4.19.2005

not canadian enough?

I didn't blog about Michael Ignatieff's recent speech, because I seldom (never?) agree with anything he says, and I don't know enough about the current Canadian political situation to put his remarks in perspective.

ALPF sent - and I even saw this one on my own! - some interesting commentary on the speech from Star columnist Richard Gwyn. In a piece called "Too Many Canadians Aren't Canadian Enough," Gwyn writes:
Being Canadian, he [Ignatieff] writes, is "a constant act of justification and self-invention." To be tired of all of this "is to be tired of Canadian life".

He's wholly right. My own formulation, which I've expressed earlier in this space, is that to be Canadian is to be someone who is forever becoming a Canadian.

But I think Ignatieff misreads the nature of the looming crisis. It isn't because Quebecers are too Québécois, it's because Canadians aren't Canadian enough.

Quebec isn't a real threat, I would argue, because Quebecers have already separated within Canada and so have no need to formally separate.

They've figured out, this is to say, how to be wholly Quebecers while using Canadianism (our passport, our international image, etc.) as a useful, if secondary, asset.

The rest of us are getting to be like Quebecers. Canadianism is becoming a convenience rather than a source of identity.

For me personally, the realization of just how far we have moved from a sense of national solidarity happened when Newfoundlanders lowered the Maple Leaf flag. That the provincial government did this was one thing. That Memorial University, an independent institution, did it also, was quite another.

I cannot think of any other country where citizens would lower their national flag as a bargaining ploy.

Our sense of national solidarity seems to be slipping away.
This is interesting to me, since I eschew nationalism, and my own national identity is not a source of pride to me.

Is national identity necessary? Can we be proud of the society we live in (and strive to better it) without rallying behind a flag? Or is patriotism necessary in order to build a society?

In the US, where there is rampant nationalism - the love-it-or-leave-it crowd - there is also rampant selfishness, a total unwillingness to put the social good before the individual. Patriotism feeds militarism and the absence of self-criticism. But in Canada, national identity means something very different. But what? And does provincial identity threaten that?

Your comments are welcome. Though I can't respond quickly, or at all, I'm always monitoring.

Meanwhile, the Blue Jays just tied the game. Gotta go!

16 comments:

G said...

... and the Jays won. Sorry, but when you get to T.O., you will need to at least pretend to like the Jays. And the Leafs (if they ever play again that is). Fanatical hardly describes Torontonians' passion for their teams.

On the whole Canadian bit ... do we even have an identity? In bits and pieces I think we do. I've written a fair bit on this lately, and agree that we are "becoming" on end ... because no cultural identity really exists.

Certainly, there isn't really a "Canadian Way" or "Canadian Dream" (unless you ask Montreal rocker Sam Roberts, who says the Canadian Dream is socialism - a debatable point but wise inthat much of the world does see us that way).

A large part of it is no real melting pot exists here. The definition of "Canadiana" is always stereotyped, best done by the The MacKenzie Brothers. Toques, flannel, "eh?" at the end of each sentence, and a passion for hockey, back bacon, and of course (above all else), beer. Basically, Canuck identity is really only ever defined in sketch comedy.

But you look around this country - there are so many different cultures, and cultural norms across the land - and I'm not referring to landed immigrants here ... I'm talking about just within born and bred "Canadians". Compare life in the Maritimes to life in Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies, BC, and the North, and you really have six distinctly different "cultures of Canadiana". The MacKenzie Bros catch on so well because their passions are the one thing all Canadians do have in common.

Then add to the mix the landed immigrant population (which is quite large - which is fantastic) and the fact that in most places many of them are able to retain their culture, and their way of living, as much as is possible, without fear of reproach (of course as in any country there is and will always be an intolerant minority of the population. But the rest of kick their asses whenever we can).

