Playing the Indian Card

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Ten Awful Things about Canada

A friend, prompted by Quora, has listed one hundred things he hates about Canada. He brings the perspective of an immigrant from Australia. About 98 of his 100 complaints are “the weather.” Two others contain the word “Ford.”

I have the perspective of someone who grew up in Canada, but has also lived and worked in other countries around the world. Here’s my shorter list:

1. The weather. The cold would be fine for a few weeks a year. I actually miss it, and winter sports are a great way to enjoy it; but it goes on for too long. February should be spring. 

2. The darkness in winter. This always bothered me more than the cold: getting up in the dark, indoors at work all day, coming back from work in the dark, it seemed as though you never saw the sun. On this score, mind you, most of Canada would actually be better than most of Northern Europe. And most of Canada is less often overcast than Northern Europe as well. 

Red lines show natural barriers dividing Canada into isolated regions.

3. Canada is too spread out, with too few people. It is not just underpopulation. There are three or four natural barriers dividing Canadians: with Maine like a sore thumb in between, it is a long trip from Central Canada to the Maritimes, if you don’t go through the US. And the Great Lakes and Canadian Shield make a long little-populated stretch between Central Canada and the Prairies. Then there is a maze of mountain ranges between the Prairies and the West Coast. Not to mention the jump by sea from the Maritimes to Newfoundland and Labrador. As a result, if you are in Vancouver, the rest of Canada might as well not exist for you; and the same if you are in St. John’s. This leads to our fourth problem:

4. Toronto is too dominant. Everything seems to happen in Toronto, and everyone else in Canada resents it.

Why should this be a problem? Toronto is far less dominant in Canada than London is in the UK, Tokyo in Japan, or Paris in France. The difference is that if something important is happening in London, if Celine Dion is playing the Palladium, the average Brit can go down for the day to see it. If something important is happening in Toronto—or Ottawa, for that matter―for the average Edmontonian, it might as well be happening on Mars.

There is, in addition, a special problem with Toronto. Towns and cities develop a distinct character, based on the first large body of settlers. This stands to reason: as each new settler arrives, they mostly assimilate to local attitudes, and these get passed on to each generation. So that, barring one huge immigration wave to swamp the current residents within a few years, the basic character of the place will be set forever. 

The Glorious 12th, King Street, Toronto, 1860s.

Toronto was largely settled by Northern Irish Protestants. It used to be known as “Toronto the Good” and “The Belfast of North America.” Its newspapers previewed and reviewed the Sunday sermons. That was weekend entertainment. It still has a “Temperance Street” downtown. Until the 1960s, if you were not a member of the Orange Lodge, you did not get to be mayor.

You might think all that is gone, replaced with its modern multiculturalism. You would be wrong. Toronto has simply replaced the old Calvinism and its uncompromising rigidity with a “progressive” fundamentalism that is just as hostile to dissenting views. The average Torontonian still divides all they meet into the saved or the damned, based on simple criteria. Westerners in particular notice this. One writes on Quora, “Toronto is kind of fun, just don’t utter any nonsense that diverges from the acceptable opinions of the area.”

Having a city with this character as the centre of Canadian culture, which Toronto has now become, is deadly. Canadian culture has been moribund ever since it moved down from Montreal.

5. Not enough history. This is partly due to Canada being underpopulated, as noted. Fewer people means fewer memorable things done. And Canada is a young country, very young in its Western reaches. I read an autobiography of an Albertan who referred to going to college in “Old Ontario.” Old Ontario? You mean there were already houses there way back last century?

Europe or Asia, to a Canadian, is a revelation. Better than Disneyland, by far. There is something historical or culturally important around every corner. I really miss that in Canada. The best we can do is Casa Loma?

On the other hand, this cuts two ways. A Welsh friend envies my Canadianness because he finds Europe old and musty. In their different ways, Alberta and BC have a freedom from the past that allows them to try new things, new ideas. It is no coincidence that, down in the US, the computer and high-tech revolution happened in the San Francisco Bay area. And before that, the movie industry in LA. Aerospace largely in Texas and Seattle.

6. The Tyranny of Nice. That is the title of a book co-authored by Kathy Shaidle, and it captures something important. Canadians are unfailingly polite. Sometimes being too polite is a problem. Nasty and bad people can exploit it mercilessly, and Canadians will just go along and do as they ask rather than make a fuss.

