What is the difference between a Canadian and an American? It’s an age-old question.
The classic definition of being a Canadian is not being an American. The American stereotype is brash, outspoken, loud, obnoxious, über patriotic, and so on. Canadians are defined as being quieter, less wearing of your flag on your sleeve, more charitable, and not an Amercian. I challenge this with the sad realization that Canadians are becoming more influenced by Americans than ever before. For me, the definition of being “Canadian” is more about being subvert about your views and biases than overt like our American friends. An example of this is from two local municipal election campaigns.
In one mayoral race, a candidate’s opening comments at an all-candidates meeting contained an attack about the personal character and job demeanor of the incumbent candidate. There were nods from people in the audience, who enjoyed the veiled barbs and pot-shots traded between the two men. One audience member commented after that it was like driving by a car crash. You can’t help but stare.
Another local mayoral race saw one candidate’s opening statement at the lone all-candidates meeting with an attack on the provincial political leanings of another candidate. There was an audible gasp from the audience in response. That was not because of the factual errors contained in the statement, but because of the openness of the attack. Even though Ontario municipal politics has no political parties, lines were drawn for all to see.
In both cases, the attacking speaker switched from being subvert to overt. It’s a line many don’t like to see crossed as “good Canadians.” It is distasteful. Talking to some residents in the latter campaign mentioned above, I was told they refused to support two of the three candidates running because of their declared political leanings (one red, one blue). A candidate could turn water into wine, cure the ill, save the poor, and fix the climate change crisis while leaping over tall buildings in a single bound. But if they wore a red or orange blazer instead of a blue blazer – no vote for them. To be clear, no promises as bold as this were made in this campaign. This is why crossing the overt line is a bad strategy for an election campaign. Subvert versus overt Canadianism is not just in municipal politics – it permeates throughout all levels of politics. It infiltrates not just politics, but social issues like racial, gender, and income inequality, just to name a few.
A friend commented recently that I was a liberal, a comment that I was shocked to hear. I think of my personal leanings as centrist, a mix of fiscal and social responsibility. Political parties get elected moving to the centre and are un-electable when their policies veer too far away from that centre. I like lower taxes, but I want good education and health care systems. I’d like to drive on a road or two without a pothole. Having recreation facilities and parks are great too, even if I skate as badly as I play golf.
This wasn’t always the case. Years ago, less tax was the best way to go. I didn’t worry about the services or such. People could pay their own way – government need not tread on me. But family, kids, and life experience changed that outlook. One friend’s experience contributed to that change.
About 15 years ago this friend, who lived in Florida at the time, lost his wife to a debilitating disease. Widowed with three kids and crippling medical debt – despite having “great” insurance – he also lost his home. No one should lose their home because of medical bills. Our Canadian medical system is in better shape, but is far from perfect. Good luck finding a family doctor. Hospital emergency rooms are overrun, and the pandemic is still out there – like the X-Files. Uninsured Canadians still struggle with high-cost pharmaceuticals, expensive dental care, and the lack of other supports. People don’t choose to develop cancer or diabetes. No one chooses to be born with neurological and physical disabilities. Maybe writing about this will cast me as a liberal in a reader’s mind for thinking people should not have to go broke because they’re ill or have disabilities. So be it – I prefer the term decent human being.
The one saving grace in Canadians being subvert in their views, rather than the American overt way, is that Canadians still tend to shy away from overt politicalism. Looking again at the two local mayoral races, both candidates who publicly crossed the overt line with their comments, lost their campaigns. While those candidates overt politicalism caught people’s attention, it did not garner votes. There is hope for Canadians still, I guess.