I spent a few days last week in Ottawa, and while I was there I read a rather boorish opinion piece in the Globe and Mail by Jeffrey Simpson, that newspaper’s national affairs columnist. Mr Simpson took exception to the fact that, apparently, almost 90 per cent of Canadians believe they live in “the best country in the world.”
Remember that last Wednesday was Canada Day and I was in the capital to celebrate our country’s birthday—I was in no mood for Canada-bashing.
I happen to be one of those who does believe Canada is the best country in the world. If it is not, then I wish Mr. Simpson would tell us which country is. He cautions:
“There are many admirable aspects of Canada, and we exult in them around Canada Day. But the dangers of thinking of your country as the cat’s meow are hubris and, worse still, a stubborn inability to look problems in the eye or to learn from others.”
Apparently, in Mr. Simpson’s world, loving one’s country and believing it is the “cat’s meow” prevents one from looking problems in the eye or learning from others. Who knew these were mutually exclusive?
He also writes:
“If there is one assertion around which almost all Canadians would rally, it is that the ‘world needs more Canada.’ The assumption supporting this assertion is that we Canadians are so worthy, morally upright and generally well-intentioned that the world would be a better place if it were more like, well, us. Which, in turn, leads Canadians to their deadliest sin: an unsinkable moral superiority.”
Yes, relatively speaking, we Canadians are so worthy, morally upright and generally well-intentioned that the world would be a better place if it were more like us. And I write this without the slightest fear it will lead me to the “deadliest sin: an unsinkable moral superiority.” We have an entire year to contemplate and improve upon our faults—the week of Canada Day is one time I don’t feel I have to dwell on our weaknesses much less remind others of them.
Mr. Simpson then parades before us a laundry list of short-comings:
- worst record for emitting greenhouse-gas emissions
- flogging asbestos around the world
- clubbing baby seals and giving ourselves a black eye in Europe
- the tar sands
- blocking agricultural reform to preserve the protectionist supply management system during the Doha round of the world trade negotiations
- commitment of our troops to NATO’s mission in Afghanistan
- a country excessively dependent not on brain power but on natural resources.
In conclusion, Mr. Simpson graciously acknowledges, “There are admirable aspects of being Canadian, and these have all been justly celebrated on Canada Day.”
How sweet of him to give his permission for us to celebrate. But, like the party pooper he is, he just can’t resist one final warning:
“…self-satisfaction can lead to a refusal to acknowledge weaknesses, to allow patriotism to curb critical thought, to refuse to face hard choices, and to cover a slow, albeit comfortable, slide toward international marginality and domestic mediocrity.”
What a load of poppycock. Perhaps Mr. Simpson allows “patriotism to curb critical thought,” but I very much doubt many of the rest of us do. As to the remainder of that paragraph: baloney!
Some of what Mr. Simpson had to say is accurate—though we did outlaw the clubbing of “baby” seals over 20 years ago. He is especially correct when he writes “there are admirable aspects of being Canadian…” But, of course, he never bothers to spell out any of our virtues, only our faults.
What convinced me that Jeffrey Simpson anti-Canada rant was ill-conceived was his lack of evidence that any other country in the world was better than Canada. Sure, we have faults, but they are fewer and less egregious than those of other countries. In comparison to most other countries in this imperfect world, Canada is an utopia.
Canada Day and the days of that week remind us of how lucky we are and give us the opportunity and reason to celebrate publicly the greatness of our land. How ungracious it is to choose that particular week to spell out the few things that make our country imperfect.
Mr. Simpson: if not Canada, then where?
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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