Essay: Being Canadian

Canada explained and admired, in 5,000 words or so.

(Written 2003, Last updated in August 2005)

I’m revising this essay in July 2005, a few days after the 138th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation. Happy birthday, Canada! The last few years have been a time of remarkable changes in this country, changes that continue to enhance Canada’s reputation as one of the best countries in the world.

In 2002-2005, for instance, Canada…

  • joined the Kyoto Accord,
  • restricted corporate political contributions,
  • hinted at decriminalisation of soft drugs,
  • allowed same-sex marriages,
  • enhanced its health care system,
  • maintained strong economic growth,
  • protected its ethnic minorities against discrimination,
  • successfully fought unfair trade restrictions,
  • supported safe-injection sites for drug users,
  • saw its dollar climb in value,
  • fought terrorism and
  • produced budget surpluses.
  • Oh, and it didn’t invade Iraq. (You may have heard about it.)

Granted, it suffered from

  • a few mad cows,
  • West Nile disease,
  • natural disasters,
  • a bout of SARS,
  • resurgent separatism,
  • frostier relations with the United States,
  • one big honking political scandal and
  • got downgraded from its first position of the United Nation’s list of the best nations to life in, but hey –it’s hard to stay on top! (At #4, it’s even harder to complain.)

These changes have been rapid, but not without precedent nor approval. They are taking place in a context that may be unique in the world. If anything, the past few year have taught me a lot about my own country. In this essay, I’ll try to share with Canadians and non-Canadians alike, a few of my conclusions and convictions about this incredible country of mine. I’m sorry to say that in doing so, I will have to give you a ten-minute course on Canadian geography, history and politics.  It’s not enough to say that “Canada is a kinder, gentler society” or that “Canada is from Venus while the United States are from Mars”, without explaining why and how we’ve come to that point.

Who am I to write these things? Not a qualified specialist, that’s for sure: I’m a French-Canadian by birth (but a bilingual citizen by practice), a federal public servant, a science-fiction reader and a Saturn driver.  My training is in computers, though I’ve always had a fascination for the social sciences.  I’m too easily exasperated by stupidity to be a perfectly representative Canadian, but I do aspire to the “typically Canadian” values: I believe that modesty, politeness, negotiation and tolerance are qualities worth striving for. I’m not a historian, a sociologist or an academic but I do love Canada, in all of its strengths and imperfections. So allow me a few minutes of your time, and please be indulgent as I write some pro-Canadian propaganda.

On the perils of nationalism and sharing a borders with the United States

The worst danger in praising a particular country is to denigrate others in doing so. This is why I want to make very clear, from the onset, that I’m not going to try to prove that Canada is the best country in the world to the exclusion of all others. There are plenty of other admirable countries in the world.  I would easily picture myself living in the United States, England, France, Belgium, New Zealand or Australia.  Remove the language barrier, and suddenly Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Germany and dozen of other countries are perfectly suitable. In many ways, there are no “best countries”, but there are “most appropriate” countries for different temperaments and attitudes. (Hence the elusive “Canadian character” we will discuss.)

And this leads us directly to one particularly contentious issue. It has been said that Canadian national identity has been shaped almost solely by the obsession not to be American. While overly simplistic, this quip has a kernel of truth in that if Canada is to compare itself to other nations, the most logical suspect is always America. Canadian values are, by and large, identical to those of the United States, especially when you consider the alternatives: Can Canada fairly compare itself to third-world countries? Of course not: the average citizen’s standard of living alone makes such comparisons meaningless.  Canada must be fairly compared to other western democracies if we’re to make any useful conclusions. And even then, Canada’s affinities with the Unites States on cultural, economic and technological levels runs far deeper than with any other country.

Hence most of the comparisons below will be with the United States. Do understand that this is in no way anti-Americanism: As Canadian politician Robert Thompson once said, “The Americans are our best friends –whether we want it or not.” Demonizing the United States would be stupid for a writer (and a country) whose culture is irremediably emmeshed with America.

