'How do we measure up?'

Rarely do the Prime Minister and his speechwriters aim for poetry. That, I’ve always assumed, was intentional: poetry being quite antithetical to his preferred appeal.

Every so often though, he gets a bit ambitious. Here, for instance, is his statement on the occasion of Vimy Ridge Day.

Your Excellency, honoured veterans, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, today, we pay homage to the generation whose fearlessness in war and selflessness in peace first defined our young nation in the eyes of the world.

“These Canadians did not fight the First World War to expand our dominion.  It was not over old hostilities that they battled.  No, these young people risked their lives so that other nations could live in the same peace and freedom that had taken such deep root in Canada.

“Fierce warriors with tender hearts, rock-ribbed patriots with a sense of international responsibility, these men embodied a greatness that later generations of Canadians have striven to emulate.  With the passing of John Babcock only a few weeks ago, we have sadly lost our last living link to this generation of admirable Canadians.

“But while those who fought in that epic struggle may have passed entirely from the face of the earth, their legacy lives on all around us.  These men and women inherited the country born of the dream of the Fathers of Confederation and they helped to transform it into the Canada we know and love today, the most peaceful, prosperous, generous nation the world has ever known.

“To us, ladies and gentlemen, they made only one demand.  It is one every Canadian schoolchild knows by heart: ‘To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high.’  We should ask ourselves, how do we measure up?

“Someday, when all the great struggles of our generation are long concluded, that day when our lives too have taken their place in the chronicles of Canada’s past and are weighed in the scales of history, on that day, how will we fare?  What will be our legacy?  Will it inspire those who come after us?  Will ours too be a torch that they will hold high?

“Canadians should not be captive to the past.  But, as the final trumpet sounds for this generation of admirable Canadians, neither can we be ignorant about the price they paid, nor the gift they left us.  Freedom was that gift, ladies and gentlemen, freedom, and the responsibility to use it for great purposes.

“As Canadians let us be tireless always and, as they were, for that which is right and good.”

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.