Yeah, it's a bit late. Canada
is really celebrated on July 1, but it's impossible to pay
attention to it until after the July 4th festivities are over. Even
now, I feel kind of guilty discussing Canada Day without having done
more to reemphasize the profound significance of the American
Independence Day. Yet it may be the case that focusing on the Canadian
counterpart will do exactly that. The only possible meaning Canada
represents to the U.S., after all, is as a vivid example of "the road
There were British North American colonies in the 18th century who
revolted against Britain and colonies who didn't. That is the real
distinction between our two countries. The Canadian colonies preferred
monarchical despotism to freedom if the price for freedom was war. Ever
since, the Canadian colonists and their descendants have had to salve
their egoes by pretending that they made the better bargain, which can
only be true if there is something inherently better about the culture
they fell into by refusing to shape their own independently.
The contemporary commentators who are busily looking for the causes of
Canada's recent and increasingly strident slanders of their southern
neighbor tend to overlook this first, most important explanation of the
hostility. It's not that they have become, through a series of passive
accidents, more left wing in their politics than the U.S. It's not that
their European worldliness and wisdom alerted them in advance to the
dangers of a conservative, God-fearing Texan as President of the United
States. It's not that their loftier "green" sensibility has given rise
to some new conviction of moral superiority over the more densely
industrialized nation to the south. It's that Canada has failed in
every possible way to prove to us or themselves that they really were
smarter to remain in thrall to a king who ruled their lives from an
ocean away. And the bitter consequences of that failure are growing
more acute and undeniable every day.
What does Canada Day celebrate? Not the fierce announcement of
separation from the Crown documented in our Declaration of
Independence, but a beneficent act of the British
to set them free from afar:
British North American politicians held
the Charlottetown Conference and Quebec Conference, 1864 to
work out the details of a federal union. On July 1, 1867, with the
passing of the British North America Act by the Parliament of the
United Kingdom, three colonies of British North America (the
Province of Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) became a federation
styled the Dominion of Canada. It consisted of four provinces, Ontario,
Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
There are three additional points of interest about this history.
First, Canadians had attempted armed rebellion against the Crown at
least twice before in the 1830s but failed. Second, the province of New
Brunswick was originally created because of the influx of American
Tories who fled or were expelled from America for refusing to back
the American independence movement. Third, the "Canada Day" which now
celebrates this largely bureaucratic event was called "Dominion Day"
until 1982. The word offers an interesting mix of connotations. Does it
mean "Release from British Dominion" Day? Or "At Last We Finally Have
Dominion Over Ourselves" Day? Actually, neither one is completely
correct, because it wasn't until 1931 that another act of the Brit
Parliament accorded Canada a national status equal to the U.K., which
status was earned by the United States in 1783 with the surrender of
Cornwallis at Yorktown. It's not hard to see why 'Dominion Day" was
officially deep-sixed after a typically Canadian period of inaction.
It's ironic indeed that Canada Day happens to fall three days before
American Independence Day on the calendar, as if they somehow preceded
us into national adulthood. Is this why the Canadians insist on
imitating our means of celebrating our Independence Day, with parades
and fireworks? (Unless their
firecrackers are intended to duplicate the sound of British MPs
snapping their valises shut after the critical session of
Parliament...?) There may be many Americans who are fooled by this,
especially since we are so used to being regarded as a young country by
the nations of the Old World with whom Canada has continued to
associate itself. But it's worthwhile to remember that as a nation
Canada is only 138 years old compared to our 229, which is, by the way,
the oldest continuous government in the world, with the sole exception
of the U.K.
Canada is in reality our ne'er-do-well younger brother. Too harsh, you
say? Consider that Canada is the second largest country on earth in
terms of territory. Yet it has just over a tenth of the population of
the U.S. We grew because we were attractive as a home and a way of life
to people from around the globe, who flocked here to make this country
the richest and most powerful in the history of civilization. During
the same period of time, Canada has not only languished in terms of
population but lagged in terms of per
-- just 75 percent of ours -- despite the boasts of its
derivative Brit-Labor-Party style government. And much of the income
they do enjoy is a by-product of their proximity to us: 90 percent of
Canadians live within 100 miles of the Unites States. Canada is the
younger brother we find ways of supporting that he doesn't have to
acknowledge so that he can retain his fragile pride.
