Canada: Top Ten Things To Love and Hate
Last week, in honor of Canada Day, I decided to whip off a list of The Top Ten Reasons We Here in The Great White North Should Be Both Proud and Ashamed of Being Canadian.
However, I soon realized that it wasn't something that could simply be whipped off in a few minutes, so I decided to take a few more days to think about it and here, finally, is my official list of the top ten things I love and hate about this country:
Let's start with the negative stuff first, just to make sure that no one mistakes this for yet another "Oh aren't we just the most perfect nation on earth" piece of mindless, nationalistic claptrap and self-praise.
There's simply no denying that this is one hell of a great country, but we also have some pretty shameful things that need to be acknowledged and dealt with before I, personally, will ever say I'm fully proud to be Canadian. That's right people, like a Canadian Michelle Obama, I'm declaring that I've never been 100% fully proud of my country.
And I should mention that we're not talking about miserable winter weather here. Nor are we talking about much of the country's inexplicable love of both Don Cherry and bare-knuckle brawling during otherwise perfectly entertaining hockey games.
What we are talking about, however, are the following ten items from the Canadian Hall of Shame:
10. Celine Dion: Not much we can do about this one, she's out there, she's, tragically, perhaps the most famous Canadian in the world, she's reputedly sold over 200 million albums worldwide, and as Blender magazine so famously and perfectly put it she has been "Seemingly hellbent from birth on proving that Michael Bolton isn’t the cheesiest balladeer on the face of the planet".
9. Conrad Black: If his name alone doesn't conjure up immediate feelings of scornful disgust, then perhaps you should read more here: The Black Hole of Arrogance Rant 'n' Rave: Conrad Black Convicted
8. Alberta: Sure, with the influx of Canadians from other parts of the country and immigrants from overseas in recent years, there may now actually be some progressive types in the province, particularly in the two big cities of Calgary and Edmonton, but that in no way takes away from the fact that this Land of Rednecks, Bigots and Oil Sands is our very own Texas. Decades of opinion polls have shown a population that is much more in touch with their kin down there in the Lone Star State than they are with their fellow Canadians.
It may have the spectacular beauty of the Rocky Mountains going for it, but this bastion of The Three R's (that is, all things Right-wing, Redneck and Reactionary) is still a scar on the otherwise (relatively-) progressive Canadian landscape. Not only did they give the country the anti-semitic Social Credit Party of the 1930s and '40s and the dreaded earth-destroying oil sands of today, but they've also given us the dual scourge of Preston Manning and Stephen Harper as well.
And, yes, I guess I should acknowledge that the relatively large redneck element that exists right here in B.C. would probably rather be part of Alberta themselves, but, hey, everywhere has got at least some right-wing wackos, right? The difference in Alberta is they're the dominant force in the province.
7. Exporting asbestos: Few people may have known about this story before the CBC's exposé a few weeks back, but, unbelievable as it may seem, Canada does in fact actually still sell this cancer-causing shit overseas, even though we won't let it be used here in our own country due to the overwhelming evidence that it kills people. You want horrific hypocrisy in the name of slimy greed, look no further than this.
To learn more about this blemish on our national reputation watch Canada's Ugly Secret, Mellissa Fung's excellent recent piece that aired on CBC's The National.
6. The Queen: Is it just me or is it not simply ridiculous that Canada's head of state resides across the Atlantic Ocean in England? But that's not the half of it. Will somebody please tell me why on earth we still have the head of some inbred European aristocratic family as our nation's sovereign? Oh, I forgot, they're born of "good blood" or some such shit.
Unelected, undemocratic, unneeded. Feudal systems of government sucked in feudal times and they suck even more in the 21st century. Wake up people, wake up!
Read more here: The God Save The Queen Rant
5. Downtown Eastside, Vancouver (and other similar areas in other Canadian cities): It is absolutely inexplicable, inexcusable and downright disgraceful that a country this rich allows such an appalling, poverty-stricken, drug-riddled area to exist right in the middle of one of its major cities. And it's all the more outrageous when you consider that all these people have been abandoned to the streets of Vancouver, a city of incredible wealth and overabundance.
Obviously it's not something that is easy to solve, what with all the addiction and people so down on their luck, but if we can spend billions on bailing out GM then we can certainly spend the few millions it would take to clean up such a disgraceful situation and get all these homeless people housed and in proper treatment programs. There's simply no place for such suffering, poverty and hopelessness in a country as rich as this.
