Friday, April 20, 2018

Canada is Underrated

Maybe that old saw about immigrants being more nationalistic than the native born is true.  I read Scott Gilmore's complains that "Canada is not a country" and strongly recoiled.  As someone who has lived here for 16 years and came with a belief that Canada was simply a colder version of the US, I have learned that Canada is a people, it is a nation, and it is a country.  Partly this is due to lived experience and observation and partly because I happen to have spent much time studying nationalism.

First, let's focus on the beer: this outburst of skepticism about the Canadian federation is about a Surpeme Court decision that provinces can continue to regulate trade in ways that make it hard to conduct inter-provincial trade.  And, yes, it was about beer (the guy in question had lousy taste in beer, but that was not the deciding factor in the case--should have been).  I hate to break to Scott Gilmore and to the Canadians, but moving alcohol across American state lines can also get you stopped by the authorities.  It happened to my family long ago, as my father decided to stop in DC on the way to an event in Maryland while driving from Philly with Pennsylavia plates to buy cheaper booze.  One of my sisters commented as this was happening that she had learned in school that this was illegal, and then, moments later, we got stopped.  I was too young to learn and remember the details, but, yes, federalism is a thing.  So, inter-federal unit trade in matters like booze and other stuff is not a Canadian thing, but a dynamic in federations.  And we would not call the United States or Germany not countries.

Second, Gilmore complains about how hard it is to get to the far north, and how few people in Canada have visited there.  At least your far north is a very integral part of the national mythos and identity.  I can bet that only a small percentage of Americans in region x have been to region y across the country.  How many folks from Oregon and Washington have spent any time in the deep south?  Or vice versa.  So, yes, Canada is a large country, and it has parts of it that are underpopulated.  Same for the US, Russia, Indonesia, China, and so on.  It can raise complications, but this is pretty strange argument.

Third, the whole argument that Canada can't defend itself is just silly. Defend itself from what?  Who is invading the far north?   Who is violating the maritime boundaries?  If we want to say that countries that can't defend themselves are not real countries, then much of the world is not sovereign.  The list of countries that have an adequate military that can protect themselves, while not considering the actual threats, are those countries with nuclear weapons (US, UK, Russia, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea), and those with significant conventional militaries (Japan [yes, really], Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Australia and a few others.  Again, Canada's lack of threats make its military damn near a luxury than a necessity, so using whatever state it is in a marker for not being a real country is silly.

Fourth, Ottawa ain't legitimate?   "Consider that fully democratic governments are only found in provinces and cities, not at the federal level."  I guess that depends on what fully democratic means. I do criticize the parliament as being quite lame, but federal elections do matter, they produce different governments that do different things.  If Canada is not a democracy, then who is?  Only the Scandanavians? Please.

Sure, I joke that the only things that Canadians have in common are a love of hockey, a smug sense that their health care system is better than the American one, and a pride in being the country that invented peacekeeping (national myths don't have to be entirely true).  Sure, there are significant regional differences, but again, lots of countries have those, and some even have semi-dormant secessionist movements.  What about pride in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?  The reality is that Canadians do have a shared identity, even if they also have regional ones.  In any society, people have multiple identities--racial, religious, regional, and national.  Which ones are salient?  Largely depends on the social and political context.  I can tell you that when I said in Quebec "I had better health care in the US", everyone else in the room would become a Canadian nationalist even if Quebec kind of sucks at delivering health care.   

Oh, and identity is always about us and them.  Within Canada, the thems are mostly Canadians so we think about the differences that separate us.  But go out in the world, and Canadians identify as Canadians (yes, the Quebec thing can get funky), AND the thems out there identify Canadians as Canadians.    We, yes, even me after 16 years and a few years of citizenship, are seen in a particular light--as having shared attributes, values and, yes, shared identity. 

Gilmore ends with this:
I was once told by someone wiser than me that a successful marriage requires a constant effort to find connections—the relationship must be continually maintained and strengthened. Because otherwise, when the bad times inevitably arrive, it will be too late. I feel this may apply to Canada. These are sunny days. But the weather will change. And when our storm arrives, we may discover that Canada was never really a country after all.
Sorry, but Canada is not the Soviet Union, it is not Yugoslavia, and it is not even Czechoslovakia.  Yes, Canada has problems, as do most countries. Being upset at the Supreme Court seems to be creating national unity--it is not a constitutional crisis.   As a fan of beer, I can say that the decision was a lousy one, but it does not change my views at all about whether Canada is a thing or not.  It is most definitely a thing--a people, a nation, and a state. 

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