the dream of the nineties is alive in ottawa

I spent most of the day yesterday being excited about the new Liberal cabinet. Inexplicably excited. Uncharacteristically excited.

It was easy to understand why. Gender parity, increased diversity, a medical doctor as Minister of Health, a Nobel laureate scientist as Minster of Science, a Paralympian as Minister of Sport and Persons with a Disability, this badass defence minister, and this incredible woman as Minister of Justice. And not to mention this epic mic-drop.


A hell of a lot of people feel the same way.I don’t really need to explain why. It’s obvious.

But for me it went beyond excitement. It was relief. I felt happy and optimistic on a level much deeper and more profound than I am comfortable admitting in this cynical world.

The reason why took me a while to realize, but when I did, it was so simple: I feel like I have my future back.

I know that sounds naive and extreme, but I don’t mean it in that way that people like to frame as “whiny millennial.” I mean it in a much more fundamental human way.

Allow me to explain:

I was born in 1983. My formative years were the 1990s. I grew up during a time characterized by what some people like to disparagingly call “political correctness gone mad.”

But for me, there was nothing “mad” about it. It was about respect. We were told that Canada was a cultural mosaic, not a melting pot; that diversity was strength and we respect other cultures and beliefs. How was it possibly “mad” to not use racist slurs? I had friends who were people of colour and I certainly wouldn’t have ever wanted to offend them.

Nor did I understand why affirmative action was “mad” either. Affirmative action is not simply letting someone do something because they weren’t a white male but it is providing them an opportunity to do something they had previously been held back from because they weren’t a white male. I understood this because I had had arguments with gym teachers who didn’t want to let me play hockey with the boys when I knew I was just as good as most of them.

So all these recent cries of merit over gender were frustrating because all that implied was that somehow women don’t have merit but men do. Holy hell, people, weren’t we over this bullshit by now?

When I became an adult and “entered the real world,” I didn’t understand a lot of the racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on*, because as a kid I was told that these would be gone by the time we grew up. People would know better by then.

It wasn’t just the official PC slogans drilled in my head at school that made me think this, it was diverse representation in the media as well. Of course, it wasn’t perfect representation, but as kids my age watched sitcoms with gay protagonists, with female protagonists, and with entire families of colour, we were too young to wonder whether or not it was “progressive” or “representative,” to us it simply was.

That representation promised us a world of diversity, multiculturalism, gender parity, and equal rights regardless of sexual orientation.

But that wasn’t the world we entered.


I remember being surprised in 2003 when Canada legalized same-sex marriage. (Yeah, that’s right. We did it twelve years ago. Under a Liberal government.) But I wasn’t surprised because it was happening; surprised because it hadn’t happened already. In my young naivete, it never occurred to me that two people of the same gender could not get married. How absurd! Didn’t they know that there was a same-sex wedding on Friends in 1996?

Becoming an adult in the 2000s was a slow realization that the world was full of more bigots, chauvinists, and homophobes than I ever imagined possible. Certainly, I don’t think there were more of them than there were in the 1990s, but I definitely think the obligation to be politically correct around a child vanished when I became an adult. They could lob racist jokes my way and ignorantly expect me to chuckle along.

As the majority of my twenties were spent under Harper’s Conservatives (basking in the rays of the Bush Administration), the Dream of the Nineties began to slowly wither away. With Obama’s election down south, we held out hope. But then conservative Americans in their panicked death-throes doubled-down in their assholery and this opened the floodgates to bigots north of the border. People who told racist jokes seemingly in confidence now felt emboldened to do it out loud or even in print.

After a Conservative majority in 2011, it was all-too-easy to give up hope. The apathy set in. The rudeness of this apparent awakening was no longer an open sore. It has scabbed over and was starting to scar.

This was the harsh reality of the world, we realized. We were never really promised anything. There was nothing to promise. It was all a lie. A beautiful dream, but nothing more. We were lied to.

And it only got worse.

By 2015 we had a government that wanted to force a women to take off her niqab to swear her oath as a Canadian citizen. That is not the tolerant and multi-cultural Canada I was told I lived in.

Perhaps things had to get worse before they could get better. Perhaps we had to get to this point before we finally demanded change. Perhaps we just needed a leader who seemed just as fed up and frustrated as the rest of us. Who knows. But here we are. And, oh my god, does it feel good.


* Don’t even get me started on the environment. I am THRILLED that we now have a Minister not just for the Environment but also explicitly for Climate Change. It boggles my Captain Planet-addled mind how this didn’t happen sooner.

Author: Ashleigh Rajala

Ashleigh Rajala is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in numerous journals, both online and in print. She is passionate about using story-telling to build community in Surrey BC, where she lives and works on the unceded traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples.

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