4. Police brutality: It may be true that police brutality occurs in every country on earth, but that doesn't lesson the revulsion of knowing that cases such as that of Robert Dziekanski actually happen right here in Canada.
It should also be noted that not all countries have national police forces that seem to do whatever they can to protect the thugs within their ranks, rather than doing everything possible to clean up the force. Because at the end of the day the truly outrageous thing is how the thugs within the police force are coddled, protected and allowed to stay on the job when they should, of course, be charged and prosecuted.
I've said it over and over again, there are lots of good cops out there, but there are also a lot of hothead, kneejerk reactionary thugs in the force as well. And a truly civilized nation wouldn't put up with the thugs for a minute, let alone coddle them.
Read more here: The Dziekanski Killing and Cover-Up: Even Fellow Cops Now Feel Compelled To Speak Out In Disgust and here: Cowards and Apologists: The Police Brutality Rant
3. Getting sucked into America's so-called War On Terror: No, we, thankfully, did not get sucked into Bush's illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq, but we, as a nation, have most certainly been dragged into some awful Bush-like behavior over the past eight years:
- First and foremost is our government's disgraceful stance when it comes to Canadian child soldier, Omar Khadr. Read more here about how we've left this poor kid to rot in Guantanamo Bay for seven long years: Canada The Callous and Cold: Get Omar Khadr Freed Now!
- Then there's the case of Abousfian Abdelrazika, the Canadian citizen stranded in Sudan for six years who, until last month, the Canadian government illegally refused to issue a new passport to, even after CSIS and the Sudanese authorities had both cleared him of any wrongdoing or involvement with terrorism.
- Then there are those dreaded national security certificates that allow the government, in violation of hundreds of years of legal tradition, to withhold evidence from suspects in their own trials; certificates that Canada used to hold five men for up to eight years without charge (and still holds them today under house arrest). Just last week it was revealed that in two of these cases CSIS mishandled and misrepresented evidence against the accused (which the accused never knew, of course, since they and their lawyers had been denied the right to see the faulty evidence in the first place).
- Then, back in 2006, under intense American pressure the Canadian government, as part of the so-called "War On Terror", took sides in a civil war and, ridiculously, branded the Tamil Tigers alone as the terrorists in the 30-year-old conflict on the island of Sri Lanka. Read more here: Freedom Denied! Are We Happy Now: The Crushing of Sri Lanka's Tamils
- And let's not forget about our present government's one-sided, 100%-pro-Israel position, no matter how horrific the carnage and loss of civilian lives in Gaza earlier this year and in Lebanon back in 2006.
That the "War On Terror" is a joke that has destroyed many innocent lives is sad; that our country has largely gone along for the ride is tragic. Read more here: The War On Terror Charade: 14-Year-Old Terrorists and The Fight For Western Civilization
2. Treatment of Natives: If this were a purely historical list then this would, without question, sit at number one. Because when it comes to shameful aspects of Canadian history nothing really comes close to our treatment of this country's Native peoples. After all, we don't really see ourselves as a nation that commits horrific war crimes, slaughters innocents, steals land, breaks treaties and kidnaps children, do we? But that's exactly what this country is guilty of.
Of course these explicit horrors and crimes are all long in the past now, but the legacy of this treatment on the original inhabitants of this land lingers on in innumerable ways.
The overt racism may be long gone from government policy, but the living conditions on many reserves across this country are still often comparable to those in the Third World.
After stealing their land and then attempting to destroy their way of life, culture and sense of self-worth, there's no doubt that we as a nation have a moral obligation to make things dramatically better for Canada's aboriginal people.
Stephen Harper's apology for the horrors of the residential school system was an important step, but there's so much more that clearly needs to be done.
Read more about the residential system and Harper's apology here: Finally An Apology: The Canadian Native Residential Schools Rant
1. Environmental record: Can anyone say oil sands?! But that's just one aspect of our country's pathetic record when it comes to the environment. As I wrote in much more detail in an earlier piece, "The Let's Get It Together Canada Rant: Canadians Among Worst Environmental Degraders In The World", when it comes to taking care of this planet, when it comes to truly caring about the world we're going to leave for future generations, when it comes to genuine concern for the world around us... we simply suck!
Don't believe it? Well, just this past week we scored yet another great distinction: Canada in last place on WWF's G8 climate scorecard
Perhaps if you think Jesus is coming soon to carry you up in The Rapture then none of this really matters. But for all non-delusional Canadians out there the fact that we are among the worst, if not the worst, per capita contributors to greenhouse gas pollution in the world is a horrific reality that simply must change.
