I wish I could put in a few simple words what this country is. I recognize it on TV when I see reruns of "The Forest Rangers", "The Beachcombers", "Degrassi Junior High" or, more recently, "Sue Thomas F.B.Eye" (even if the action takes place south of the border, it feels Canadian). I also recognize it on the radio when I hear the Bare Naked Ladies or the Tragically Hip. But explaining Canada in a few words to a tourist and how it differs from the USA?... I can't.
Apparently, I'm not the only one. Defining Canada seems to be a challenge. As a Bishop's University student in the late 80s, I sometimes popped the question to my Anglo friends. They almost invariably served me some of Trudeau's cultural mosaic mantra. I always thought there had to be something sexier than that.
One would think that the 1995 referendum was an incredible opportunity for boasting the Canadian identity. It wasn't. That the "No" side attacked the Péquiste government's draft bill on Québec's sovereignty is in the order of things. But that the "No" side wasn't able to go much farther than the Canadian passport and currency to portray one of the best countries in the world is bewildering to say the least. When Montréal's Le Devoir [Google translation] posted on its website the "No" side's leaflet that was never distributed, I eagerly looked it up hoping for some inspiration. What a disappointment that was.
2000 marked a little bump in the identity drama. Molson struck an emotional chord with its "I am Canadian" beer ad campaign. Sheila Copps, then Minister of Canadian Heritage, seized the moment and, in her own characteristic enthusiasm, proudly boasted the beer commercial. Unfortunately, the hype didn't go very far.
On its November 25, 2002 cover story, Maclean's magazine asked "America lite: is that our future?" I read it diligently looking for clues, but it turned out to be another frustration. Were my expectations to high? I have two books waiting for me on my nightstand: "Reflections of a Siamese Twin", by John Ralston Saul, and "Canadians", by Roy MacGregor. Hopefully, I'll find something in there.
In the meantime, Canada has been working very hard to promote its identity in Québec, but competition is stiff. Last Wednesday, the nation I'm part of celebrated the 175th edition of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. In comparison, the Canadian nation is rather young, having gradually shed its British identity during the last century.
Regardless, important amounts continue to be spent to boost Canada's image in the province. As if the sponsorship scandal hadn't been enough, Ottawa spent $3.2M in Québec for Canada Day and related celebrations last year. That was 85% of the budget for the whole country and it's not sound.
Canada seems to be soul searching. In spite of its upcoming 142nd birthday this week, it's acting like an adolescent.