Reflections of Canada offers unflinching look at the nation on its 150th anniversary

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      (This article is sponsored by the .)

      Evolutionary biologist Philippe Tortell saw the 150th anniversary of Confederation as an opportunity to make a major intellectual statement about Canada.

      Tortell, director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at UBC, is a strong advocate for narrative storytelling to advance understanding of complex ideas. So what better way to commemorate Canada 150 than to prepare a book that tackles the nation's most compelling concerns?

      Edited by Tortell and fellow UBC professors Margot Young and Peter Nemetz,  is a collection of essays exploring a wide range of topics. They include the state of Canadian democracy, the country's environmental challenges including air and water quality, changes to the health-care system, reconciliation with indigenous peoples,income inequality, the Arctic, arts and culture, privacy and technology, industrial policies, and relations with China.

      Canada 150 is being treated as a festive occasion, but in keeping with the Wall Institute's intellectually rigorous approach, Reflections on Canada takes a deeper and more nuanced examination.

      "One of the interesting things about the book is it doesn't just strike that celebratory tone," Tortell said. "There are some unflinching looks into the country."

      Contributors to Reflections of Canada include many of the brightest minds in the country. Anthony Shelton, director of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, explores the history of museums and the role that they can play in forging reconciliation between Inuit, Métis, First, and Second Nations. Recently retired UBC geographer David Ley looks at Canada as an immigrant nation.

      Coquitlam resident Tina-Louise Harris took this photo, The Jumper, which augments an essay on the challenges of older Canadians to remain healthy.
      Tina-Louise Harris

      Young, a professor of law, and former NDP leader Ed Broadbent take the pulse of Canada from different socioeconomic perspectives. And in "The Hygiene Hangover", UBC microbiologist Brett Finlay and public-health physicians Perry Kendall and David Patrick address unfortunate consequences arising from Canadians' zeal for cleanliness, which include a sharp rise in asthma rates and other autoimmune diseases.

      Tortell said that readers of Reflections of Canada will gain a much deeper appreciation for the complexity of the country, including the evolving nature of the Quebec sovereignty movement. This aspect of the book is particularly timely, given Quebec premier Philippe Couillard's recent announcement that he wants to reopen the constitutional debate. 

      "What's clear is the separatist movement of today is really different than the one 20 years ago," Tortell stated.

      The Peter Wall Institute director is particularly proud of an essay by UBC physics and astronomy professor Philip Stamp. It's a modern twist on the famous story of Avro, a Canadian company that manufactured the world's most advanced fighter plane, the CF-105 Avro Arrow, in the late 1950s. At its peak, the company employed 50,000 people but after the Avro Arrow program was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government, it led to a massive brain drain out of the country.

      In a "A Quantum Parable", Stamp points out that Canada has been a global leader in quantum computing. However, he makes the case that Canada could be on the verge of repeating the Avro mistake by not getting behind Burnaby-based D-Wave, which could lead to another hemorrhaging of high-tech talent from the country.

      Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies director Philippe Tortell says intellectuals on the West Coast are not constrained by traditional modes of thinking.

      After a foreward by Gov.-Gen. David Johnston and a preface by UBC President Santa Ono, Reflections of Canada opens with Tortell's introduction. That's followed by a poem, "Diverse by Design", by celebrated poet and playwright George Elliott Clarke, who will soon be an artist-in-residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

      The book also includes a series of gorgeous images, which were submitted to the institute in its Re-Imaging Canada Photo Contest.

      In many respects, Reflections of Canada represents the open-minded and interdisciplinary intellectual tradition that's quickly becoming a hallmark of Canada's Pacific province.

      "There's an opportunity here on the West Coast to say we're different," Tortell said. "We're not constrained by convention. We're not constrained by history. There is a fluidity on the West Coast and there's a real willingness to step out of one's comfort zone."

      Reflections of Canada will be launched on June 23 at the Beaumont Gallery (316 West 5th Avenue). to attend. The book is also available for .

      (This article is sponsored by the .)