The only pressure landed immigrants face to "become Canadian", really, is to wear a Leafs jersey, basically (you'll run into this one when you get here). Otherwise, they are accepted and embraced by most citizens (as in the vast majority) for who they are and what that adds to our country.

So what is a Canadian? Hell, I don't know. Good, cool, down-to-earth people. That's the best I can put it as.

And you know what? As far as a cultural ID goes, that's good enough for me. It's something I can be proud of.

L-girl said...

Very nice thoughts. Thanks.

I could never pretend to like a team. I'm too much of a Real Fan. And they're in our division! No way.

Allan's been a Red Sox fan in NYC for nearly 20 years. If he survived that, I'll manage in Toronto. And if Trontonians are Real Fans, they'll understand.

But I have no hockey allegiance, and would just as soon cheer for the Leafs.

RobfromAlberta said...

Being Canadian is first and formost about where you live (or where you were born since many Canadians in poorer regions relocate for economic reasons). Many Americans with a superficial knowledge of Canada think we define ourselves in opposition to the US, but that is only a small component of the Canadian identity. We may relate to the rest of the world as being the non-American part of North America (sorry Mexico), but our real identity is based on regionalism. We are westerners, easterners, maritimers, Quebecois, northerners, etc. I know this same sort of identification exists in the US, but for the majority of Americans, it is America first and then whatever regional affiliation they subscribe to second.

L-girl said...

"...our real identity is based on regionalism. We are westerners, easterners, maritimers, Quebecois, northerners, etc. I know this same sort of identification exists in the US, but for the majority of Americans, it is America first and then whatever regional affiliation they subscribe to second."

Yes, I can see that. Some Americans strongly identify regionally - Southerners, New Englanders and New Yorkers (meaning NYC) comes to mind. There are others. But in general regional identities are secondary, especially since there is so much mobility.

"So what is a Canadian? Hell, I don't know. Good, cool, down-to-earth people. That's the best I can put it as."

So cool.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

If Canada were anywhere else in the world, our lack of an overpowering national identity would be fine.

But living next door to the U.S., it always makes us wonder if there's something wrong with us because we don't rah, rah, rah Canada in the same way our neighbors do. This is a source of a lot of our so-called "anti-americanism". We feel like we're obliged somehow to distinguish ourselves nationally.

I guess its kind of a "keeping up with the Jonses" thing.

L-girl said...

"But living next door to the U.S., it always makes us wonder if there's something wrong with us because we don't rah, rah, rah Canada in the same way our neighbors do."

Where in reality, it's the neighbors who have something wrong. As you know, I think the more relaxed view of national identity is so refreshing. I think it's healthier.

Crabbi said...

Your neighbors who don't rah, rah, rah aren't deemed TV or newspaper-worthy, unfortunately. The flag wavers and freeper types get much more attention because they speak in sound bites. Not that we aren't nationalistic and way too sentimental about our country - well, too many of us, anyway.

I prefer to identify myself as a Californian. I don't get all gooey about it, but I am glad that the Bay Area is right up there with NYC in disliking Bush. We're the belly of the beast. RAH!!

G said...

I must say I've always had a soft spot for Cal. The general pop holds pne of the great liberal attitudes around ... regardless of the party in power. Serves as a great reminder to all that parties in power don't define a people, and there is indeed a stark differences between needs that require a specific party's platform, and social views of the populace. Doesn't sound like much, but it is something all-too-easily forgotten. Look at American-bashing that often blindly goes on - just because a party with controversial policies is running the show, doesn't define the population as a parallel to that. For some groups, the social perspective was on the agenda ... for others, it was not, but the vote went that way for other reasons beyond the social view. Even I forget that one sometimes.

As for New York, I've always said it feels like "the most Canadian" of the US cities I've been fortunate to spend time in. So cosmo - a place where anything goes - I think that's what does it. Heard similar of San Fran also (not as cosmo perhaps but terrifically liberal), but unfortunately haven't been there to see it.

