We are not our neighbours 

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The quadrennial celebration of wretched excess and mindless jingoism — the Olympics™ — are finally over and Canada can go back to being a one-sport country again. With the various appeals decided, it appears all there is to argue about in some circles is which country, Canada or the U.S., ranked higher in Olympic™ hardware.

Ironically, if not unexpectedly, those arguing the point display a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of the Olympics™, which state, "The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries." Really? Coulda fooled me. Of course, popular culture is popular for a reason and, admittedly, irony tends to be lost on true believers, so argue on. After all, it's not like the International Olympic Committee doesn't display a fundamental misunderstanding of the principles of the Olympics™ itself.

It is very satisfying to the Canadian soul to press the point though. Let's be honest, we've always had a bit of an invisible second child syndrome when it comes to the U.S. An inferiority-superiority complex. We don't want to be like them... except for the many ways we would like to be like them. We belittle their robotic chant of U-S-A, U-S-A, right before we break into our own spontaneous, off-key versions of O Canada.

It has been a truism for years that the sine qua non of being Canadian, that which makes all true Canadians Canadian, that special essence, that indispensable, elemental, bred-in-the-bone, ain't-no-other-in-the-world-like-it distinguishing feature mothers and fathers drill into the soft spots of their offspring's heads until it becomes as much a part of them as their DNA can be summed up neatly thus: We are not American!

By enumerating the various ways in which we are not American we move closer to defining what, in fact, we may be. Hegel would be proud of our efforts.

And how are we not American? That question has been the subject of intense research and debate. Enough Royal Commissions have been commissioned to prop up all of Canada's aging pulp and paper mills seeking the answer to that question. The CBC was formed specifically to pose that question at least once a month during Cross-Country Chat-up. At last estimate, 40 per cent of Canada Council grants were earmarked for studies and performance art works promising at least part of the answer.

And the answer? Well, being Canadian, we're not prone to jump to conclusions when dithering will do, but here are at least some of the crucial elements. We have universal, single-payer healthcare. The U.S. has Obamacare. We have a semi-stable, oligopolistic banking system. The U.S. has Powerball. We have poutine. The U.S. has deep-fried Mars bars.

The U.S. socio-political identity was forged in the fiery cauldrons of bloody war. The American Revolution cast off the tyrannical shackles of the British Monarchy and allowed the country to avoid having Queen Elizabeth's face on their money for the better part of a century. The U.S. Civil War settled forever whether states could secede from the Union.

Canada, on the other hand, was forged in the smoky backrooms of genteel gentlemen's clubs. The Queen still graces our plastic banknotes and Quebec continues to threaten to make good on its dream of becoming a northern banana republic.

If America is exemplified by war, Canada is exemplified by such boardgames as Risk™, Diplomacy™, and, most especially, Monopoly™. Whereas America was formed at the point of a gun, Canada was formed with a nod and a wink.

The U.S. settled the west because settling the west was its Manifest Destiny. The teeming American masses yearned to breathe fresh air and discover the wonders of surfing. Canada, on the other hand, settled the west because it was a sound business move, diversifying its portfolio and assuring it would forever have hinterlands eastern politicians could ignore, piss off, pillage and from which would spring a seemingly inconsequential political party that would unite the right, leverage the inherent idiocy of the governing party — in this case the Liberals — and do everything in its power to, ironically, resolve the question of how Canadians aren't Americans by moving the country closer and closer to becoming more like the Americans.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the U.S. knew it was bound for glory. America strode into the future with a spring in its step and a certainty not unlike that enjoyed by a pimple-faced adolescent sneaking into a club with a pocketful of roofies. America set the bar, raised the standards and had enough faith in its role as the Only Remaining Superpower that it turned all three branches of government over to a bunch of rabble that would make a blue-faced, screaming two-year-old sound like the voice of reason.

Canada was just as certain of its future and therefore built all its major cities within 100 miles — converted in the late 20th century to approximately 160 kilometres — of the U.S.-Canada border. After all, if we weren't so co-dependent on our good friends to the south, how could we keep close tabs on what we're not?

I've long bridled at the notion we get the government we deserve. I don't remember doing anything to deserve Mr. Harper and his smarmy gang of looters any more than the people of Toronto remember why they thought electing Rob Ford would be a good idea. Come to think of it, Toronto does deserve Rob Ford more than I deserve Harpo.

But I'm more than a little worried Canadians as a whole maybe do deserve the government they're getting. The fact is, we're becoming more like our neighbours to the south. While I'm sure not too many Canadians paid much attention to the Liberal Party's convention last weekend in Montreal — playing as it did opposite the bread and circuses in Sochi — but those who were polled and had any knowledge of the policy positions adopted by the Liberals liked the promise to enhance the CPP, provide more money for mental health and reverse the planned hike in the age requirement for OAS. In other words, two thumbs up for anything that put money in their pockets.

However, when it came to substantive issues of governance, for example eliminating the omnibus legislation the Harper Cons have used to systematically dismantle what many of us thought of as Canada, a disheartening number, 20 per cent to 33 per cent said they had no idea what the question meant. Why does this remind me uncomfortably of the "Math is hard," Barbie doll?

So we're all for lower taxes, more goodies for us and we really don't give a damn otherwise about how we're governed.

Well, fortunately you still can't buy guns at Wal Mart on this side of the border. O Canada!

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