I am Canadian. 🍁
Despite being self-deprecating as a nation, I am proud to be Canadian. It’s a big part of my identity. (And, no, this isn’t an advertisement for beer, Tim Horton’s coffee, maple syrup, Canadian Tire or poutine.)
Canada celebrated its 150th birthday last year. Compare what we have to other places, and you’d be hard-pressed not to be grateful. Yet there is a risk that our country will become un-Canadian. Maybe not intentionally. But out of neglect. Out of indifference. Or our habit of identifying ourselves in contrast to the Americans.
Lately, I’ve found myself frustrated by happenings in Canada, to Canada, and by Canadians. I’m seeing self-inflicted wounds. Increasingly, I’ve been pointing it out, tagging acts as #Un-Canadian in my Twitter feed and Facebook posts.
I know our neighbour to the south is going through a once-every-generation examination of themselves and their bold experiment with democracy. But Canada?
To illustrate, let me share some of what’s, in my humble opinion, un-Canadian. And, I’d like to hear from fellow-Canadians. What are you seeing? Heck, I’d like to hear from anyone with an opinion on what’s happening to Canada & Canadians.
Are we suffering some sort of identity-crisis? Is this something to worry about, or to embrace as growth?
#Un🍁 Politicians disrespecting decisions by judges & juries.
We don’t idolize lawyers or judges in Canada. I know. I’m a lawyer. We don’t elect judges; they are appointed. But we do respect the legal profession (as long as we’re not paying the bills) and our justice system.
If politicians want to change laws, they can. That’s their job. But it’s not Canadian of politicians to question a judicial interpretation of laws while the trial is live or appeal-able.
The law school in Windsor Ontario also released a statement on the Saskatchewan Stanley jury verdict: “Canada has used law to perpetuate violence against Indigenous Peoples…a reinvention of our legal system is necessary.” Law profs lobbying for social justice feels Canadian; being disrespectful of people doing their jobs as judges and jury seems not-so-Canadian.
#Un🍁 Stomping on homegrown enterprise & entrepreneurs.
Canada is a vast country. To be competitive requires a healthy mix of Canada-wide business strength and diverse, entrepreneurial spirit. That’s truly Canadian.
The Hudson’s Bay Company was one of Canada’s founding monopolies. And, we’ve had other monopolies – railways, wheat pools, airlines, telecoms. These national structures provide coherence, but they only work if there is an equal measure of enterprise.
Unity without diversity is brittle; diversity without coherence is weak.
Anthony Lacavera, the enterprising guy who launched Wind Mobile to take on the three giants in Canada’s telecom sector, talks about this in his book, How We Can Win. Wind Mobile was snapped up by Shaw for a cool $1.6 Billion. Yet getting swallowed up by a monopoly wasn’t Lacavera’s real ambition. He’s afraid we’re losing our entrepreneurial edge.
In the recently released federal budget, Canada announced a change in taxation of successful small businesses. Who’s affected? Any business that needs to save significant capital for future expansion. For example, a farmer wanting to save to buy more land. It doesn’t feel entirely Canadian to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurs, until they are successful.
#Un🍁 Trade protectionism. And, on a related matter, we’re also too large a country to be protectionist. Trade necessarily goes east-west and north-south. When we’re facing the rest of the world, we often brand our goods with a Maple Leaf. Canadian beef. Canadian-assembled cars. Canadian wine.
What’s not so Canadian is lobbying to displace Made-in-Canada with foreign imports. Aussie beef. Saudi oil. French cheese.
What’s not so Canadian is blockading trade between provinces. The current brouhaha about wine crossing the Rocky Mountains from BC to Alberta is a case in point.
#Un🍁 British Columbia’s discriminatory super tax on outsiders. Trade wars between provinces aren’t particularly Canadian but they do erupt from time to time. Like spats among siblings. They eventually run out of steam.
But, when one province decides to apply a punitive tax on people from other Canadian provinces—in this case, BC charging a super-tax on homeowners who aren’t permanent residents of their province—that’s beyond-the-pale un-Canadian. Imagine if Ontario decided to put a super tax on cottages in Muskoka for non-residents?
Lots of people in Canada move from one province to another. I was born in Ontario and now live in Alberta. My husband was born in northern BC. Right now, if my husband wanted to buy a vacation property in the province where he was born, he’d be subject to a discriminatory 2% property tax on its value, every year.
#Un🍁 Pipelines and national infrastructure. I live in Alberta, many of you will assume a pro-pipeline bias. So, let’s not talk about the Trans-Mountain pipeline. Let’s talk about some other infrastructure that crosses provincial boundaries – a road, a railway, electricity transmission lines, bicycle paths, the TransCanada trail.