It ain't all bad, as many like to think ... it's just a shame the "sound byte" population, which makes up most of the 'controversial' groups on a certain side of the spectrum, gets all the air time. At least decent air time goes to celebs-with-brains (and great writers) such as Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, and I'd even put Letterman in that group, who help to balance the equation somewhat, and remind us that some people with reach hold these groups accountable, even if it is in a comic sense.

L-girl said...

"Serves as a great reminder to all that parties in power don't define a people"

Yeah! An important thing for all of us to remember.

I'm glad to hear NYC seems the "most Canadian" of cities! How cool. We're not exactly laid back here, which might be the biggest difference, but we are fiercely "anything goes". Except uptight Fundies, who should just go.

I'd add Michael Moore, Art Spiegelman, Tom Tomorrow and Al Franken to that list of people who challenge us to both laugh and think.

G said...

Good call on the names.

BTW, Toronto is not laid back either - not in Canadian terms, anyway - though to many Americans I've known, depending on where they're from (bustle-cities like LA, Chicago, DC) it certainly seemed so to them.

For really laid back, take a trip out to Halifax ... beautiful city, on the water, great, great people, even better food ... you won't want to leave. I didn't - if I could ideally live anywhere (and if jobs in my field were available there) I would be there in a heartbeat.

L-girl said...

I've heard great things about Halifax. I'm sure we'll visit.

I love laid-back for vacations, but I could never live in it. There's a reason I chose Toronto! (Besides baseball.)

I meant that Canadians themselves seem laid-back - the people.

RobfromAlberta said...

Halifax is my hometown, born and raised, and I do love it. But for my money, the city I would choose to live in if I could get a good paying job there is Montreal. I went to grad school there and for a graduate student, nothing beats it. The summer is amazing, you have the Montreal Grand Prix, the Just for Laughs Festival, the Montreal Film Festival, the Jazz Festival, to say nothing of all the ethnic celebrations. It's awesome. Great place to live for a student, for a tax-paying grown-up, however, not so much.

Anonymous said...

Great place to visit, too. I hope to do much more of that in the future. Allan's uncle wants us to move there - I'm sure we won't - but I hope to get to know the city more.

L-girl

Crabbi said...

You guys are totally making me want to go to Canada - at least for a vacation. I need to add Nova Scotia and Montreal to my list.

San Francsicans are definitely liberal, but California has some VERY conservative areas, too. I mean, this is the state that elected Ahnold after an expensive and pointless recall campaign. I saw yahoos on TV saying they'd never been involved in politics before and they were just peeing themselves with excitement. Um, yeah, Sparky, it's called being starstruck. So, we have our share of total effing morons here, too. Sigh.

OTOH, I did see a naked old man at the Civic Center during the last big peace rally. I didn't especially want to see him, but I was glad to be in a place where people weren't freaking out and calling the cops on him.

RobfromAlberta said...

I certainly shouldn't neglect my new hometown of Calgary. If you love the great outdoors, nothing beats southern Alberta. The Canadian Rockies are just an hour away by car and they are amazing. There are quite a few tourists, mostly Asian, in the hotspots of Banff and Lake Louise, but it is so easy to get into real backcountry, places like Aspen just don't compare. There is a very slight risk of encountering a cougar or a grizzly, but most wilderness buffs consider the risk part of the adventure. Avalanches kill way more tourists than wildlife.

L-girl said...

California - It definitely has that dark side. Attending any Angels game (Orange County) will show you that. And like you said, how else would you have the Governator? Hey, even NYC has Staten Island. Nothing's perfect. ;-)

Alberta - I must go. We're not backcountry people, but Banff and other beauty spots are definitely on The List. Visiting US National Parks (of which I am a HUGE fan and supporter), we've been able to find a good middle ground between the tourist-clogged center and total backcountry adventure.

I always want to CIC how good we'll be for the Canadian ecomony. I live to travel, and I plan on seeing as much of the country as I can.