Mike Davies, Editor-in-Chief Ω
What does it mean to be Canadian?
Type that question into any Internet search engine and you’ll see a rather predictable set of results: bloggers celebrating “freedom,” filmmakers exploring “identity” and multicultural organizations celebrating, well, multiculturalism.
But what it means to be Canadian is a fluid concept.
It’s generally accepted that Canadians are a polite, well-mannered, soft-spoken people who keep to themselves and care about each other. We respect nature and democracy and have universal healthcare and excellent public schooling. All of these things are true — compared to many other places on the planet, at least — and yet, there are many who struggle to cut through all these facts (some would say stereotypes) in an attempt to find a “Canadian identity” that is universal.
Why is it important to ascertain this elusive “Canadian” identity? Are we not all individuals?
Does it matter that some of us don’t fit this mold?
Are we looking for this character in order to “correct” people when they fall outside these ideals?
There are those who think this supposed modesty is actually bravado. After all, we’re pretty vocal about how awesomely modest, respectful and caring we are.
“I find the majority of Canadians self-righteous and smug about their country, the excact [sic] same thing they accuse the Americans of,” said one commenter under a MacLean’s story from December 2011 entitled, “Canadians feel like they’re on top of the world: Poll,” in which this national identity and pride is explored.
The commenter was a self-proclaimed “Brit living in Canada…going home next year [because] Canada just does not cut it for me.”
The article itself, while celebrating in Canadian nationalism, confidence and pride, makes some of the same points.
After outlining many of the wonderful facets — and in some regards tenets — of our Canadian lifestyle, the article points out, “[it is] no wonder our confidence levels are soaring. But there’s something else going on too. For almost 50 years, Canadians have prided themselves on their middle-power likeability—the peacekeeping and peace-brokering values instilled in us during the Lester B. Pearson-Pierre Trudeau period of our history. But our growing confidence makes for an ill fit over that old, aw-shucks heritage.”
In other words, the more confidence we display about being Canadian, the less “being Canadian” means what it used to.
Holder of the Canada research chair in law, population health and global development policy and associate professor in the faculties of law and medicine at the University of Ottawa, Amir Attaran agreed with that assertion.
“What made us effective as a middle power in the past is that we were conspicuous about that humility, and therefore threatened nobody. We had wonderful power as an aw-shucks nation. And we don’t have that anymore,” he said.
But should we want — as seems to be the theme here — to be an “aw-shucks” nation, just because that’s what we’ve been in the past?
A “Canadian Citizenship Guide” is issued by the province of P.E.I. (no such document can be found at the government of B.C. website), which outlines what Canadian citizenship means to prospective immigrants. It suggests, “Canadian values include freedom, respect for cultural differences and a commitment to social justice.
We are proud of the fact that we are a peaceful nation,” which doesn’t even imply modesty, or promote being soft-spoken or reserved. The values of equality, respect, freedom, peace, law and order are the values asked of prospective citizens.
“Aw-shucks” doesn’t even come up once.
Then again, I’m not sure how much stock should be placed in this document, since there’s a follow-up quiz at the end in which the first question is “Which of the following is NOT an official Canadian value?” and the possible answers are:
In another MacLean’s article, this one published in June 2012 — a decidedly unscientific “How Canadian Are You” quiz — one Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association for Canadian Studies, said, “We have a pretty positive self-image of ourselves, it’s almost bordering on narcissistic.”
The quiz itself asked a series of questions about the regular, census-like things MacLean’s asks about: income, spending habits, level of education attained, what kind of housing you have and the size of it, and so on, but added a somewhat creepy dimension asking about height, weight and measurements. I guess they were trying to find out what the “average Canadian” looks like and how they live.
The main problem with the survey and results is that it in no way establishes “How Canadian” one is — which is in fact the question in the title of the published work. It doesn’t even attempt to do so.
Are you more Canadian the closer you are to the average? Am I less Canadian because I have a less than average household income ($68,560) and have less than the average credit card debt ($3,462)? Or maybe I’m more Canadian because I’m taller than the average (5’ 9”) and weigh more than the average (187 lbs).
I don’t know how this is supposed to be a “How Canadian Are You” test, but I do have a certain level of respect for one commenter on the piece who said, “I am Canadian enough to not have to ask myself: how ‘Canadian’ am I?”
I’ll tell you this much: When I hear “Oh, Canada” I take of my hat and stand up if I’m seated, I have a red maple leaf tattoo at the base of my neck, I’m proud of (most of) what this country represents and I’ll share that pride with anyone who asks.
That’s as Canadian as I feel I need to be. You can be as Canadian as you feel you need to be, too. That’s one of the other beautiful things about being Canadian.