There is a place on earth that most Americans never think about—a vast, strange land where the days can be cold, but the people are friendly and the health care is free. We remember this place exists only occasionally: when we find out our favorite comedian was born there, or when someone we know decides to move there for college. For the most part, though, it hardly enters into our conception of the world. Canada is there, and it isn’t.
But there is a new and unfamiliar wind blowing in the North—one of national ambition and passionate, even aggressive, patriotism. Its proponents seek to transform Canada from the polite and accommodating country it’s been for most of its history into a major, muscular force on the world stage. The Canada they envision will be powerful, rich, and influential. It will never again be ignored, or dismissed sneeringly as “America’s hat.”
Adherents of the new Canadian nationalism point to their country’s range of advantages, starting with its massive size and abundance of natural resources like timber, water, gold, and oil. They note the stability of their government and the strength of the Canadian economy—the Canadian loonie is currently worth more than the American dollar, and according to the International Monetary Fund, its gross domestic product outpaced that of the United States by more than $2,000 per capita in 2011. Then there’s global warming, which promises, strangely enough, to benefit Canada by melting the ice in the Arctic Circle, thus opening it up for drilling and lucrative new trade routes to Asia.
“There is a growing consensus in a certain part of the Canadian population that we have been underachievers and boy scouts, internationally, for far too long,” said Matthew Fisher, an international affairs columnist for Postmedia, a Canadian publishing company based in Toronto. When Fisher started his column last January, he argued that Canada, for the first time, “intends to live up to what has until recently been largely a fantasy—that it is an important world player,” and pledged to use his position to trace “Canada’s growing reach and rising stature.”
Led by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Canadian government has fully embraced this vision, emphasizing the country’s military history and spending millions to promote its image as a nation of uncompromising fighters. Earlier this fall, the country’s foreign affairs minister, John Baird, delivered an unmistakably belligerent speech at the United Nations accusing the organization of “endless, fruitless inward-looking exercises.” And last spring, amid a national debate over the government’s plan to spend billions of dollars on a fleet of F-35 jets, an elaborate ceremony was staged on the Canadian equivalent of Capitol Hill to celebrate the country’s military and its contribution to unseating Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy.
This growly and pugnacious Canada bears little resemblance to the nation of unobtrusive peacekeepers that Americans have known. The change in tone has been nothing if not deliberate, and according to Canadian experts, it’s one that Americans ought to be paying attention to. “Every day brings a new development in what seems to be a very consistent and well thought out, almost ideological reeducation program,” said Ian McKay, a historian at Queen’s University and coauthor of the recent book “Warrior Nation: Rebranding Canada in an Age of Anxiety.” He added: “Once [Americans] wake up to this, they’ll be startled.”
Meanwhile, many Canadians are bristling at the top-down campaign to change their national identity. “I think we’re so embarrassed by it, to be honest,” said Adrienne Silnicki of The Council of Canadians, a progressive organization. “We’re watching this happen and it’s so out of touch with the Canadian reality....Who our government promotes us to be is not who we are.” The question, then, is not just whether Canada can rebrand itself in the eyes of the world. It is whether the nationalists can successfully rile up a reluctant populace to aim for global domination—even if, to most, that goal is fundamentally at odds with what being Canadian is all about.
Almost uniquely , for a country its size, Canada has long defined itself in terms of what it isn’t, rather than what it is. It’s not part of Europe, though French is one of its official languages. It’s also not part of the British Empire, though it is still part of the Commonwealth and bows before the same queen. Most profoundly, Canada is not the United States, its swaggering neighbor to the south—and the country which, but for a few accidents of history, it most closely resembles.Continued...