We may not have given the world any sort of fine cuisine (does poutine count?) and we may be laughed at for being too polite at times, but this country most certainly has some pretty friendly people and, as anyone who has ever driven across the country from coast to coast can attest, some awe-inspiring natural beauty as well. Beauty that makes this one of the most strikingly magnificent places on earth.
However, this list is not about such bland and obvious things as "friendly people" and "beautiful nature". Nor is it about such basic and absolutely crucial fundamental rights and institutions as freedom of speech, a free press, and democracy itself. No, this list is, in fact, about these ten things:
10. Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen: These three Canadian musical legends have each spent more than 40 years creating works of sublime beauty and, in Neil's case, some rugged rockin' masterpieces as well. Pure Canadian greatness. Almost great enough to make you forget Celine Dion.
Read more about Neil and Joni here: Talkin' Prairie Triangle of Inspiration (A.K.A. Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell Make Their Great Escape)
9. Beer: We may not be Belgium or Germany, but when it comes to smaller local breweries (even if they've mainly been bought up by bigger conglomerates in recent years), we've sure got some fantastic beer here in Canada.
Now if we could just do something about the pathetically puritanical public drinking laws in this country we'd be set.
Oh and, hey, with beer being the most popular drink in the nation and pizza being the most popular food isn't it about time that parliament recognized pizza & beer as our National Meal?
8. Thriving arts: This country has an incredibly vibrant thriving cultural soul. Including:
- world class authors the likes of Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies, Alice Munro, Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findley, Douglas Coupland, and William Gibson. And let's not forget great political and environmental writers and activists like Naomi Klein and David Suzuki;
- some of the greatest acts of the rock 'n' roll era, such as The Band, The Tragically Hip, Bruce Cockburn, Ron Sexsmith, Arcade Fire, Rufus Wainwright, and the aforementioned Neil Young, Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell;
- great filmmakers such as David Cronenberg, Paul Haggis, Denys Arcand, Deepa Mehta, Bruce McDonald, Don McKellar, Atom Egoyan, Norman Jewison, James Cameron, Sarah Polley, and Guy Maddin;
- an endless supply of hilarious comedians like Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carrey, John Candy, Seth Rogen, Catherine O'Hara, Russell Peters, Leslie Nielsen, Rick Moranis, Martin Short, Mary Walsh, Rick Mercer, Phil Hartman, Eugene Levy, The Kids In The Hall, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and the creator of Saturday Night Live, Lorne Michaels.
In fact, comedians may be what we're most famous for around the world, but we've also produced many other famous and not-so-famous painters, architects, dancers, sculptors, playwrights, and stage & film actors as well.
Finally, largely thanks to government funding, through grants and the National Film Board of Canada, we've produced a large body of incredible documentaries and short films.
For those who like their culture as much as their beer, there's simply a lot to love here.
7. Stephen Lewis and other Great Canadian Heroes: This country has had its fair share of selfless heroes over the years, most famously Terry Fox and Rick Hansen. But today there are even more Canadians than ever out there doing amazing work helping people around the globe, Stephen Lewis perhaps being the most notable. This former U.N. special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa now runs a foundation that, since 2003, has been helping in the fight against HIV/AIDS throughout sub-Saharan Africa, a region that has been absolutely devastated by this horrific disease. Working at the grassroots level, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has raised millions of dollars in the past six years, money which has funded over 300 projects in 15 countries, helping tens of thousands of people.
Read more about this Great Canadian here: The Stephen Lewis Rave
And check out The Stephen Lewis Foundation's website here.
Stephen Lewis, of course, is just one of many Canadians doing incredible humanitarian work. Here are a few others who I'd most definitely call personal heroes of mine:
- Jiri Zivny, the B.C. man who died earlier this year while in Cambodia doing humanitarian work;
- Lorrie Williams, the Vancouver woman who runs a charity called the Canadian Harambee Education Society that helps poor girls in Kenya get an education;
See the CHES website here;
- Saskatchewan native Jeremy Wildeman, who founded Project Hope in the West Bank city of Nablus to work with Palestinian youth;
See the Project Hope website here;
- Chandrasekhar Sankurathri, or Dr. Chandra, the Ottawa man who, after losing his wife and children in the Air India bombing, has gone on to found a charity that not only educates poor children in India, but also helps thousands regain their eyesight by offering free cataract operations;
See the Manjari Sankurathri Memorial Foundation website here.