But Canada and the United States are such close cousins that, inevitably, discussion of the Canadian identity in a global context often comes to saying “we are like Americans… except for some very important differences.” And to the majority of humans around the world, this is truth: Canadians are exactly like Americans (rich, healthy, educated, naive, wasteful)… except for some very important differences.  So, many apologies to Americans for what will follow, but this essay has a world-wide audience after all. It’s not as if passive-aggressive apologies for criticism of the United States aren’t already a Canadian tradition.

Canada: A short lesson in Geography

To understand Canada, one must know a few things about its geography.  Don’t worry; this won’t take long.

Canada is big. Unimaginably big. It’s the second largest country in the world after Russia. And, like Russia, Canada is both cold and empty. Canadians know all about Winter.  Bone-chilling, minus-thirty-Celsius-degrees winter from December to March of every year.

We do have summers, mind you.  May to August is usually a pretty good time to be a Canadian, with temperatures reaching a sunny 30°C as it does down south. But frankly, every other country has such summers. Winters, on the other hand… they can’t be negotiated with, they can’t be reasoned with. They have to be endured. By their first birthday, all Canadians learn to accept one very simple fact: Winter will kill you if you let it do so. So we learn to accept it and to make the best of it. We wear more clothing. Shovel the driveway. Stay inside. Study weather patterns.

Some have proposed that this is one of the things that have fostered the Canadian tradition of tolerance. There are things that cannot be fought or conquered, and winter is the first of them. Maybe. Suffice to say that the cold season is the great Canadian commonality.

And it’s just as well, because otherwise there are few other common elements in Canadian geography. Moving quickly from east to west, we find the rocky shores of Eastern Canada, the green forests of Quebec and Ontario, the plain plains of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Rocky mountains and the rainy Pacific coast of western British Columbia. Go north, and there are millions of square kilometres of permanently frozen tundra in the three territories.  This variance in geography has profound effects on the makeup of every region in Canada.  It’s one of the reasons why provinces have such an importance in Canadian politics. It regularly gives headaches to the federal government, which has to compromise and accommodate Canadians with very different goals. But don’t worry: we’ll come back to that later.

Climate aside, the availability of natural resources is the other geographic factor of importance to the Canadian identity. Canada is a world leader in lumber, mines and petroleum extraction. The country is the third-largest producer of natural gas, the thirteenth largest producer of crude oil, and the world’s fifth leading producer of gold. By 2008, Canada will be the world’s third largest producer of diamonds.. To this, you have to add Canada’s incredible supply of fresh water (and hydroelectric power) and its powerful agriculture and lumber industries. Canada has become an industrialized country on the strength of its natural resources.

Canada: A short lesson in history

Canada was, of course, first settled by the various groups we now know as “Native Americans”. There would be an entirely different essay to be written concerning the past and present treatment of Aboriginal People in Canada (few of it positive), but that’s not a subject I want to tackle here. Suffice to say that Indian and Northern Affairs continue to be a controversial subject even today, especially when coupled with the recent creation of a third territory (Nunavut), the second under Aboriginal political leadership.

But as far as most are concerned, Canadian history begins with the arrival of Jacques Cartier in 1534. At the time, Portugal and Spain are bringing back tons of gold from the New World, and France wants a piece of that. Unfortunately, being a latecomer to America, France has to claim territories farther up north, and the gold concentration in what would become the Saint-Laurent waterway isn’t particularly high.

Still, France thinks it’s a good idea to colonize, and so is born “la Nouvelle France”, later “Lower Canada” and then Québec. Meanwhile, the British are settling in what would become the Eastern American seaboard, and pushing inside the continent to “Upper Canada” (later Ontario). If you want to know why Quebec and Ontario have such a disproportionate influence in Canadian politics, looks no further than a breakdown of Canada’s population by provinces. More than half of all Canadian live in one or the other. A full third (11 out of 30 million people) in Ontario alone.

