Canada at 150, With Satisfaction if not Excitement
Canada celebrated its 150th birthday as a nation on July 1.
Not just “ho hum” from south of the border where United States citizens barely notice their northern neighbors unless they appear poised to disintegrate, as was the case associated with the 1995 Quebec referendum.
But also “ho hum” from Canadians who apparently believe a sesquicentennial isn’t that big a deal and are not getting excited. Despite massive advertising preparation and assorted and sundry projects projected to occur throughout the year associated with the commemoration, these activities seem to be noted in passing rather than embraced with delight—a large crowd in Ottawa notwithstanding.
Such is considerably different from 1967—Canada’s centennial—which was marked by a World’s Fair in Montreal, an almost new flag (adopted in 1965), a new metro system, and scores of new buildings and museums.
As close to being newly marrieds (1964), my wife and I visited Montreal’s World Fair. We had a delightful time in good weather and marveled over creative structures such as the U.S. pavilion in a geostatic dome and the Habitat 67 modular housing community, touted as a potential “hanging garden” structure. Nobody gave even a passing thought to the unlikelihood of hanging gardens surviving a Montreal winter or the heating costs of housing designed for warm/dry climates.
It was a much more open and even naïve time, conditioned by substantial growth and general optimism. Canada may have been “born” in 1917 at Vimy Ridge with its 10,000 Canadian casualties, but 50 years later, it was projecting a “coming of age” image of benign peace keeping, fostered by then Prime Minister Lester Pearson, and “punching above its weight in foreign affairs.” And, on a micro basis, the endless “undefended” cliché marking United States and Canada was blithely relaxed. Upon returning from Expo, as a disingenuous pre-Foreign Service couple, my Chinese-American wife re-entered the United States on the strength of a voting card sans photograph.
But now there is “meh.” The 150th is more often viewed as a “bureaucratic creation”—a construct fueled by government money that should have been spent elsewhere. Despite polls suggesting that Canadians are among the world’s happiest people, many appear focused on the half-full elements of their glass: a doggy economy; high taxes (but never high enough on “the rich”); a frustrating health care system demonstrating the limitations of single payer; residual concern over poor treatment of aboriginals who build a teepee to reclaim “their” lands; the prospect of environmental damage somewhere in the never-never; unwanted energy pipelines; coping with drug use and the prospect of unrestricted marijuana use.
Some of this malaise can be attributed to the end of PM Trudeau’s political honeymoon. The bloom is off the rose (so to speak) with actions such as his blithe indifference to a Christmas holiday on the Aga Khan’s private island and Liberal Party fundraising excess. The Liberal Party’s political inability to follow through on campaign promises such as eliminating the “first-past-the-post” voting system (given to a total neophyte minister to shepherd through a predictably hostile opposition) and failure to implement government “transparency” have disappointed.
But enough angst from sea-to-sea-to-sea.
Canada is doing well economically. There are no existential problems of unemployment, fiscal collapse, crime in the streets, or societal disruption. No body bags are generating furor over what you are doing in far-away places to what end? Canada is a multiracial, multicultural, multilingual society with minimal friction in these moving parts. Moreover, the neuralgic “national unity” problem juxtaposing Canada and Quebec that dominated domestic policy for a generation has receded into the never-never. The world does indeed need more Canada—especially, it needs more first world, democratic, free economy, high tech nations with no enemies near at hand.
Perhaps of greatest enjoyment to Canadians is viewing the political spectacle unfolding in the United States. This exercise reflects the trenchant phrase attributed to John Bartlet Brebner: “Americans are benignly ignorant of Canada. Canadians are malevolently well informed about the United States.”
Thus, all of the infelicities of the president, who resembles a bull carrying around his own china shop, are reported with a semi sneer and the equivalent of wry “tut-tutting”—combined with commensurate prayers that smashed chinaware will not include NAFTA and that pieces of the bilateral relationship such as a softwood lumber agreement and even beneficial arrangements over dairy/poultry products survive any rampage.
For our part, we tipped our hats to Canada and wished our northern neighbo(u)rs the very best during a year of satisfied self-appreciation.
David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.