Today is Canada Day (or Fête de Mangez Nos Brefs, Canada as they call it in Quebec), which for the Canadian-history-challenged (and by this I mean my fellow Canadians as well as everyone else), commemorates the day when Canada blew off British rule with the British North America Act in 1867.
It was a lot more bloodless than the American separation, because it mostly involved a lot of long boring meetings, gratuitous rubber-stamping and paper-shuffling and tedious debates about when to establish the ‘birthday’ as a statutory holiday, made all the longer by Quebec’s insistence that everything said must also be said in French.
What it mostly means for Canadians is engaging in an annual reflection of what it means to be a Canadian, and the reason why they engage in this ritual every year is because no one really knows. Canada is one of the most multicultural countries on the planet, which explains why, if you ask what the national dish is, everyone kind of looks around nervously and says, “I don’t know, eh? What do you think? Tikka masala? Pad thai noodles? Shawarma? Souvlaki?”
And then someone usually says, “Fish ‘n’ chips, eh? Or maybe bangers ‘n’ mash,” and everyone kind of makes a face and bobbles their head in semi-agreement, because, despite being an independent country and all, we’ve still got ties with England who, let’s face it, will always be a little bit cooler than us, because they’ve got a colourful past and beautiful monarchs-to-be (finally!) and a really cute accent and no one ever pays attention to Canadians when British hats are in the room.
Hosers. We got hosers. We *invented* hosers.
And then someone else says, “Hey, what about poutine, eh?” and everyone else kind of bobbles their head again and grumbles a bit, because it’s almost always a Quebecois who mentions it, and they’re the ones who invented this cardiovascular reign of terror. And finally someone says, “We’ve got good beer!” and everyone else nods enthusiastically because yeah, Canadian beer is really good and way better than that crap they drink in the U.S. Canadians may forever play second fiddle to their southern neighbour but they can always comfort themselves that they have way better beer, along with far more affordable healthcare.
So, like there’s this big ongoing identity crisis whereby Canadians try to define themselves in ways that don’t necessarily involve the flag, lumberjacks or hockey.
Pay attention: Why we don't suck!
The Toronto Star ran some good op-ed pieces on Canada. In The India of the New World, Rick Salutin makes a case for the historical precedent of multiculturalism Canada sets. (Yeah yeah yeah they slaughtered the Natives and treated them badly too, just like down south. But Canadians are at least decent enough to feel really, really guilty about it.) Then in A Nation Able to Overcome Its Challenges, Carol Goar celebrates Canada as a ‘mature democracy’ and bullet-points some of the progress Canada has made and is still making, good news in an ocean of news about how crappy the global economy is, how Greece is going to destroy us all, and wondering how Canada’s going to fare when another recession hits again (thanks once again to a completely unregulated or unpunished Wall Street). And in Tell – And Teach – Canada’s Stories, Michael Levine – in an article I’d like to plaster on the eyeballs of every native-born Canadian – urges the country to explore Canadian literature more as well as Canada’s history.
I’m an American living here for six years now – six of the most stress-free years I’ve ever known in my entire life, Canada, and believe me, it’s heartfelt when I say THANK YOU VERY MUCH! – and I can’t count how many Canadians have told me, “I know more about American history and politics than I do about our own.” Part of the reason, it seems, is that, at least in the past. Canadian schoolchildren learned about American history rather than Canadian history, and no one can tell me why. Can Americans imagine their children being brought up on Mexican history, or Canadian history? I don’t know why this is. Maybe it’s just a really successful long-term program of exporting American culture and values. After all, everyone else around the world now thinks that Greed Is Good and Labour Unions Are Bad and that the best way to stimulate an economy brought to its knees by irresponsible rich people is by cutting services to the poor, exporting middle-class jobs to cheaper Third World countries, and bailing out bankers so they need not suffer the torment of not being able to buy that extra jumbo jet or give up that winter escape in Dubai after leading us to the Great Big Global Financial Fuck-Up of 2008. (Which I watched, surreally, from the sidelines in a country that came out of the crisis better than most other countries thinking to myself, ‘Good Goddess, I really dodged a bullet when I moved here!”)
Folks, (and by this I mean my fellow Canadians as well as everyone else), do not short-change Canada. I don’t mean to denigrate my home base, but I sometimes wonder just how much in the crapper my life would be if I hadn’t moved to Canada when I did. Long-term, I see the US as a nation in decline – I mean this quite seriously – and one that won’t likely rebound to what it was like when I was growing up lo these many years ago. So when folks ask me if I’ll ever move back, I say, “Never say never, but I just don’t see it ever happening, today.”
Canada doesn’t get much respect and it’s still the grown-up of the world, patiently reminding everyone else that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than by mindless violence, that you can in fact live in a country with gay people who get married and God will not in fact strike it down with a lightning bolt from Heaven, and that sorry, Americans, but if you continue listening to Fox News your children will die of stupid preventable diseases and conditions that only otherwise exist in the Third World because you can’t afford a Band-Aid, much less a doctor, while Canadians eventually get many of the operations and help they need, even if we have to wait a ridiculously long time to get it. What difference does it make if you can get that procedure now in the US if you can’t, in fact, afford it?
Canada’s reputation has taken some well-deserved hits in recent years with our meddling in the Middle East and a Conservative government (natch) that acts in the fairly hysterical manner of the Bushies by angling to build more prisons when the crime rate is going down, its unwillingness to launch an investigation into the G20 debacle in Toronto last year (or to reimburse downtown business owners for vandalism incurred), not to mention Canada’s constant hammering on the human rights issue (See: G20 debacle, condition of Natives on reserves, and the complete mishandling of the Omar Khadr and Maher Arar cases.) Still, we’ve got the strongest banks in the world, we don’t worry about getting sick nearly as much as Americans, and I for one don’t worry about walking the streets of Toronto at all hours, which I’ve done, many many times. And I am doing much better here financially than I ever was in the US.
So Happy Canada Day, Canada! And don’t worry about the identity thing. We’ll get it figured out sooner or later.