On Be(com)ing Canadian

What a difference a day makes.

Yesterday, Canada Day, we celebrated the official signing over of the running of our country from England.

We celebrate because in what “seems like yesterday,” as we old-timers like to put it, back in 1867, the Fathers of Confederation [not to be confused with the Mothers of Invention, in 1967 –ed.] hung out for a weekend with their English counterparts, and created the first blob: that sticky mess we know as Canada.

The Blob we know as Canada

The Fathers of Confederation met in a farmhouse kitchen in Prince Edward Island and, after a few beers, got down to the business of the day: the signing of the British North America Act.

White men in suits, the Fathers of Confederation

The stench of empire still rises up about us: we have a House of Parliament convened each sitting by the Queen’s representative, the Governor-General, with a Prime Minister who leads the government by dint of a majority of elected Members of Parliament and is called to account by Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Like in England we have two main parties, the Liberals and the Conservatives, and you don’t vote for the leader yourself (unless she happens to be the local representative of your voting district), you vote for a person who happens to be a member of a party; the party with the most members elected puts its leader in the Prime Minister’s chair.

Okay, that’s today’s lesson in Canadian politics.

Is there anything else about Canada that’s worth talking about?

Or are we pretty much a “fifty-first state” of the U.S., a larger, slightly more liberal version of Vermont?

Take our national sport: in it, players bat around the question: “Who or What is Canada, and What makes us Different than the U.S.A?” The game is never won, but the round ends when the audience leaves, or falls on the floor in boredom (or for any other reason).

But a day or a year later, the game resumes, and a new round is ordered [Perhaps this relates to the drinking habits of the Fathers of Confederation, the original Canadian Hosers, eh? –ed.].

A true Canadian icon: the hoser

Take for example the headlines of Toronto’s (and therefore Canada’s) four major papers yesterday, Canada Day:

Toronto Sun: A grateful nation “What does being Canadian mean to you? In celebration of Canada Day, five citizens, and one soon-to-be Canadian, responded to that Toronto Sun question with their own take on what makes our country great.”

National Post: Canada’s Top 10 (being a list of ten things invented in Canada: 1) Paint Roller; 2) Telephone; 3) The Game Show; 4) Bloody Caesar; 5) V-chip; 6) Fielder’s Glove; 7) Speed of Sound; 8 ) Light Bulb; 9) Heart Pacemaker; 10) Square-head Screw [To be precise, they’re ten things that Americans usually claim to have invented or discovered: but we did, see? That makes us special –ed.]).

Toronto Star: What is essentially Canadian? “It took our 36 panellists months of often heated debate to whittle our long lists of nominees down to just 91 works that we hope represent the very best of Canadian arts and culture.”

Toronto Globe and Mail: A Canada of the North TAGLINE:‘Sir John A. Macdonald… opened the West. He saw Canada from east to west. I see a new Canada–A CANADA OF THE NORTH.’ —John Diefenbaker, Winnipeg, Feb. 12, 1958″ [Think this story breaks the rules of the game? Not at all: fact is, Canada as most Canadians know it is strictly a line running East-West, tight to the U.S. Border. in a game called “who or what is Canada?” The Blog and Lame has played a trump card, telling Canadians “What you think you know about your country is all wrong.” –ed.]

Of all these newspapers, it’s the Toronto Rats that we at the Allderblob follow with regularity. Frankly, we feel sickened at the thought of all those trees felled for the weekly 80-page “Wheels” report, but if no one hears us whimper, do we make a noise?

In yesterday’s Canada Day Star was the lead National Report section story “A virtual country,” by Carlton University professor Andrew Cohen, author of While Canada Slept: How we Lost our Place in the World. Cohen’s piece is a perfect example of Canada’s national game at its finest: it projects 14 years into the future, to imagine a country in 2020 that not one of us would recognize. In 2020, Cohen writes,

this isn’t your father’s Canada. Nor is it the Canada of Sir John A. Macdonald, Mackenzie King, John Diefenbaker, Lester Pearson, Pierre Berton, Margaret Atwood, Michael Bliss, Douglas Coupland or Avril Lavigne.

Cohen’s right, of course. We wonder, however, if the names he’d picked were a little less “European” he’d get the same resonance. The Great White North didn’t earn its nickname from its winter colours alone, after all. Question is, will Canada in 2020 be the country people by name of Srikanthanan, Omidi, Chung or N’Kele recognize?

Cohen writes:

This is the new complexion of Canada: black, tan and yellow. Canadians are proud to call themselves the most moderate of people. Tolerance has become their vocation, a kind of raison d’être, and that seems to be the breadth of their ambition. In a fragmenting world spawning new countries as casually as Arctic glaciers crack and calve, they are happy to have survived as a nation for a century and a half — even if they’re not sure what that means any more.

“Arctic glaciers crack and calve?” what’s Cohen getting at there? Unfortunately, Cohen leaves the simile for what it is, and moves on.

Cohen’s thesis is simple and direct: he writes of two forces that are rivening the country: “the great migration” and “the quiet devolution.” The former is the incredible number of new immigrants this country will have accepted over the next 14 years, effectively increasing its population by a third.

