Friday, July 01, 2005

Here's to the Red Ensign and God Save the Queen

Would that there were no Canada Day! Would that there were no flag, no Constitution (or Constitution Act, anyway), no national anthem. Would that we were that quiet can-do colony again, the Dominion of Canada. You look at me like that but, you know, we’d be much more the Canada we claim to be were it so.

Listening to Paul Martin today—as he goofily held-forth on Parliament Hill—I'm reminded of the power of words[1] to stand in direct contrast to reality. And of how utterly, unashamedly trite they can be while still being spoken with the certainty that the masses will gobble them up like so much chicken-feed. “We are second to no other country in the world,” he said—begging the question: by which measure was that, again?—and that’s why we “sew [the flag] on our backpacks.”[2] This from the man who said a couple of days ago that same-sex marriage “is an issue that Canadians want to put behind them” when it is rather obviously an issue that at least half of Canadians don’t want to put behind them at all. You start to wonder just how far from the mark all this pie-in-the-sky can actually get. Time, I guess, will tell—and judging by a steadily more sceptical international opinion, it isn’t too far off that we’re going to be held to some serious account.

And that tired reference to the little brand Canadians mindlessly sew onto their backpacks reminds me of the year I spent abroad, at a Canadian ‘finishing school’ in Switzerland; the incongruity of my fellow students’ staunch and verbose anti-Americanism pasted onto an attitude that was, otherwise, the very (hackneyed) stereotype of an American. It was quite an experience. I can remember being told, or rather hectored, by classmates on the finer points of American arrogance, abrasiveness, and ignorance while, at the same time, articles of complaint were being printed in the local newspaper about the boorish behaviour of the Canadian students. “Raus Canada” had been spray-painted on the wall facing a bar that our class was locally infamous for patronizing, christened-round the surrounding network of streets with our urine and puke. The locals were invariably referred to as “Eurotrash.” We all had Canadian flags sewn on our backpacks.

By contrast, it was always fascinating to run into an American. They were, without exception, the very model of an enlightened, culture-craving traveller. Without exception, I say. Which, odds are, makes it a not completely representative cross-section of American types that I happened to be bumping into. But the fact remains that I never met an American in Canada-loving Europe that outdid the Canadians for being “American.” (The Aussies could, though.)

Canada, where it deems it convenient, sits on old laurels no longer its due. The good reputation it has internationally was earned, I would argue, by the generations that fought in the two World Wars. That is: Canada became Canada as we now know it, just before the demise of the old Dominion. It has changed very, very much since then, in spite of the fact that we continue rather naively to think of it in the terms it acquired for us. And I must say that I’m looking forward to the day when that pious, lettuce-fed jerk—the insolently proud Canadian—gets a ripe kick up the ass by the international community whose opinion and flattery it depends on so much for its sense of self-worth.

[1] Or is it the passive power of a vapid audience?
[2] And has anybody else noticed how much he’s been using the word ‘destiny’ lately? “Why?” you ask. At a guess, I’d say: failing the remotest possibility of originality, or even a passing resemblance to great leaders past, he’s taken to free-loading the Churchillian device—itself, even by the day’s standard, a mind-bogglingly unoriginal move.