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Spectators line the route of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Torch Relay on Feb. 11, 2010 in Coquitlam, B.C.

Cameron Spencer/2010 Getty Images

The patriotism unleashed by the Olympics is just a taste of what could be the result of Canada's 150th birthday in 2017. Stories of the celebration around the Centenary in 1967 are legendary.

One of the most interesting facts about the Canadian centennial back in 1967 was that it was not a government initiative.

Most of the legwork of driving anticipation of Canada's 100th birthday was done by the non-profit sector in the early 1960s. Through conferences, op-eds, letter writing and lobbying, they drove the Centennial to the top of the public agenda and turned the cynicism around our nation into a brief flowering of optimism and pride. The famous logo remains publicly held, and the entire exercise an example of a grassroots initiative that worked.

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These public intellectuals created the preconditions for the huge infrastructure and cultural investments that continue to benefit our country - everything from the National Library of Canada to the Order of Canada to Caribana to GO Transit commuter trains in Toronto.

As we begin the approach to Canada's 150th birthday, two organizations are taking the lead.

One is the Institute of Public Administration in Canada. IPAC is hosting a conference March 11 and 12 that promises to help kick off the build up to Canada 150.

The Government of Canada is jumping on the bandwagon earlier this time. Wayne Wouters, the federal Clerk of the Privy Council, is encouraging public servants to take part in the conference.

Interestingly, the other organization promoting the possibility of Canada 150 is the Liberal Party of Canada.

The Liberals are using the impending sesquicentennial as an opportunity to set out long-term policy vision, without the shackles of present day trade-offs.

Party policy making is always a dangerous thing.

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If you come out with any bold ideas, your opponents will immediately raise uncomfortable questions that the proponent party is unprepared to answer. The result can be back-peddling or opening yourself to caricature. And in the overheated environment of Ottawa's minority regime, we can expect precious little appreciation for complexity or nuance.

If you come out with an anodyne series of motherhood statements, the party risks looking rudderless and you infuriate the participants who feel hosed for not having anything to show for their work.

It's a smart move to elevate party debate about policy out of the grubby world of today, and into the soaring optimism of future results and transformational change.

Aspirations can be stated without immediately required an itemized budget projection. "What if" blue-skying is allowed. The 150 concept provides an easy answer to criticism from the other parties: these are a vision and one that will take time to accomplish; our next step will be to order them in a platform, conscious of the fiscal constraints of the times and that it may take several mandates to achieve our dreams.

1967 was a pivotal year in our history, moving Quebec nationalism to the centre of our debate and marking the high point of the rolling surpluses of that decade.

2017 could be as critical in our future, if we decide to make it so.

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If you are feeling proud of our country, I'd invite you to take part in one or both. There is a lot more work to do in Canada, after the torch is doused and the medals placed on walls.

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