But little brother also has more problems in his homelife. For a
quarter century Canada has teetered on the edge of breakup as its
French province Quebec intermittently sues for divorce. Canadian unity
has not been annealed by a counterpart to the American Civil War, which
may have saved some lives in the short run, but the result is that
Canada can never be united by a set of founding ideas, as we have been,
because their unity consists principally of the geographic accident
that its components were the last leavings of the British colonial
experiment in North America. In fact, Canada still styles itself as a
"confederation," which is the same loose affiliation tried out by the
United States before its failure prompted the writing of the
The metaphor of troubled homelife suggests the image of the unhappy
wife. Is it mere coincidence that the carefully compiled list of Canadian celebrities
includes the likes of k.d. lang, Joni Mitchell, Alanis Morrisette, Sara
MacLachlan, Jann Arden, and Nellie Furtado? Probably. But it's hard not to see some basis in Canadian culture for all those
intense "songs about myself" offered up by the sad-voiced girls on
their acoustic guitars. And it's not just the women. Who sounds more
consistently miserable than Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and Leonard
Is it any wonder that Canada will seize on every opportunity to
badmouth its taller, stronger, happier, and more prosperous older
brother? Fredo couldn't help resenting his Godfather brother Michael
for dominating his life. He couldn't help betraying him at every
opportunity. And when you ally yourselves with the enemies of your
friends, some part of their ill intentions will rub off on you. That's
the story of one of Canada's more recent betrayals, the subversion of
the American military and legal institutions it sponsored during the Vietnam
A large number of draft dodgers, young
men facing conscription for the Vietnam War, decided to relocate to
Canada rather than serve in the armed forces. Concentrated in Montreal,
Toronto and Vancouver, this group was at first assisted by the Student
Union for Peace Action, a campus-based Canadian anti-war group with
connections to Students for a Democratic Society in the United States.
Canadian immigration policy at the time made it easy for immigrants
from all countries to obtain legal status in Canada. By late 1967,
dodgers were being assisted primarily by over 20 independent and
locally based anti-draft groups, such as the Toronto Anti-Draft
Following the dodgers, deserters from the American forces also made
their way to Canada. There was pressure from the United States and
Canada to have them arrested, or at least stopped at the border. In May
1969 the Canadian government ceased its active discrimination against
deserters after facing extensive criticism.
The population of draft dodgers had an impact on Canadian society. The
influx of young, educated, and left-leaning individuals affected
Canada's academic and cultural institutions. These new arrivals tended
to balance the "brain drain" that Canada had experienced.
Canada resented the American policy in Vietnam and Lyndon Johnson's
anger at their dissension from his leadership. So they plighted their
troth with a set of fugitives who reminded them of their own Tory
origins. Yet they couldn't help remembering that fugitives are losers
in the long run. This knowledge only compounded their animus against
the U.S., which now has to be continually refreshed and rejustified to
smother its unwelcome implications about themselves.
Can there be any doubt that this is what is going on with the Canadian
response to the Iraq War? Nationally, they are so weak they can't field
an army of more than 1,000 or so combat troops, and they don't dare
test national unity (Quebec!) by attempting a controversial foreign
commitment. All that's left is pillorying the United States for its
very lack of the weaknesses that so cripple Canada -- particularly the
strong national identity shared by Americans.
In the United States we have a pledge of allegiance to the flag. In
Canada, the flag is a recently adjudicated compromise
not a symbolic embodiment of the country's defining experience, but an
irrelevant homage to a species of tree.
The red and white used in the National
Flag of Canada were proclaimed
the official colours of Canada in 1921 by King George V. Although the
maple leaf did not have official status as an emblem of Canada until
the proclamation of the national flag in 1965, it had historically been
used as a Canadian symbol, and was used in 1860 in decorations for the
visit of the Prince of Wales to Canada. The 11 points on the maple leaf
have no special significance.
Canadians themselves are suspicious about the validity of their flag,
which is why they continue to harbor paranoid
that the more potent American flag is being smuggled into
It's difficult to maintain a national
identity in a country where nearly all of the inhabitants live within a
few miles of the USA, so you can hardly blame Canadians for sometimes
feeling that Americans are infiltrating every last aspect of their
culture. A tangible expression of this feeling occurred during the
1980s, when every time the Bank of Canada introduced currency with new
designs, somebody managed to find American flags hidden in the artwork.
The fun began with the introduction of
a new $5 bill in May 1986...
The introduction of a new $2 bill in September 1986 brought claims that
it, too, depicted an American flag flying over Parliament (a claim
which continues to circulate widely on one of those ubiquitous Internet
lists of unusual "facts")...