It’s very Canadian to accept that a federal government will work with impacted provinces to determine what infrastructure is needed. It’s very Canadian to accept that a national regulator will determine where the infrastructure is to be built.
What’s un-Canadian is blocking infrastructure, unduly, in your own province’s self-interest. What’s even more un-Canadian is messing with these regulatory and quasi-judicial decisions for political gain. Ignoring rule of law: #Un-Canadian.
#Un🍁 Denying the need for transfer payments between provinces. Canada is a miracle. We’re an enormous country, connected from sea to sea to sea. We touch the North Pacific, the Arctic, the North Atlantic waters.
To keep all these unique regions on an even keel, our Constitution envisions the transfer of money from ‘have’ to ‘have-not’ provinces. To suggest that Canadians don’t care about citizens outside their own province is absolutely flawed. We’ve been addressing these disparities for 150 years. Caring about other Canadians is Canadian.
Canada is a confederation. Balancing the parts and the whole is what we’re good at. Standing up for achievable federal values, while at the same time reflecting provincial priorities. All without becoming too parochial nor too nationalistic. Getting that balance right is the essence of what it means to be Canadian.
#Un🍁 The Olympics. It’s very Canadian to get up at 4 in the morning to watch curling. Notwithstanding, our Canadian athletes didn’t win a medal in curling. OMG. That is so un-Canadian. And, we didn’t bring home any gold in hockey. Again, utterly un-Canadian. We’re crazy about curling and hockey.
While on the Olympic theme, it’s un-Canadian to not wear your silver medal. It’s debatable whether it’s authentically-Canadian to drink beer and yell at the refs. Maybe at home, but not away. And, on that drinking trajectory, it’s definitely un-Canadian to drink to excess then steal a Hummer. Especially in a foreign city where you don’t know where you are going.
#Un🍁 Our Prime Minister’s attire. Justin Trudeau wore purple socks with yellow rubber ducks on them to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. That’s a Canadian thing-to-do. We don’t usually take ourselves too seriously. But, it was decidedly un-Canadian of Trudeau to wear over-the-top costumes in India. Embarrassingly so. Not as stuffy as the Brits or as flashy as Americans – that’s where we stand.
The Roman Empire fell apart because of language. At the outer reaches of the empire, words shifted in meaning. And in the end nobody really knew what it meant to be Roman. (Attribution: Don Hill)
We’re not in an era where information travels at the speed of an ox-cart.
Yet Canada is vast. Our regions unique. And we’re under pressure in an increasingly competitive world.
#Un🍁 Trade. Right now, some federalists would have us believe being Canadian requires the self-righteous championing of lofty social values. From some perspectives, our current strategy in trade talks looks like what we care about is shoving gender equality, LGBTQ, climate change, indigenous and union rights down the throats of some less-than-willing trade partners.
Being social justice warriors in the brave new world may be Marvel-worthy. But over-emphasizing these aspirational attributes, and downplaying the fundamentals of trade, risks turning Canada into an economic outlier. We’re doing back flips trying to assure the world that we’re not America. They already know that.
The narcissism of minor differences.
Americans and Canadians are not exactly the same. People from BC are not exactly the same as people from Alberta.
But, it’s striking how we live as neighbours, share ancestry and hold similar customs and yet strive for such distinct identities.
Sigmund Freud explained this peculiar hostility between groups of people that are in many ways quite alike as the narcissism of minor differences. To protect our sense of self, we artificially inflate the significance of minor differences we use to construct our identities.
For example, we say:
Unlike the USA, Canada is a country that values social justice in trade, above all.
BC cares more than Alberta about… affordable housing, the impacts of oil spills.
Not surprisingly, there can be problems when you lean too heavily on these minor differences. You can focus too much on less significant differences and ignore the fundamentals. And, you tend to define yourself by what you’re not.
We all play for Canada
Are we forgetting what it means to be Canadian? Increasingly, I fear we are. And because I feel so strongly about this, I’m asking you to think about what it means to be Canadian. And to call out what looks un-Canadian! #Un🍁
As we were reminded all through the Olympics, we all play for Canada. There is more to being Canadian than talking about the weather, drinking double-doubles from Tim Horton’s, and saying I’m sorry all the time. In justice, in business, in trade, in competition, and yes even in how we present ourselves, we have the opportunity to sustain an identity we are proud of. We are Canadian. We’ll be better with everyone on the team.
Donna Kennedy-Glans, March 4th, 2018