At a Chapters Indigo book store, I found a cute lunch bag with a picture of the Canadian flag and the slogan, ‘Still on the team.’ I loved it instantly. I have a friend who thinks patriotism is anti-world or pro-war. Something like that. But while we have much work to do as a nation, I’m very proud to be Canadian. But what does that mean?
Years ago, my sisters, daughters and I would travel to Dallas, Orlando, or Vegas for juvenile products tradeshows. We’d flog the babyTrekker baby carrier and have loads of fun doing it. Overall, people loved knowing that our product was made in Canada, so we made sure to mention it on the box. ‘Made in Canada, eh.’ To many buyers and other vendors, being from Canada meant that we were kind, reliable and honest.
There was a product I liked by an American designer with a small but thriving business. It turned out that her very unique stroller cover had been stolen by a Canadian company called Jolly Jumper. ‘And they’re Canadian!’ she kept saying, as if this was the most important detail. I wasn’t surprised, since they’d ripped me off the year before in the most shameless way. One of their sales people was pregnant and had asked me for one at wholesale cost. Of course I gave it to her. Within six months, their badly made copy of my other carrier, the First Journey, was on the market.
I’d had the same reaction as my American friend. ‘But they’re Canadian!’ Kind of a plaintive cry, an awakening to a few hard truths that some Canadians are as ruthless as, say, He Who Must Not Be Named that Lives to the South. Why do we think of ourselves as ‘good guys’ anyway? Do Canadians never steal, tell lies or act rudely? Are we all like characters in those old Jeannette MacDonald, Nelson Eddie movies; direct, thoughtful and without guile? Unfortunately, no. So where does this idea come from, and why are we all drinking the same Kool-Aid about what it means to be Canadian?
Here’s my theory. Some other countries may dislike our healthcare program and not appreciate our attitudes about guns. This may be true of some Canadians as well. But overall, we have a social contract that we’ve figuratively signed onto, saying, ‘I might hate you but I need you to prosper, so I can, too.’
We don’t have the kind of healthcare I’d like, one that includes dental and pharmaceutical expenses, but what we have is pretty substantial. When you lose your spouse to cancer as I did, you find out pretty quickly how good we have it. And as I recall, not one person said to him, ‘Gee, I really hate that you have free Cancer Care.’ As it turns out, we Canadians are pretty united on several fronts.
We can bicker about how we heat our houses and run our cars. Gas! Windmills! But being Canadian means we all deal with a lot of cold weather, and being warm and fed comes first. Our social contract says that we can argue, but we can’t fall apart. We can’t afford to be a country constantly at war with itself. This sophisticated, intricate Canadian system that we carry together, like movers hauling a piano around, depends on a certain amount of harmony. And for us, the solution to a shooting in Canada isn’t to give every shopper in Toronto a gun, but to try to understand each situation as it arises. It helps that in spite of the many folks I know who hunt, not one considers using a gun as a form of home defense.
As we move uneasily through elections, we’re all aware that in spite of our various concerns like immigration, taxation and social programs, we have to keep it together. Some think that Andrew Scheer would be an awesome Prime Minister. Others want to weep into their pillows at the very thought. It doesn’t matter. We’re a diverse group, and that’s a very good thing.
We may not like our prime minister, or our next one, but we know this. Nobody wants to end up in a dictatorship. That’s why a lot of our folks emigrated here in the first place. None of us want to live without the rights we take for granted. Most of us want every other Canadian to have them as well. I may not like your politics, or the fact that you don’t recycle or mow your lawn. But I’m willing to live with it. This piano is just too heavy to carry without you.