Canada at 150: not bad, could be better


Our glorious Dominion of Canada turns 150 on July 1. You may have heard about it. It’s in all the papers, like this one.

An event like a sesquicentennial is a time for sober self-reflection, some prideful boasting, and the opportunity to use the word ‘sesquicentennial’. I mean, how often does that happen? Once every 10 or 20 years, tops.

It used to be that prideful boasting was something that Canadians were uncomfortable with. When I was younger, we told ourselves that there just didn’t seem to be all that much to be proud about. We had an inferiority complex that made Charlie Brown look like Donald Trump. But Canada has changed. We’re much more willing to wave a flag and brag, but nicely. Canada is the only place in the world that can be modest and smug at the same time.

I’ve been struggling to come up with a way to describe the Canadian attitude, but I think I’ve come up with a solid one-word descriptor — we are a nation of compromisers.

In the United States (which we foolishly insist on comparing ourselves to at all times) compromise is the ultimate dirty word. While the United States is a “my way or the highway” kind of country, Canada is more of a “my way, or, if you have a better idea, we’ll include that as well” kind of country. The U.S.A. is founded on a belief in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Our founding credo is “peace, order and good government”. Zzzzzzzzzz.

Compromise created Canada. I mean, just look at this place. It’s borderline ridiculous that it even exists.

Canada, in many ways, shouldn’t work. We are ludicrously, even oafishly large. We’re like one of those guys you see who is about 6’6″, 250 lbs,, but so soft and flabby he is entirely non-threatening. But it works for us.

We have two official languages, which is rare in a world where language is often the bloody dividing line. But we get along. We’ve had two near death experiences, dodging the separation bullet in two referenda, yet we’re still together. How did we do it? Compromise. Or, maybe it was just inertia. When Quebecers twice voted against separation, they didn’t do it out of any overwhelming love of Canada. We’re like an old married couple who just can’t be bothered to split up because dividing up the property would be too much trouble.

Bottom line, in this sesquicentennial year: are we a “great nation”?

Well, no.

We have some greatness to us, to be sure. For a country with a relatively small population spread out over vast tracks of nothingness (a.k.a. Saskatchewan), we’ve been punching above our weight for years. Here’s the thing about Canada. We don’t do everything right – no nation does – but we try. Yes, we treated the indigenous (I think that’s the correct term now) population badly, but hey, we’re trying to make up for it.

Where Canada goes wrong is in our never ending comparison to the U.S. of A. We often judge ourselves solely on comparison to the Americans. Canadians, for example, love our health care system. In poll after poll, we consider public health care to be one of our proudest achievements. But why? Virtually every country in the world has public health care, and many, if not most, do it way better than we do. But we consider it a great triumph because we have public health care, and the Americans don’t. We look at the corrupted American political system, and pride ourselves that money hasn’t completely destroyed our system — just like most other countries. We’re proud that we keep guns under control, but we’re nowhere near as good at it as Britain, Australia, and many other countries. Our entertainers and artists aren’t really great until the American entertainment machine decides they’re great.

Don’t get me wrong, folks. The mere fact that hundreds of thousands of people are knocking down our doors to get in says we’ve got a pretty damn fine country going on here. It’s in the top five for places to live in virtually every survey. A willingness to compromise for the greater good got us where we are.

Are we the best place in the world to live? I don’t know, not having visited every place in the world. But where else would you rather live?

Happy 150th, Canada. See you at the next sesquicentennial.


About Author

Maurice Tougas is editor of Edmonton and Calgary Prime Times. He is the former editor of the Edmonton Examiner, and served for one term as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.