lake of the Woods. The club meets Mondays at the Best Western Lakeside Inn.
When I moved back to Winnipeg in early 2003, I joined the club that made Rotary International. Rotary began in Chicago in 1905, and five years later, the first club to form outside the U.S. met in Winnipeg.
In 2006, I began my second life in Rider Nation, and I joined the Rotary Club of Regina Eastview. They meet Thursdays at noon and that became a problem. I was doing a radio news shift that frequently didn’t end at noon, and Rotary eventually fell by the wayside. But in the fall of 2009, I was invited to become a charter member of the Rotary Club of Regina Oskaya.
They meet Wednesday evenings at Sacred Heart School in ‘north central’. This area was defined a few years back by MacLean’s magazine as Canada’s worst neighbourhood.
The club only has about 20 members, but they punch way above their weight when it comes to getting things done in the community. They provide backpacks filled with school supplies to neighbourhood kids, and they help with things like reading programs.
Probably the greatest accomplishment of Rotary International is their role in the eradication of polio. The downside of service clubs is their tendency to put their hands in your pockets again and again. But on issues like polio it seems completely worthwhile.
Those nickel and dime fines have quietly raised more than a Billion dollars to battle polio around the world.
Oskaya is a community that I will very much miss, but I’m sure I’m not done with Rotary just yet.
Roger Currie is a writer, broadcaster and blogger.
For the past seven months he has been hosting Talk of the Town on Access channel 7.
He is relocating to Winnipeg.
He can be reached at email@example.com