Sunday, 16 October 2016

My Canada

In yesterday's Toronto Star, columnist Chantal Hébert wrote one of the best missives I have read this election cycle about the fundamental differences between Canada and the United States and where our two countries are headed politically. I urge you to click on the hotlink above and read it, not merely because I have asked you to, but because I do believe that many of my American friends are fundamentally stunted when it comes to understanding the Canadian psyche. A case in point was the totally vapid and mindless "comedy" essay that Jim Gaffigan did on Canada on CBS' Sunday Morning today.

In his defense, Gaffigan was going for satire and a comical turn basically informing Americans fearing the final election results that Canada is an odd place with odd likes and customs and that fleeing here might not be in an escapee's best interests. He peppered his routine with tired Canadian tropes and stereotypes about poutine and hockey and he finished up by questioning why we have a maple leaf on our flag. Frankly, it was lazy, based on zero research, and fundamentally the worst kind of comedy in that it was profoundly stupid. George Carlin was moaning someplace in the great beyond about the death of the esoteric comedian. And all of this is coming from somebody who really likes Jim Gaffigan.

I realize that there are a lot of Americans who are turning an eye northward in this time of profound schisms and misery. This election has been a holy host of horrors and if I were one of you, I might also be investigating an exit strategy. Of course, realistically most Americans will deal with the fallout of whatever happens because, when you get right down to it, this is what is most endearing about Americans; the strength and resilience to fight through the tribulations. This fighting spirit has kept them on top of the world's stage for almost two and a half centuries and I have little doubt that they will persevere for at least a bit longer.

But, if there really are Americans thinking about Canada as an option, (and please understand that it isn't as easy as merely showing up at the border wearing a Josh Donaldson jersey) and if it is a truly serious thought, it needs to be said that we are so much more than the butt of a hockey stick or the scarlet tunic of a Mountie. We are a people with everyday issues, everyday problems, and everyday feelings of pride.

We are a country who...

Has rallied as an entire country behind a single team, the Toronto Blue Jays because Major League Baseball sent our only other team to Washington. The ratings this fall for Blue Jays postseason games show that more than seven million people watched the final game of the ALDS. Seven million!! In a country of not quite 35 million. This is a rating's number that clobbers even the biggest hockey game of the year, including the Stanley Cup finals. It rivals the number of Canadians who watched Andre DeGrasse win bronze in the 100M at this summer's Olympics. (Yes..we celebrate great achievement, not just winners.) We are a fierce and proud people and we will defend our own with passion and poignancy. Canadians cheer on Canadians, even if they hail from the US, Dominican Republic, and Mexico, no matter what. Yes. It is true that hockey is a national obsession, but our national self-esteem is all about supporting those who display the best of who we are even if they can't skate.

We are a country who...

Values achievement and collective responsibility. In a television program entitled The Greatest Canadian that aired on the CBC back in 2004, Canadians were invited to vote on who they thought best fit the title. There wasn't an entertainer or sports figure in the top five. Coming in at number 1 was Tommy Douglas, the father of universal health care and a former premier of Saskatchewan. (OK. He was also the grandfather of Kiefer Sutherland, so I suppose that there is a wee bit of entertainment value to this pick.) Rounding out the top five were activist and humanitarian Terry Fox, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Dr. Frederick Banting, the co-discoverer of insulin, and environmentalist David Suzuki. We can argue fiercely about politics and there are still people who think that Pierre Trudeau was the devil incarnate and therefore Justin is his evil spawn, but we tend to look at our politics through a uniquely pragmatic lens. I would venture to guess that while there are many who would like to improve upon our flawed health care system, there are very few who would like to abandon it altogether.

We are a country who...

Tends to cherish civil discourse even amongst our most polarizing figures. When Rob Ford passed away earlier this year, the entirety of city council was there to pay their respects, even those who voted to strip him of his magisterial powers and his most vocal critics. This weekend, former Harper cabinet minister and conservative Alberta premier Jim Prentice, was tragically killed in a small plane crash. He was praised and eulogized by politicians on all sides of the political spectrum. We are far from perfect. The problems and conditions that allowed for Rob Ford's horrific mayoralty in the first place still plague us, but even those who despised him while in office and the brand of politics he practiced, found some small modicum of decency in the man himself and felt sorrow for his family. We don't always succeed at civility, but we certainly aspire towards it.

We are a country who...

Cherishes our inherent beauty. Mr. Gaffigan asked, "why do we have a Maple Leaf as our national symbol on our flag?" It's because we look upon the beauty of our natural environment with pride and deep gratitude. Yes, it is easy to make maple syrup and pancake jokes and in fairness it is one of our great commodities, but the Maple Leaf symbolizes our deep and abiding love for the earth we were entrusted to protect. Our flag is reflective of that emotion. (I should mention that the final flag design was a compromise representation that consumed Canadian passions fifty years ago. In typical Canadian fashion, neither side was rewarded with the win. Today, our flag is recognized the world over as a symbol of inclusivity and we Canucks don't slap those patches on our luggage simply because we don't want to be mistaken as Americans, but rather because we are fiercely proud of the red and white.)

We are a country who...

Tends to adopt the best of others and make them our own. Ours is a cultural mosaic rather than a melting pot. We encourage diversity and we welcome the changes. It isn't always easy and we have  had major battles from all points on the political and cultural spectrum that has threatened the very fabric of our collective consciousness, but we do tend to move positively and timely with social mores. As Ms. Hébert correctly states in her column,
That is not to argue that unanimity reigns supreme in Canada or that it should. But clashes over the best approach to policy are symptoms of a healthy democracy, as is dissent. The noise that attends both does not alter the fact that on many of the principles that polarize other comparable societies there are Canadian consensus views that stand to outlast the popularity of the current prime minister, just as they did the Harper decade.
Yes, it is true that we are a country who loves our hockey, poutine, Mounties, maple syrup, moose, beavertails, toques, and coloured plastic money. But it is also true that we are an incredibly diverse people who are profoundly exhausted by the ignorance of our closest cousins, neighbours, and largest trading partner as to who we really are. Yes, we have a bit of an inferiority complex brought on by living next door to a behemoth and yes, while we tend to export the best comedians on the planet south of the 49th, we do often have a bit of difficulty laughing at ourselves. But, this election season offers a perfect opportunity for our American friends to lovingly discover just who we are and what we stand for. This country isn't perfect and it isn't a quick-fix for all that ails disenchanted and disenfranchised Americans this cycle, but it is home and I couldn't be more proud of it.

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