The Magazine

Welcome to Canada

From the March 21, 2005 issue: The Great White Waste of Time.

Mar 21, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 25 • By MATT LABASH
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

If the national mental illness of the United States is megalomania, that of Canada is paranoid schizophrenia.

--Margaret Atwood, Canadian writer

Vancouver, British Columbia

WHENEVER I THINK OF CANADA . . . strike that. I'm an American, therefore I tend not to think of Canada. On the rare occasion when I have considered the country that Fleet Streeters call "The Great White Waste of Time," I've regarded it, as most Americans do, as North America's attic, a mildewy recess that adds little value to the house, but serves as an excellent dead space for stashing Nazi war criminals, drawing-room socialists, and hockey goons.

Henry David Thoreau nicely summed up Americans' indifference toward our country's little buddy when he wrote, "I fear that I have not got much to say about Canada. . . . What I got by going to Canada was a cold." For the most part, Canadians occupy little disk space on our collective hard drive. Not for nothing did MTV have a game show that made contestants identify washed-up celebrities under the category "Dead or Canadian?"

If we have bothered forming opinions at all about Canadians, they've tended toward easy-pickings: that they are a docile, Zamboni-driving people who subsist on seal casserole and Molson. Their hobbies include wearing flannel, obsessing over American hegemony, exporting deadly Mad Cow disease and even deadlier Gordon Lightfoot and Nickelback albums. You can tell a lot about a nation's mediocrity index by learning that they invented synchronized swimming. Even more, by the fact that they're proud of it.

But ever since George W. Bush's reelection, news accounts have been rolling in that disillusioned Americans are running for the border in protest. This prompts the thought that it may be time to stop treating Our Canadian Problem with such cavalier disregard. In fact, largely as a result of Bush and his foreign policy, what was once a polite rivalry has become a poisoned well of hurt feelings and recriminations.

These days, Canadian publications are chockablock with surveys showing that Canadians see themselves as something akin to a superior race. The prime ministers of what was once a reliable ally that ponied up in times of war have treated us like traffic-light squeegee-men when we've stopped at their corner, asking for assistance with our latest military adventure. They have spurned our missile-defense shield out of spite, even knowing it would save their Canadian bacon. Their legislators have publicly called us "bastards" and stomped on our president in effigy. Their citizens have booed our children at peewee hockey games.

Being bloodthirsty Americans, we have naturally fired a few warning volleys in lieu of slapping them with a restraining order. A few years ago, my friend Jonah Goldberg from National Review wrote a piece elegantly titled "Bomb Canada," encouraging us to smack Soviet Canuckistan, as Pat Buchanan calls it, "out of its shame-spiral" since "that's what big brothers do." Canadians responded as Canadians always will when faced with overt aggression. They wrote inordinate numbers of letters of concern, exercising what Canadian writer Douglas Coupland calls their "almost universal editorial-page need to make disapproving clucks."

Equal outrage was caused when Conan O'Brien showed up to help boost tourism after the SARS crisis. Along for the ride came a Conan staple, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who in dog-on-the-street interviews relentlessly mocked French Canadians. When one pudgy Quebecer admitted he was a separatist, Triumph suggested he might want to "separate himself from doughnuts for a while."

Canadians seethed--though polls show they pride themselves on being much funnier than Americans (don't ask me why, when they're responsible for Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and Alan Thicke). One MP from the socialist New Democratic party called the show "vile and vicious," and said it was tantamount to hatemongering. Historians believe this to be the first time a member of parliament has so categorically denounced a hand puppet.

WITH THE REELECTION OF BUSH, however, this poor man's Cold War may be swinging Canada's way. Trend-spotters on both sides of the 49th Parallel have taken note of "the Bush refugee," the American progressive who has decided to flee to Canada after growing heartsick at the soul-crushing death knell of liberalism that pundits declared after the president's two-point victory.