Three years later, when the Bank of Canada introduced a new $10 bill,
the same old rumor was trotted out yet again (perhaps spurred by the
implementation of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement earlier that
The real problem, of course, is the flag itself. Like the weak country
it weakly symbolizes, it is, well, weak. There can be no pledge of
allegiance to a maple leaf, which is why we have witnessed the sad
specter of an unofficial Canadian statement of general national
allegiance spawned in a beer
Every once in a while a bit of I am
Canadian! advertising emerges overnight as a definitive piece of
popular culture. That was the case with the Molson Canadian commercial
"The Rant," (aka "Joe's Rant") which debuted in late March 2000.
(Molson is a noted brewer in Canada, and Canadian is but one of this
family of beers, which also includes Golden, Brador, Export, Ice, and
Molson Canadian, a beer lagging in popularity, (got) an instantaneous
boost in sales with 19-to-29-year-old men, but the ad established
itself with the non-beer crowd as a passionate declaration of national
Many have come to see The Rant as a Canadian gospel of sorts, and
reactions to it range from choked up to shouting along with its script.
The ad is deceptively simple, merely featuring an "ordinary Joe" alone
on a stage in front of a slide show of various Canadian backgrounds
that cycle while he vents a litany of corrections to common
misperceptions about Canadians.
The Rant has become a tidal wave of Canadian affirmation.
What, you ask, could inspire such fevered adulation? Here it is:
Hey. I'm not a
lumberjack, or a fur trader.
And I don't live in an igloo, or eat blubber, or own
And I don't know Jimmy, Sally or Suzy from Canada,
although I'm certain they're really, really nice.
I have a Prime Minister, not a President.
I speak English and French, NOT American. and I
pronounce it 'ABOUT', NOT 'A BOOT'.
I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack.
I believe in peace keeping, NOT policing. DIVERSITY, NOT assimilation,
AND THAT THE BEAVER IS A TRULY PROUD AND NOBLE ANIMAL.
A TOQUE IS A HAT, A CHESTERFIELD IS A COUCH, AND IT
IS PRONOUCED 'ZED' NOT 'ZEE', 'ZED'!!!
CANADA IS THE SECOND LARGEST LANDMASS! THE FIRST
NATION OF HOCKEY! AND THE BEST PART OF NORTH AMERICA!
MY NAME IS JOE!! AND I AM CANADIAN!!!!!!!!
Oka-a-a-ay. All those capital letters are obviously aimed at the
citizens of the United States: no need to shout them to a fellow
Canadian. The fact that this has been described as a unifying cri de coeur
for Canada suggests
that we are the only buttress they have for a national identity. They
are united by their resentment of us. And unfortunately, because that
resentment goes all the way back to the War for Independence they never
had, it will never go away.
In a recent article in Maclean's magazine, Fox News anchor John
ascribed Canadian hostility to envy:
When I wrote Hating America, the New World Sport in 2003, the chapter
that included Canada (sorry, you shared space with Belgium and South
Korea) was called "The Axis of Envy." The Iraq war was fresh. Canadians
were sure they only had to yell loud enough to be heard across the
border and even the thick-headed Americans would get it. Then came the
U.S. election and we notice you haven't had much to say lately.
But as you celebrate your national holiday, I suspect the truth about
your innermost sentiment still applies: that precious and delicious
pleasure called anti-Americanism is as strong as ever, isn't it?
I thought so.
But I disagree with Mr. Gibson. Envy is about something we think we
deserve, or might have had, or should somehow be able to take. The
Canadian hostility is deeper than that. The fatal fork in the road was
a long long time ago, and there is absolutely no hope that they have
the capacity to achieve or steal or blackmail from others (as Belgians
and Koreans might still think they can via fair means or foul) what
they most lack and most detest in us: Greatness.
Happy Canada Day. Their fireworks are their exploded dreams, which
still shimmer and glow before their eyes like a vision of long lost
Does all of this tell us anything about ourselves? I believe so. But for the miraculous wisdom and courage of our founding fathers, the United States might be just like Canada, with a population of 30 million enervated Europeans, an incompetent socialist government, a social and cultural history lacking in brilliance or innovation, and a role in world politics as irascible pawn of the United Kingdom. Indeed, we might be several such nations, 7 to 10 million strong (or weak), quibbling and sniping and sneering at one another from sea to shining sea. Look at Canada with fresh eyes. It's what we could easily have settled for, a passive mediocrity destined to be a footnote in the history of man. Thank God for the road we took instead, and the giants who built that road so long ago.
POP QUIZ FOR AMERICANS: Quick. Name a famous Canadian political figure
it matter? No.