The “great migration” was a byword for the greatest influx of immigrants Canada had ever known. By 2010, the country’s political parties were treating immigration as an auction, bidding against each other for ethnic voters in urban Canada to raise the quotas of immigrants from 250,000 to 500,000 a year. There was a sound economic reason (a shortage of unskilled labour) and a moral reason (boatloads of refugees washing up on our shores, just as they were in Spain, Malta and Sicily). As global warming began to wreak havoc around 2012, a suddenly popular Green party formed the government in Ottawa. The United Nations began to pressure empty, enormous Canada to ease the refugee crisis. By opening the country’s borders, politicians could feel that they’d helped the world, as well as themselves.

Of course, immigration has benefited Canada. Even with a low birth rate, the population grew from 33 million in 2007 to 38 million in 2012 and to 45 million in 2018. Within two years, Statistics Canada predicts there will be 50 million Canadians. Fifty million! Finally, in size, Canada is the nation that Sir Wilfrid Laurier imagined a century ago.

We want to pause for a moment and call your attention to a key phrase in the above clip: “global warming.” Note that this is the only mention Cohen gives to the phenomenon of climate change in the entire 2000-word essay. We happen to think global warming will be playing a significantly more important role in this country’s immediate future. We’ll get to that.

The second force of change discussed by Cohen is “the quiet devolution.” This is a play on the phrase “quiet revolution,” of course, which in the 1960s saw the province of Quebec shift gears and gain power within Canada. For Cohen, the quiet devolution is the culmination of the long-standing transfer of powers from the federal government to the provinces:

[in 2020] The federal government is an antique notion in the era of sub-governments and supra-governments. Canada’s provinces have turned into princely states like those of British India, governed by pashas who have the powers of minor monarchs. Within these kingdoms are city-states. “National,” an anachronistic term, now competes with “provincial” and “municipal” at home and “international” abroad.

And so it goes. Cohen spins wheels over the loss of a Canadian identity in a sea of tolerance: Canada in 202o is no more than “an area code and an email address.”

[Actually, it’s fair to say that in 2020 folks will be saying “email? Now what was that again?” –ed.]

Cohen concludes:

Now, in 2020, we look around in despair. In the voiceless country, there is no one left to recall its past, no one left to celebrate its principles, and no one left to speak its name.

And you know what this is, don’t you? It’s the world’s tiniest record player playing “my heart bleeds for you” [“record player? Now what was that again?” –ed].

Thing is, Cohen has seen a few clues, but has taken an incredible wrong turn in his analysis. Yes, Canada is changing. Immigration and transfer of political power makes Canada a river that even Heraclitus wouldn’t try to step in twice.

Ironically, if you turn the page on Cohen (literally, to page F4 in the Star), you hit another middle-aged man with a European name, but this one with a more pressing message (in our opinion). “We are running out of time,” by Cameron Smith, is closer to the mark in naming the forces that will change Canada by 2020.

Smith is talking about climate change, of course, a.k.a. “global warming:”

The world is at its tipping point — on the brink of runaway global warming that will have devastating consequences. But the worst can be avoided, and the world can remain prosperous and habitable, provided massive cuts in carbon dioxide (CO{-2}) and methane emissions are started immediately.

We have only 10 years to get it right, and it’s going to take a tremendous and concentrated global effort.

How do Smith’s ten years hence differ from Cohen’s? Immeasurably.

Make no mistake, however — a global capping [of climate change emissions] by 2016 will be an enormous undertaking. But the consequences of failure are so severe, it should surpass everything else on international agendas.

Smith’s not navel-gazing about whether Canada’s “changing.” He’s not fretting about whether a white European will recognize this country in the year 2020. He’s asking the true, critical questions about our larger identity: will the human species still be around?

It’s a jolly good read. We never laffed so hard.

What all this has to do with automobile advertising, we leave for you, our 17 readers, to discern. Here’s a hint though: Canada could be the country that actually says “To hell with your notions of progress.” Canada could be the place that makes its mark not by building more freeways and extracting more petroleum, but by embracing “slow:” slow cities, slow food, slow culture.

Canada in 2020 could be a place where folks take it easy, eh? We get where we’re going when we get there. We live by the words of the great philosopher Ivan Illich, who wrote in 1973 :

High speed is the critical factor which makes transportation socially destructive. A true choice among practical policies and of desirable social relations is possible only where speed is restrained. Participatory democracy demands low-energy technology, and free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle.

What is our alternative? Cameron Smith makes it clear we are headed for an age so dire, an age of massive storms, of floods, of fire, that our national game of self-analysis, and our concerns about whether George Bush is the real terrorist, will seem as nothing.

We are headed for a dark age.

Actually, if you follow Illich’s argument, we are already there:

The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials [emphasis ours –ed.] or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour.

In other words, the quantum leaps our world has experienced has brought us exactly full circle: our mobility level, measured in miles per hour, is no greater than that of our cave-dwelling ancestors. If anything, they had a leg up on us because they had no roads, traffic, fences, or other barriers to dictate their path of travel. They had no disconnected culs-de-sac and no meandering collector road to negotiate between them and dinner. For them, it was “as the crow flies” all the way [and actually, the crow was dinner –ed.].

And now back to our regular programming.

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