I’m afraid bad people are learning more and more that Canadians can easily be taken advantage of in this way. One Korean confided in me that he always found Canadians to be “naive.”

Worse, if anyone in Canada stands up to such bullying, the local social consensus will turn against him or her, instead of the aggressor. He or she is considered to be the one creating a fuss.

This has recently had the vital effect of severely curtailing, if not ending, freedom of speech in Canada. A Pole who had immigrated confided to me that he always felt freer to speak his mind in Communist Poland than he did in Canada. In China, my hosts asked me, “Why do all Canadians seem to think the same?”

7. There is a strong atmosphere of racism and sexism in Canada. Canadians will not believe it, they take pride in the opposite, but my Filipina wife, for one, found it almost intolerable. One reason I left for Asia many years ago was so that I could, for once, not be discriminated against for being pale of skin and male. It is endemic in Canada and never seems to let up. It is not racism against “blacks” or “aboriginals,” but racism against “whites” and East Asians that is the problem. Not discrimination against women or gays or transgenders, but against males and heterosexuals.

8. Christianity and Catholicism in Canada is often depressingly weak tea. Not weaker than Europe, or, for that matter, mainland China or Japan, but certainly weaker than a place like Korea, the Philippines, or Vietnam. And weaker than Islam is in the Persian Gulf, or Hinduism in India. In these places, religion in general is a much more present element of human life than in Canada. In Canada, not even priests and ministers can be assumed to be religious. Given that religion is, with the possible exception of personal relationships, the most important thing in life, this is a horrible lack in Canadian life.

One symptom of this is that in Canada there is a kind of taboo against old age, illness, and death. This is pretty unhealthy in itself. On the one hand, people spend too much time and energy worrying about trivial health risks; on the other, nobody wants to admit that they are old or think about or talk about death. Since it will come to us all, this is not good for anyone.

9. The family compact. There has always been an element of clubbiness in Canadian society. It seems to be especially bad in Ontario; and of course it is especially awful for government jobs. It began, no doubt, with the old “Family Compact,” and has been an issue ever since. Again, newcomers keep conforming to any established local tradition. I suppose it is no worse than most countries, with their classist traditions, but it is an unpleasant contrast to the US. It always seems to matter who you know; and important information that ought to be made generally public is often not, so that those in the know can benefit. There is an old boys’ network. I have heard this complaint from an immigrant from Eastern Europe, and one from Pakistan, and I think it is true.

Of course, this is masked by various drives for “diversity.” This is a con. Race was never the issue; any more than it was for the aristocracies of Europe. The son of an Indian Rajah was always happily accepted to Rugby. The “racial diversity” quotas just further limit opportunities for those of the wrong class.

How else explain the cultural prominence of such mediocrities as “The Royal Canadian Air Farce,” Ben Wicks, or Peter Gzowski? Or, for that matter, Justin Trudeau? Kathy Shaidle, again, refers to it as “the genetic lottery.”

10. Canadian colonial attitudes. Contrary to what might be expected elsewhere, membership in the Canadian family compact is and always has been less often related to coming from some old established local family than to having stepped off the latest steamer from the UK. We give an inordinate prestige to the foreign, especially if it comes with some sort of British association. That explains, for example, Ben Wicks, the Irish Rovers, or Murray McLaughlin. It can work too for pukka sorts from the subcontinent: they get advantaged for their English-sounding accents and association with Empire. 

Leprechaun music.
This is silly, racist, and disadvantageous to most Canadians. Our love affair with multiculturalism is one example. We ought to put all our efforts into developing our Canadian culture. Instead, we only value something if it comes from overseas. Growing up in Canada, and studying “English literature,” I learned that English literature in Canada did not include anything written outside the British Isles. But now we are more sophisticated: it includes anything written in English in Africa, the Caribbean, or India as well. Just not in Canada. Unless, of course, by an aboriginal writer.

11. In comparison to the US, on the one hand, or the EU, on the other, career and life opportunities in Canada feel severely limited. Going to grad school in the US, horizons seemed to immediately expand, and they immediately contracted again once I returned. That still hurts. This has mostly to do just with Canada being a relatively small market. This is one reason why I am a big fan of the CANZUK idea, and of NAFTA.

All of this been said, I do still consider Canada the best place in the world to live. I have not listed the pluses in this post. I wish I could live there myself. I am currently not an exile by choice, but for economic reasons.

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