September 12, 2000
11:51 AM   Subscribe

The Washington Post speculates on the future of Canada. More directly, they question whether it has a future. Is Canada doomed to eventually join the United States?
posted by aaron (25 comments total)
That was some of the most creative 'reporting' I have seen in some time. It really HAS been a slow news summer, hasn't it?

Just as an FYI, several of those quotes are very out of context - they weren't about Canada ceasing to be a separate entity, but about Canadian banking laws, or at least, when they were printed in Canadian media they were about the changing of foreign banking regulations, not about joining the US.

Anyway, nothing gives me a better laugh than an American newspaper that discusses what 'most Canadians' are thinking. Do they take a phone survey for that? How long does it take to poll the 28 odd million Canadians? Coupla days, you think?

posted by kristin at 12:07 PM on September 12, 2000

This sort of thing has been chattered about for ages, and it won't happen (IMHO). However, it is true that some Canadian politicans (usually trying to be provocative) have been quoted saying things like "my city should just go join Maine" or "we'd be better off if we became part of Montana". It's all just sound & fury, trying to coerce the central govt into one scheme or another... (OK, that's the way I see it, but hey I've lived in Canada for nine years so I get to have *some* opinion, right?)
posted by aramaic at 12:17 PM on September 12, 2000

why would any canadian want to become part of the US?

posted by rebeccablood at 12:17 PM on September 12, 2000

Nah, kristin, with scientific polling these days, all they have to do is ask two or three polar bears and they have their answer.

I'm sure that it's an exaggeration to say that Canadians are universally undergoing an identity crisis; the article notes that this compares with a generation ago when the US was down and Canada was up. There wasn't any problem then. Since the Long Boom cannot continue forever, it's easily likely that the positions could reverse once more.

But this isn't new. I remember during the federalism tussle about a decade ago that one prominent Canadian suggested that everything "west of Kenora" (for those not in the know, that's a choke point of sorts near International Falls that coincides with the beginning of the Western provinces) might, as it was termed, fall off like a door on a rusty hinge and bid to join the US.

Canada has undergone more than one significant change in territory (e.g. Newfoundland added 1949) or constitutional structure (from Dominion to Confederation) or economy (NAFTA) every few years or so. These changes must make the idea of moving the furniture around, so to speak, a little more acceptable than they would be to Americans.
posted by dhartung at 12:24 PM on September 12, 2000

"why would any canadian want to become part of the US?".

That's simple: money. They look across the border and see huge salary increases, microscopic tax rates, and they just start salivating. My friends here are almost all desperately eager to leave Canada for the U.S. I'd say that of ten people I know, perhaps seven want to leave Canada. Really. No, really, I'm not kidding.

Personally, I don't see what they're so excited about -- but I get paid in US $$ despite living in Canada, so it's easy for me to criticize them. I like it here, but if I were making 67 cents on the dollar maybe I wouldn't like it so much.
posted by aramaic at 12:28 PM on September 12, 2000

I'm making 67 cents on the dollar, and I like it just fine.

My problem with this article is that the picked quotes seem to indicate that, as a country, we have to define ourselves as being not Americans. Once we lose the ability to make that definition, we're a de facto state.

First off, the distinction isn't all that great. As a pair of nations, we've got a whole lot of shared history. Much of what went into making the United States a country went into making Canada a country, with only one fundamental difference when the distinction was made: Canadians didn't want to severe ties with Britain, Americans felt they needed to become independant.

One tiny little difference is what so many people think our national identity is based on, and many of my fellow Canadians thinks that somehow makes the two countries discrete entities.

I personally feel there's many other distinctions that give Canada a distinct identity. I don't know about other Canadians, and certainly not Americans, but the times I've been to the states, there are stark cultural differences, and not just punctuating every sentence with "eh."

I don't think there's a concrete way to define our identity, and I don't think the proper way to do so is to point to our differences and say "There! Because we don't have these traits!" is the proper way to do it. It seems awfully negative.

We're not better than Americans because of our differences, is what I'm trying to say, and people - despite beer company rants trying to induce the opposite - are starting to realise that.

That's why you get people who'll say we're fundamentally the same.

That, by the way, is something I agree with. Reading American personal web pages, I see more similarities with people than I do differences. Those similarities are a Good Thing, they aren't the loss of our country.
posted by cCranium at 1:10 PM on September 12, 2000

"despite beer company rants" -- any time something can be turned into a beer ad, it has already lost it's value and is now useful only for kitsch. But maybe that's just me being cynical about beer ads....

Lastly, I gotta say that I don't understand why Canadian pundits have this national obsession with defining the intricate nature of Canada. It resembles a national inferiority complex, imposed from above. Every few years there seems to be a paroxysm of self-doubt and sudden claims that "Canada is X", "Canada is Y" etc etc. Kinda silly. Canada simply is and that ought to be enough. Nations don't need Mission Statements.