Tensions in North America mirrored those on the European continent, and when England and France fought, so did the colonies. In 1759, French forces were defeated during “la bataille des plaines d’Abraham“, leading to an English takeover of all French colonies in the New World. This event eventually became “la conquête” in the mind of several militant French-Canadians and the kernel that would later give rise to the Quebec separatist movement. (Like many dogmatic icons, it’s only half-true: among other things, it ignores that in 1763, France simply gave up much gave away Nouvelle-France to Great Britain under the terms of the Treaty of Paris.)

The next important event in Canadian history happened, inevitably enough, south of the border.  In 1776, the American revolution against British rule began. When it was all over, the United States were created, driving thousands of British Loyalists north to the territories still controlled by England. Most of those would eventually settle down in Upper Canada (Ontario), further boosting the area’s population. This influx of faithful, upstanding British subjects to Upper-Canada not only had a deep demographic impact, but also did much to form the Canadian national character, halfway between England and the United States, sympathetic to old-world traditions yet suspicious of Americans. Loyalist belief in a strong rule of law (as opposed to what they saw as mob democracy) would have a deep and lasting impact in traditional Canadian trust in good government.

Tensions ran high between the United States and the British (eventually resulting in the war of 1812, in which British troops not only repelled an American invasion of Canada, but went down south and burned down the White House) and this, in the 1860s, eventually led to the Confederation of the then-four Canadian provinces: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. 1867 is now generally considered to be the birth year of Canada, even though true Canadian independence would take much longer, as more and more rights were ceded back to the British colonies (including Australia and New Zealand) by England. (Our national flag, for instance, was only adopted in 1965!)

It would be simplistic, but not untrue, to point out that the path to independence taken by Canada and the United States is deeply emblematic of the difference between the two countries. Look at the name of their national holidays: Independence Day versus Confederation Day. Secession and Union. The States fought and obtained their independence much earlier, and based their system of government on mutual distrust of power. Canada, on the other hand, first united itself and then progressively demanded rights back from England, basing its political system on the British tradition of consensus-building. Even today, Canada is not entirely independent from British rule (the Queen is still the formal head of Canada) and its political system is one where centrist positions are invariably the key to political power.

Also worth considering is the role that Canada has played in the two World Wars, and WW2 in particular. Many consider the wars to have been turning points in Canadian autonomy vis-à-vis Great Britain. The bravery of Canadians in combat (in Dieppe, for instance) did much to convince England that Canada was a country that could take care of its own destiny. And yet, as Canada’s dependence on England diminished, analysts were left free to contemplate the country’s growing reliance on the United States. (In some ways, Canada has always been obsessed by the subject of Canadian autonomy, whether the perceived treat be British or American.)

Canada’s subsequent involvement in the creation of the United Nations, circa 1945-1950, clearly showed the path Canadian foreign policy has taken since then. Canada believes in negotiation and mediation. It does not have a colonial past and does not aspire to an imperial future. Canada does not have military ambitions: by virtue of size, power and politeness, it believes that multilateralism is the only way to lasting peace: Our involvement in the United Nations is the logical extension of our foreign policy.

The latest step in Canadian independence took place in 1982, as Canada repatriated its constitution from Britain and, perhaps more significantly, adopted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom as the overriding document governing the actions of the Canadian government. Roughly the equivalent of the American Bill of Rights, the Charter has not only enshrined generally-recognized rights in law, but has since proven remarkably successful in guiding the courts and Parliament in implementing social reforms that rival any other country in the world. Not bad for a nation that, after WW2, was divided between staid British subjects (officially, Canadian Citizenship was only “created” in 1947) and God-fearing French-Canadians (Before the influence of the Catholic church in Quebec was diminished by the Quiet Revolution). We’ve come a long way.

The last event of note in “big” Canadian history would actually flow from the repatriation of the Constitution. Last-minute compromises between the provinces led to an exclusion of Quebec from the process, leading to a constitutional crisis, then another attempt (the “Meech Accord”) to integrate Quebec’s demands, then a national referendum in 1992 to adopt the Accord (rejected), then finally, in 1995, to a second referendum on Quebec’s separation (rejected).

