On Being Canadian: There Is Still Much Work To Do

We are so used to it.  As Canadians we wear some kind of coat for at least eight months of the year.  In fact while I was in Grande Prairie Alberta last December my bus driver proudly told me “sometimes it snows every month of the year!”  Needless to say Canada Day comes at a great time.  July 1st is our 141st birthday, but it’s also the greatest time of the year.  Most Canadians live and let live without any semblance of a jacket.

I have said it many times.  This country needs to be cherished.  We are an example to the world, even with all our warts.  As Canadians I think we take pride in giving the “benefit of the doubt.”  Blessed with natural resources, Canadians stand in 2008 a resilient people.  The Canada “we want” continues to evolve.

However, and this is a big however, Canadians don’t hold a monopoly on being nice and are certainly not morally superior to anybody on earth, especially our American friends.  Nonetheless, it’s almost sport in parts of Eastern Canada to treat the Americans like they couldn’t carry our lunch.  Meanwhile, 85% of what we produce goes into the United States.

In many ways it is the great Canadian misunderstanding.  We look to the United States as a place we want to go and a culture that many of us immerse ourselves in.  Canadians flock there in droves.  In fact in my younger days I treated southeast Michigan like it was a natural extension of Ontario.  Going to a Piston game was as natural as going to the next town.

What’s not so easy to understand for Canadians is our American friend’s penchant for not wanting to come here.  In fact that’s probably being a bit charitable.  It’s more like our American friends ignore us to the point that we’re the quintessential afterthought.  It’s like the kindergarten teacher said to the parents.  “Nobody ever worries about the quiet kid who causes no trouble.”  In many ways that’s what Canada is to individual Americans.

For instance many of you know I write for an American company.  So I get to interact with many Americans on a daily or weekly basis.  They are all great people, solid professionals who challenge me every day to be as good as them.  However, when I ask them if they’ve ever been to Canada, most answer either no, or only once.  If they turned the question around on me, it would be every weekend.

One of my former editors referred to Winnipeg as the “Paris of the Prairies.”  So maybe that’s it.  Maybe we should brand Winnipeg, which is –40 degrees on any January morning to fool our American friends to come north.  I dunno.  Something tells me that wouldn’t work.  Nonetheless, I think what is true is Canadians should just forget about that.  Our American friends are who they are and many see no reason to come here.  At the end of the day we just should accept that and leave it at that.

Still, that’s hard for many Canadians outside of Quebec because many of us define ourselves by not being American.  That’s like saying a negative, negative number is another negative, but it makes sense to many people.  However, I think as Canadians we should leave that one behind.  Our American friends will remain.  Even after 9/11 they are and will remain our greatest allies no matter how we feel they don’t understand us.

Being a country is not easy and at times its difficult “being a Canadian.”  For instance take for example our English/French chasm in this country.  Much of our politics and constitutional battles and prejudices stem from that.  However, “being Canadian” in many ways stems from what this country is.

For instance many times during my life I’ve disagreed with the politics around me.  Liberal, Conservative, Bloc, NDP, Reform, whatever in reality are just a bunch of Canadians squabbling.  However, enshrining our rights in the Charter made parliament a bit weaker and our courts stronger, but at the end of the day its made “being Canadian” more real.  Many times I’ve disagreed with some of the court decisions, but with sober second thought I came around.  Now, I wear our Canadian “charter rights” like a badge of honour.

A South Asian colleague of mine looks at it a bit differently.  A few years ago he landed at the Vancouver airport.  There, twice two plain clothes Canadian immigration officers questioned him before he even reached the official immigration counter.  He was completely humiliated.  He’s told me official immigration officers in places like China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and places in Asia don’t even look up when he produces his passport.  That’s Canada to him.

So it is what it is.  You bet “being Canadian” is special.  You bet Canada is a great country.  Nonetheless there is much work to do to make it better.  Happy Canada Day everyone.