As cCranium pointed out, Canadian pundits are always defining Canada in the negative -- as the absence of something. That's twisted, and it doesn't reflect on Canada, it reflects on the pundits.
posted by aramaic at 1:29 PM on September 12, 2000

aramaic: You've explained my beef with the entire "Canada is great because it isn't America" mindset far more succinctly than I ever could. Thank you.
posted by cCranium at 1:39 PM on September 12, 2000

I've lived in Canada for 21 years and just a month ago, I moved out to San Francisco. Just for a few months. But now that I'm here, I definitely notice major differences in the mannerisms of people here, as opposed to back home. I don't want to get into that right now.

But still, I'd have to agree with the article in certain regards. Canadian culture is largely dictated by American culture. No question there. But, is that really much different than the rest of the world? The real issue here is the globalisation of the American way, as far as I'm concerned. This article exists because the US and Canada have coalesced into this crazy master-sidekick relationship, where we're feeding off the popularity of the big guy, the States.

I rarely buy American things when I can buy the equivalent Canadian thing. Sounds cheap and desperate in a way, I know, but until Canadians stop suckling the teat of the US's mass media machine, there's no shot for a "national identity". Not that I really care about a national identity.
posted by Succa at 2:20 PM on September 12, 2000

Two reasons to like and live in Canada: Terrance & Phillip.
posted by Popstar at 2:23 PM on September 12, 2000

...or Doug and Bob McKenzie...
posted by Steven Den Beste at 2:48 PM on September 12, 2000

There sure are a lot of Canadians here. No wonder Metafilter's gone to pot. heh.

posted by daveadams at 3:33 PM on September 12, 2000

On the surface, the author is right in saying that Canadians and Americans are quite similar. From the perspective of language, the products we buy, the sports we watch, and our intertwined economies, he is correct. However, when you examine the subtleties between the cultures, we are quite different.

At the risk of sounding like a certain beer ad, we do practice cultural integration rather than assimilation. Anyone who has been to Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, or any other city large enough to see the well defined and easily visible cultural separations can tell you that Canada is a cultural quilt, rather than the melting pot of America.

The concepts and practices of those involved with law and order are also quite different. The US has a 70% approval rating for capital punishment, which is almost a mirror image of Canada. Police departments (which is the preferred term over "police force" in Canada) are more inclined to "protect and serve" than to "enforce laws". If you drive into New York City from Connecticut, you'll see three signs in a row that explain some ordinance, followed by "It's the law," as if the law were a threat. That doesn't happen in Canada. And I'm sure I don't even need to get into gun control, as the differences there are rather obvious.

There are many, many examples of these subtle differences. The end of the article says that the author spent some time in Canada, but if so how could he miss these things?

As for the brain drain, there is some reason for concern there. Because of the tax system, and the recent lottery-like IPO atmosphere in the US, a number of people were drawn to the US to try and hit it big. Mind you, a number of Americans have been drawn to various tech centers (like San Francisco) from their home towns in middle America as well. And some people are here, like myself, because they went to a US university for whatever reason (mine was rowing, along with a good education). Whatever the reason though, most of these emigrants, like myself, would like to return to Canada at some point, as a recent survey in Canada showed (it was in the National Post about 6 or 8 months ago). When the economy turns here in the US, I think that the situation will change.

I don't mean for this to sound like US bashing - it's not. I like many things about the US, or I wouldn't live here. Of course there are a lot of things I absolutely hate about the US as well (most of them involving politics and Christian Coalition-esque stupidity), but over all it's a nice place and it's idiotic to American-bash, except in fun. Just as it's idiotic for Americans to write articles saying that Canada is ready to fold.
posted by mzanatta at 5:23 PM on September 12, 2000

This article would have been a lot funnier had the joke been better thought out. As it is, this particular gag has been done to death and the article didn't offer enough of a new twist on it to be all that memorable.


(p.s. oh, the author was trying to be serious? how sad...)
posted by Mars Saxman at 5:56 PM on September 12, 2000

Canadian newspapers have cryptic crosswords. That, more than the Queen on the money, is why I like Canada.
posted by holgate at 6:04 PM on September 12, 2000

I live right on the border and worked for a couple years in a maquiladora north plant.

They were having difficulty finding workers due to a hot Michigan economy, so they figured they'd simply hop across the border and make use of our high unemployment. Not even figuring for the exchange rate, we were still being paid a couple dollars less an hour, with zero opportunities for advancement.

So we're stuck up here freezing, with apparently constrained futures, for what seems a false distinction, a lot of cheap sentiment about our social values and our medicare, while our elites, politicians, technically skilled and highly educated pop back and forth across the border, picking up 150% dollars and sunning themselves in the winter.

And leave the rest of us with beer ads during the hockey playoffs.
posted by TimTypeZed at 6:08 PM on September 12, 2000

Wow, well said, mzanatta. I have a US passport, though I've lived in Canada my whole life. US job offers are often tempting, but there aren't very many places in the US where I'd live. For the last six months or so, I've been thinking of moving, just for the experience, but Europe seems a lot more attractive (despite being less lucrative) than the US.Canada isn't going anywhere.
posted by sylloge at 6:27 PM on September 12, 2000

Reading this article almost makes me angry. I can't explain it. It's not ferocious national pride, though. I just can't believe they let such stupid people write for a "reputable" newspaper like the Washington Post.