Since then, separatist fever has cyclically abated and risen, leading one to think that the issue will never be settled by a decisive victory, but through sheer exhaustion. Optimists say that Canada will eventually out-talk its most divisive issue.

(But don’t take my word for it. There are other, rather more well-researched short histories of Canada out there. And they weren’t written in less than an hour.)

Canada: A short lesson in politics

Canada has a parliamentary political system inherited from the British tradition. As such, it’s a system in which “winner takes all”: If a party can elect more Members of Parliament (MPs) than all other parties combined, it gets to lead the country for a period of up to five years. But if it’s in a minority position (less than half the total number of MPs), it can be defeated by an alliance between other parties, leading to another election.

This being said, even a majority government can’t escape daily debate on policy issues in Parliament; the Prime Minister him/herself can be taken to task on specific issues by other MPs. Unlike the American political system, based on mutual check and balances between three political bodies, Canada trusts and promotes good responsible government. Curiously, the danger of having a unchecked majority government is almost never raised as a serious problem. Even critical works tend to have titles such as The Friendly Dictatorship. Go figure. It seems to be working well most of the time.

As a result of many factors, most of Canadian Political history has been a succession of Tory (Conservative) and Grit (Liberal) governments. Unlike the polarized American environment, however, both Liberals and Conservatives are usually centrist in nature: Building a coalition to appeal to all Canadians inevitably entails compromises that make even an “opposition” party tolerable to members of the other. By and large, Canadians tend to be wary of extremists alike, mitigating any radical polarization of national politics so common to other countries. This middle-of-the-road set of ideologies has had curious repercussions, such as the Conservatives having the first woman Prime Minister and the Liberals balancing the budget after years of bipartisan deficits.

But in the early nineties, something remarkable happened in Canadian politics: The Progressive-Conservative government, dogged by unpopular policy decisions (a national sales tax, a free-trade agreement), scandals, perception of arrogance and the creation of two new political parties (the even more conservative Reform party, based in West Canada, and the separatist Bloc Quebecois, in Quebec) were essentially destroyed by the 1992 federal elections, going from 150+ MPs to just two. Liberals were swept into power, and her Majesty’s official opposition became the Bloc Quebecois, a party whose main goal was the separation of Quebec. Only in Canada…

Ten years later, the Liberals are still in power, with two parties on the right (the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance) and two on the left (The Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party), with no change in sight unless another centrist party rises to propose a serious alternative.

In June 2004, the most exciting federal election in decades produced a result that could be be described as uniquely Canadian: Dogged by scandals and a perception of arrogance (hm; familiar), the Liberals retained power, but in a minority position. Conservatives got nearly a third of all MPs, with the rest given to the separatist Bloc Québécois and the left-leaning NDP. Portrait of a nation? Almost. Portent of interesting things to follow? You bet; the 2004-2005 political season was filled with razor-thin confidence votes, high-profile defections, shifts and counter-shifts in popular support, audacious political deals, silly scandalous revelations and other exciting stuff. Until the next elections, any bill of law will have to be back by at least two, maybe even three parties to become law. Expect an unprecedented level of cooperation and concensus-building, or else another election quite soon.

This is a useful indicator of how Canadians think in general: While there are a variety of political opinions from one ocean to the other, the shape of Canadian politics is a bell curve where most feel comfortable in the middle, with a careful progression towards more progressive values.  Canadians are quite capable to combine conservative fiscal policies (say, a balanced budget) with liberal social policies (say, multiculturalism) to appeal to a wide spectrum of voters. And voters like it! They have already callously humbled -indeed, almost wiped out- one of Canada’s major federal parties; they can do it again if they so choose. (…and regularly toy with the idea.)

