Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Leave us alone, please, we're Canadian

This is why I don't mind so much that Americans more or less ignore what goes on north of the border, regardless of what I may have written in a previous post. This Times piece on Canada -- entitled "Was Canada Just Too Good to Be True?" -- is an example of extreme superficiality. For example, the author, Clifford Krauss, suggests that "no other country puts such a high premium on its own virtue than does Canada". What? Being a Canadian and having lived in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and Germany, I think I'm in a good position to attest to what I see as Canada's profound sense of self-doubt (which is precisely why we want Americans to pay attention to us and why we celebrate even our atrocious celebrities -- Celine, Shania, Avril, etc. -- who make it in the U.S.). Krauss goes on: "The recent spectacle of scandal and tawdry politics has some Canadians now wondering if all the self-congratulatory virtue is not mixed with some old-fashioned hypocrisy." Oh, come on. Yes, some Canadians ground their sense of national identity in pompous up-with-Canada cheerleading, but there's hardly an abundance of "self-congratulatory virtue" up here.

My Conservative friends, who regularly object to what they see as Liberal self-righteousness, may disagree with me, but the problem with Canada, in my view, is that it lacks precisely such a unifying sense of self. We are a country, after all, that seems to be perpetually on the verge of collapse, unsure of ourselves and our place in the age of globalization, torn between the New World and the Old, simultaneously American and un-American and anti-American, plagued by intense regionalism, and, worse, Quebecois separatism and Western alienation. Krauss may have interviewed the columnist and literary critic Robert Fulford and University of Toronto professor and public intellectual Janice Stein, neither of whom has much of substance to say (as usual), but he should have checked in with Toronto Star columnist Richard Gwyn, whose book Nationalism Without Walls is appropriately subtitled "The Unbearable Lightness of Being Canadian". That pretty much sums it up.

University of Toronto historian Michael Bliss is quite right. We're no moral superpower. But this narrow view of Canada in America's leading newspaper, one which gleefully exposes our apparent hypocrisies, hardly does Canada any justice at all. At least try to understand us as we really are before you condemn us for not living up to our ideals. We might just have some that are worth your consideration.

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  • Big scandal: unjust war of vengeance and machismo waged on the basis of a master's thesis, Mars making a transit in Virgo, and a mistranslation of the word benevolent.

    Little scanadal: uninteresting and paper-trailish grey area government scandal becomes champion cause of rival political parties on the basis of bad spring weather, flight patterns of the semi-palmated sandpiper, and a poorly cooked poutine served by an allophone to a francophone sovereigntist.

    The gap of seriousness of these two issues is about as wide and as gaping as... well... I'll think of a metaphor later.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:29 AM  

  • And Canadian identity...
    Much on this. Here's a start...
    Canadians are unified on many things, including the following points:
    1)Toronto is a bland city. Montreal is where all the pretty girls live. People in Newfoundland are reportedly horny. Everyone has a relative in the Maritimes.
    3)Vegetarians (including those that eat chicken) have no place in Alberta. Carnivores have no place in Guelph.
    4)We just humour the French amongst us in thinking that they are culturally superior and have a distinct idenity. The main thrust of their identity is in how they pronounce the letter R and in badmouthing anglophones and allophones.
    5)We talk about the weather ad nauseum. We also usually own on average 7.8 coats apiece, compared with the world average of 3.2.
    6)Terry Fox gets us all choked up. RIP.
    7)All boys either learn to play hockey or guitar. No exceptions or you have to repeat grade 2.
    8)We don't admit it, but we all know it. Canadians make better: actors, musicians, writers, lovers, critics, activists, curlers. We do not make better film directors or dictators.
    9)Drugs and prostitution are almost legal. We're so licentious!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:46 AM  

  • Hmm I like the comments and I totally agree I mean Canada needs to create a greater identity and unifying force than thid facade of multi-culturalism. It seems to me that the constitution is written in pencil, and everyone who wants s change just has to grumble snd the Prime Minster ans his cronies hurriedly make the changes lest they step on any toes. I think that we need to stick to the original ideals and move toward creating what is Canadian and not just yeah we are not Americans, embrace the positive and build on that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:34 AM  

  • I would agree that it's tough to rely on multiculturalism as a main source of national identity. It's what Trudeau wanted, as a response to the dominance of the "two solitudes" (French and English Canada) that had previously defined (and in many ways still do define) Canadian identity. But I would argue that multiculturalism requires a strong foundation, and Canada doesn't really have one.

    This isn't an argument against multiculturalism. I can make the case that multiculturalism is very much at the heart of what it means to be Canadian -- we are, as Richard Gwyn has suggested, the first postmodern nation. But the fractures that threaten this country -- Quebecois separatism, Western alienation, regionalism generally, conflicted allegiances, a love-hate relationship with the U.S. -- indicate to me that we do not have enough of a sense of national community to withstand the challenges of multiculturalism.

    By Blogger Michael J.W. Stickings, at 2:07 PM  

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