Canada really doesn't have that strong a history. Everyone and their mother knows who the President of the United States. Heck, I'm only 20, but I could name you every U.S. President going back to JFK in order of their presidencies. Fact of the matter is, we have a rich history, but it's not well known. We're given a few history classes in high school and that's about it. We learn about the explorers, fur traders, Indians, etc. Even learn a few of the Prime Ministers' names.

But what sets Canada apart is our distinct multiculturalism. In the 80's, the United States tried to create this great "melting pot" where all cultures would eventually get melted together into one larger culture. Most would agree that this was somewhat of a failed endeavour. However in Canada, we embrace our different ethnic backgrounds, and for the most part, it strengthens all of us. It's not that we have a weak culture. It's diversified.

And that's the difference. I'll admit that we do get a lot of stuff from the United States, but ask any Canadian if they'd give up their country to manifest destiny and I don't think you'd hear a single yes.
posted by PWA_BadBoy at 7:35 PM on September 12, 2000

Australia will probably join the US federation before Canada does. Ooooo, handguns!
posted by lagado at 7:42 PM on September 12, 2000

Hmm ... if Canada really became part of USA, who would be winning the Gore-Bush election there? How will be the electoral votes be assigned?

Everyone I know say Toronto is much better than New York and ... from observation I can say, they are just HAPPIER with their lives. Most don't even mind the tax rates or the lower salary range.

Some how people on this side of the border have more regrets.
posted by tamim at 7:44 PM on September 12, 2000

The day those communist bastards join the US is the day I move to Canada!!

Wait a minute . . .
posted by aladfar at 9:06 PM on September 12, 2000

Everyone I know say Toronto is much better than New York . . .

Not to pick on you Tamim (too late), but it's exactly sentiments like these that are causing the "national identity crisis" in Canada. I live in, and love Toronto. It's a great city. If only the inhabitants of the city would stop comparing it to New York and start accepting it on its own merits, the city would have a chance at coming into its own. (take the same attitude and apply it to the country and the same effect may ensue)

It seems that most humans have a need to understand their environment and their function in that environment.
And, as has been pointed out previously, Canada isn't the only nation suffering from "Americanization". Canada is, however, the only nation that is more resistant to its own history and cultural products than to its southern neighbours. I know many people that will instantly change the channel if they realize a show or film is Canadian. (ask yourself...when's the last time I saw a Canadian film in the theatre)
Until this nation develops a more unified notion of what "Canada" means outside of the greater generalizations and stereotypes, our understanding of the enviroment around us and our place in that environment will be in a constant state of confusion.

posted by Ms Snit at 12:25 AM on September 13, 2000

Until this nation develops a more unified notion of what "Canada" means outside of the greater generalizations and stereotypes, our understanding of the enviroment around us and our place in that environment will be in a constant state of confusion.

See, this is where I disagree. The US has the advantage and disadvantage of being a nation formed with a mission statement. Everybody knows about the Platonic ideal of the US from its founding documents, and what makes it a fascinating place for outsiders is the way in which that ideal contrasts with the reality of the place. Canada's far closer to most other countries in that its nationhood "just happened".

Britain's facing the same quesitons right now, particularly after devolution in the "Celtic" nations: the Scots and Welsh, and the two traditions in Northern Ireland, have a much more keenly felt sense of their national identities than the English, in part because they're much smaller, homogeneous communities, but mainly because that nationalism has been formed in opposition to the "bloody English".

Which leaves "English nationalism" in an anomolous position, since it's most often associated with the right-wing bigotry of the National Front and the drunken thuggery of the travelling football fan.

But I think that Canadians should be glad not to deal with that overarching 18th-century mission statement of its southern neighbour. Because it enables a certain pragmatism towards nationhood: an acknowledgement of the fact that the Canada of 2000 isn't the Canada of 1900 or 1950, and certainly not some written-down Canada of the idealistic imagination.
posted by holgate at 4:58 AM on September 13, 2000

My observation having visited Canada many times is that while there isn't a national identity whatsoever there does seem to be more of a provincial identification. Parties exist on a province-by-province basis, and quirks in the parliamentary system can undermine the development of a national polity (like the PQ being the national opposition. Or maybe that's appropriate?).

Well, I still think that Canada rocks, and it's not just the Labatt's commercial: "Because anything can happen when you drink in the afternoon." Nice.
posted by norm at 5:47 AM on September 13, 2000

Ms. Snit: "I know many people that will instantly change the channel if they realize a show or film is Canadian. (ask yourself...when's the last time I saw a Canadian film in the theatre)"

You mean to say that Canadians are missing out on Mia Kirshner? That is really bad.
posted by tamim at 9:30 AM on September 13, 2000

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