If you must compare it to American politics, it’s difficult to escape the evidence that for more than two hundred years, the United States have had two parties, and an increasingly disturbing tendency to polarize opinions on one side or the other.  It deals with a false left-right spectrum where the “American Left” is still relatively conservative. American politics are carefully designed to disallow a third opinion, hence Democrat/Republican see-saws on all political levels, from state governance to presidency. (Fortunately for you, I’m not about to touch Canadian provincial politics, except to say that they’re not the same as the federal politics.) To be overly flippant, you can say that Canadians are defined by what unites them while Americans are united by what doesn’t define them.

(As an aside: It’s unfortunate that American politics keep perpetuating the “rich white men” stereotype of the establishment. Compare, as a rough proxy of political mobility, the proportion of foreign-born Canadian MPs (15%) to the number of black US senators: one, as of November 2004 –Illinois Democrat Barack Obama. And he’s only the third black senator ever since the Reconstruction. Mercifully, I’m not even going to compare the average re-election percentage of US congressmen vs Canadian MPs, nor point out how many second-generation politicians there are in the US vs Canada.)

Mixing it all together

Now that we’ve gone through this painful moment (you had to read it, but I had to write it), let’s take a look at how geography, history and politics all combine to make Canada what it is today.

A geography rich in natural resources (the vast majority of which are as of yet untapped) has given Canada its engine of economic growth. Canada has had the strength and the cleverness to parlay those incredible natural resources into a modern post-industrial economy: While keeping its place as a provider or raw materials, Canada is also a leader in telecommunications, aeronautics and biotechnology.  With a population of only 30 millions, we sit at the G-8 table and can hold our own against the 270-million-strong United States.  Our life expectancy is the twelfth-best in the world, at 76 years for men and 83 years for women.

The relatively isolated location of Canada has been both a blessing and a curse: It has made the United States our biggest commercial partner (reciprocally so), and has also considerably simplified our defence policy. We realize that our best defensive weapons are the oceans and don’t have to spend all that much on military expenditures. The only enemy with the capacity to invade us are the United States (a fact well worth considering whenever they’re asking us to spend more money on defence). A few unkind Americans always criticize the Canadian fixation on social programs at the expense of military spending, suggesting that Canada benefits from the American defence umbrella. But the question remains; what are they protecting us from? Geography, not American artillery, is what has freed this country from excessive military expenditures to the benefit of social programs.

Geography was also influenced the almost fanatical devotion to negotiation that is at the heart of Canadian politics. On a nearly-yearly basis, the prime minister of the country meets his provincial counterparts to discuss issues of interest to both parties; such meetings are unheard-of elsewhere in the world. For years, federal-provincial politics looked a lot like a purely Canada-versus-Quebec issue, due to the strong separatist movement in the French-speaking province.  While this has varied somewhat with the ebbs of separatist fervour in Quebec (where this is often seen as a tired issue after years of fruitless bickering and stable socioeconomic conditions), this has honed the ability of the Canadian government to make compromises.  Shows of forces are as rare as unanimous agreements in federal-provincial relations; everyone would rather argue, compromise and then complain some more for the cameras.

Many Canadians do not understand the importance of the delicate balance between French and English in shaping the Canadian character. And yet, it may be its most distinctive trait: Even since the English takeover of “la Nouvelle-France”, political decisions have been affected by a constant tension: most decisions shaping national policy had to take in account the wishes and desires of both linguistic groups. Even today, the two halves of Canada are still very different; francophone tend to be far more progressive, less aggressive, more left-leaning than their Anglophones counterparts. But the demographic weight of Francophones (now down to 23%, which is still considerable) has always forced Canadian institutions to be as inclusive as possible.  This has been most visible at the religious level: Historically, it wasn’t just a question of language, but also of religion: Anglophones were (mostly) Protestant whereas Francophones were (overwhelmingly) Catholic. As a result, Canada has, early on, established fully secular political institutions where the issue was deliberately avoided. Politicians seldom make a show out of going to church, and none would be caught saying something so outlandish as “God bless Canada”, because, hey, that would break the separation of church and state.