6. Quebec: How does Quebec make Canada a better place? Let me count the ways: a) Regardless of whatever the anti-French bigots, particularly out here in the West, may think, Quebec has given our country a distinct and unique character; b) When it comes to just about every single social issue, poll after poll has shown the Quebecois to be more progressive and open-minded than their anglophone counterparts across the country (part of the reason the anti-French bigots don't like them, I'm sure); c) Over the past few years Quebec (along with Toronto and Vancouver) has kept Stephen Harper and his Conservatives from forming a majority government in this country; d) Quebec City is one of the most beautiful cities not just in North America, but in the world; e) Montreal is so all about culture that the city actually shuts down downtown for two weeks each year for the Jazz Festival; f) Quebec has given us the likes of Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur, Martin Brodeur, Rocket Richard, Roberto Luongo and Patrick Roy, to name just a few of the hockey legends the province has produced over the years; and, finally, g) Quebec gave us poet, novelist, songwriter, hipster, Buddhist monk, and living legend, Leonard Cohen.
5. Education system: Contrary to what conservatives may want you to believe, our education system does not, in fact, need lots more math, science and standardized testing. Our system is one of the best there is for the simple reason that it creates, breeds and encourages a free-thinking, creative-thinking populace and that's far more important than science and math will ever be for the good of the country (though, of course, it is good if our doctors, scientists, engineers, etc, do master their science and math... which they do with ease. We've certainly had no shortage of talented people in all of those fields over the years).
4. The lack of influence by religious wackos - and religion itself - in our political system: The wacko Christian Right may have huge influence south of the border, but up here things like rational thought, science and reasoned debate almost always prevail, though money and lobby groups often unfortunately dominate as well. But at least its not religious money and lobbies pushing the political agenda here in Canada. We may, sadly, have a constitution that states that our country was founded "under the supremacy of God", but the reality of modern-day Canadian politics is, to Stephen Harper's great chagrin I'm sure, remarkably secular and reason-based. Well, "remarkable" at least when you consider the reality down south, but quite normal I suppose when you look at just about every other Western democracy.
3. A relatively progressive political culture: No capital punishment, strong opposition to the Iraq War, legalized gay marriage (and who would have thought two decades ago that by 2007 70% of Canadians would decide to go with equality over bigotry and support gay marriage?), public support for the Kyoto Treaty (even if the politicians from both major parties failed to implement it while in power), etc., etc.
Most obvious example of this political reality: Top local, provincial and federal politicians out celebrating Gay Pride Day in places like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver each year. Now that's a progressive political culture!
2. Universal Health Care system and other universal social programs: It's certainly not perfect, but our system of medicine and our ideal of universal coverage for all, regardless of means, is a bedrock foundation of what makes Canada the society it is. Unlike a certain Richest Nation In The World to the south, we don't leave the poor to fend for themselves uninsured.
Read more here: The Tale of Two Sickos Rant 'n' Rave (Michael Moore, Grandpa and the Glorious Soapdown).
1. Multiculturalism: To me the greatest single thing about living in Canada is the incredible mix of peoples and cultures we have here and, specifically, the way people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds mingle freely, peacefully and happily throughout the country. At the core of all this is the continual arrival of new immigrants from all parts of the world and the cultural diversity and fine cuisine, among other things, that they bring with them. This is particularly apparent in places like Toronto and Vancouver, but you can also see it these days in smaller towns and cities as well.
The key word in the above paragraph is "peacefully". Anyone who knows anything about the horrific sectarian violence that is all too common in parts of Europe (particularly the Balkans) and especially India and Africa knows just how much we should cherish such peaceful coexistence.
No, screw that, we don't "peacefully coexist", we thrive! And that to me is the thing that makes this country especially wonderful.
Yes, there are exceptions and some rare racist incidents or attacks, and, yes, of course there are still some unrepentant redneck racist pricks out there, but the fact is they're rapidly becoming a smaller and smaller minority and the vast majority of people in Canada today live harmoniously with all sorts of other Canadians of different ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds.
A Long Way
For those who forget or honestly don't know what a racist recent past we come from in this country, let me just tell you a quick story from my own family that highlights just what sort of country this used to be: It wasn't that many years ago now - the early-1960s to be exact - that my grandparents, on the purchase of a new house in The British Properties in West Vancouver, had to sign a contract that forbid them from selling to any "Jews or Asians". And at that same time Natives in this country weren't even allowed to vote. Oh, and we were kidnapping their children and putting them into rape camps, I mean residential schools.
Oh yeah, you better believe it, we've come a long way baby!
But we've still got a ways to go yet.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
Now check out these four other recent political rants:
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