The policies adopted in order to make Canada an acceptable country for both Francophones and Anglophones have achieved much and continue to do so. Bilingualism has logically led to multiculturalism, a set of policies where, unlike the American “melting pot” in which all are encouraged to become Americans, there is a wide acceptance for multicultural identities as the Canadian identity. This makes Canada an unusually friendly country for immigrants, another policy which is entirely in synch with our tradition of immigration and tolerance. The impact of this particular facet of our national character has yet to be fully understood, but it certainly places Canada’s institutions in a much better position to deal with social change than most of the other first-world countries. This duality and diversity, in turn, feeds into the national tradition of laissez-faire: few Canadians are strongly opposed to the concept of immigration (though specifics may be hard to reconcile) and the influx of people with very different views (as of 2001, 18% of all Canadians were foreign-born) will have a snowball effect on current attitudes.

The Canadian character is a mixture of many things: French stubbornness, English stoicism, American determination and European sophistication. But it’s going to become even more inclusive in the next few decades, as more and more facets of the world are going to find their place in Canada.  Unlike countries fighting useless against globalization and inclusiveness, one of Canada’s biggest strength -as a modern, self-assured society- will be to take from other cultures what it wants as part of its own.  It will bend against the winds of intolerance, and grow even stronger by resisting the obvious, brutish appeal of bigotry.  Canada will not fight; it will embrace. It will not reject; it will absorb. It will not fear; it will learn. People of the world, welcome. We have much to share.

But let’s not be too cocky.

Modesty is a Canadian virtue, and it also suggests that we should take some time to reflect on the shortcomings of Canada.

While Canada has a history mostly untouched by the stains of racism, colonialism and interventionism (compared to other countries, that is), our treatment of First Nations has often been a subject of national shame. Most of the worst excesses are well behind us, and recent initiatives such as Nunavut and Quebec’s far-reaching negotiations with First Nations for the development of the North are indicative of the progress we’ve made. But this must continue: too many of Canada’s Aboriginal People are still living in poverty,
fuelling violence and neglect that doesn’t have any place in our country.  It wouldn’t be fair to avoid suggesting that the First Nations also have some work to do themselves (the lifestyle promoted by the internal management of reserves is, in many ways, a self-fulfilling tragedy), but Canada should not forget its history, nor shirk away from its responsibilities in this regard.

Another area where Canada shouldn’t forget its past in in the field of national defence. While Canada has willingly rejected nuclear weapons and has no intention of building an offensive capability, our willingness to promote Canadian values suggests that we cannot turn a blind eye to atrocities around the world. This must be achieved by the maintenance of an adequate military contingent (one whose training will be focused on peacekeeping, and one whose officer/soldier ratio will be more adequate than it is today) and a capable foreign policy. Our support for NATO and the United Nations must be strong, smart and appropriate. We will need to pay more attention to trouble spots around the globe and suggest multilateral intervention before situations escalate beyond control. We must continue to fight terrorism, not at the expense of civil liberties, but by good regulations and polite foreign policy to avoid being a tempting target. We will deal with totalitarian regimes through economic sanctions (like the successful Canadian-led Commonwealth sanctions against South Africa in the eighties) and multilateral intervention (like in Bosnia during the mid-nineties) if needed. We will not only use the best of the rest of the world and integrate it to Canadian society, but export the best of our values and suggest them to other countries.  We have a lot of ground to cover on this issue, and the sooner we get started, the better.

The increasingly multicultural population of Canada poses challenges of its own; we will have to manage this transition without becoming a country of isolated cultures. There is a definite danger that some unsavoury foreign conflicts and attitudes may cause tension as different ethnicities mingle. Our cities must not become battleground for gangs; our political chambers must not be allowed to become arenas of oppression. We have avoided this so far (racial tensions may not be inexistent, but they’re far less extreme than in other areas of the world) and we must continue to do so. Anglophones and Francophones were able to get along: so will everyone else.

Canada’s generous social programs have always been tempting targets for cutbacks, and their management has seldom being exemplary. In many areas, the health care system is insufficient and inefficient; throwing more money at the thing may make it work a little better, but the debate surrounding it will always be difficult; the only way to make it a little easier to bear is to make the system as efficient and as cost-effective as possible.  Paying down the national debt (currently more than $500 billion) is directly concurrent with this issue, and should be considered a complementary goal; Pay down more of the debt now (debt interest payments alone are sucking down 20% of our national budget) and free up extra dollars for health care later. But how strongly should each issue be dealt with? We’re still lucky in that the Canadian economy has been doing well for quite a while, but things may not be so rosy at some point, and this tension will not disappear.

Finally, the relationship between Canada and the United States has always been a delicate subject, and that’s unlikely to change as long as there will be ill-intentioned individuals on both sides of the border, sometimes even high up in government. Both Canada and the United States have things to learn about each other, but Canada has an advantage in this area: American-watching is a national sport up north, as we’re keenly aware than anything that happens over there can have significant impacts here.  Ex-Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau once said to Americans, “living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”. It remains to be seen, however, if the Americans have the same degree of awareness, or even most than a slight care for the impacts of their policies. Then there’s the fact that the Canadian beaver will always be a tempting prey for the American eagle, and that’s one thing than Canadians will never forget.

The future of Canada

One of Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s most celebrated declaration was that “as the nineteenth century was the century of the United States, so shall the twentieth century belong to Canada.”  We’ve come along way since then, going from a pre-industrial, scarcely literate country under England’s wing to a respected member of the world community, a member of the G-8, a nation where fantastic opportunities await everyone willing to work at it.

But at the same time, it’s hard to avoid thinking that Laurier was premature in his prediction. (heck, even the first part of his quote was early by a hundred years.) Canada is poised to improve its standing as one of the best countries in the world.  Our economy is healthy; our society is vibrant and diverse; our national resources are numerous; our citizens are informed, dynamic and well-behaved.

Demographic trends suggest that in the decades to come, Canada will change from its current white Caucasian majority to a patchwork that will increasingly reflect the world –except better. Our growth, our cleverness and our strength depends on Canada’s diversity. We already have the required foundations -equality, respect, tolerance- for becoming the world’s first truly representative nation.  All that is needed now is for the world’s best minds to come and join us in building this future country.

Not only is Canada one of the best countries in the world right now, but it’s uniquely positioned to stay this way. Its citizenship policies are friendly to immigrants; the consequent demographic growth will increase both our population and our influence unlike the aging, shrinking Europe.  The reputation of Canada around the world is indifferent at worst and highly respected at best, somewhat unlike current sentiment against the United States. Our economy is based on solid fundamentals; resource-rich lands, resource-hungry trading partners and a balanced diversity in sectors of activity. Canada doesn’t have a history of civil violence nor any inclination towards such unrest. Canada’s social policies makes it one of the most egalitarian, secular and inclusive country in the world. Why shouldn’t it continue?

When I first put this essay on the web in mid-2003, I did so with the feeling that there was a new “Canadian Nationalism” bubbling throughout the country. The past few years have only re-inforced this sentiment. The aftermath of the 1995 Quebec referendum crisis ended up re-inforcing the rest of Canada’s attachment to Canada far more than it did for Quebec. The shaky decision not to follow the U.S. in its invasion of Irak only solidified what what becoming obvious to many: Contrarily to decades of gloomy predictions, Canada was not becoming like the United States.

Some may think about taking over the world, but I think that Canada should have higher goals. Decades from now, Canadian know-how in mining technology, social behaviour and good economic policies may lead us to the asteroids for mining riches, space colonies and scientific exploration. Canadian crewmembers will be in high demand on multinational expeditions. We won’t be the only one up there and out there, but rest assured that the maple-leaf will be present on a surprisingly high number of space ships.  By then, everyone will expect it.