The air was thick, hot and sticky as I passed under the large banner proclaiming “Greatest Outdoor Show in the World”. The muddy grass was imprinted with the heels of cowboy boots. The air smelt of sizzling animal carcass and deep fried, sugar dressed flour.
Like military, everyone donned a uniform; tight shorts or flared boot cut jeans topped off with plaid shirts. To keep it classy, there was the occasional bedazzled cowboy hat.
Those seeking tangible memories or affirmation from Insta followers scrambled for cell phones, snapping pictures of themselves and their friends labeled “#Calgary Stampede Bitches” or “Ditch the Horse, ride a Cowboy” (the latter accompanied by a cheeky wink).
While a British citizen, my unsuitability for frontier life took a beating during the six years spent in Texas. From the raw smell of livestock to the copious amounts of Jack Daniels thrown down the hatch, this was a world I was familiar with.
Yet, what jarred against my definition of a ‘Rodeo’ was a small strip of fabric beating in the wind above the stampede grounds: the Canadian Flag. Before the Rodeo, in the pause preceding man’s battle with domesticated beast, the first chord of a national anthem resounded. I almost blurted out “Oh, say can’t you see…”
Canada’s masterful marketing and the USA’s tendency to royally fuck up means Canada is perceived as the golden child.
Toto, we’re not in Texas anymore.
Rodeo was most certainly a concept I associated with the vast plains of Texas. This association was as dashed as a drunk girl on a mechanical bull. Rodeos can be Canadian. Ergo Canadians can be just like Americans.
Songs about tractors, deep fried Oreos and bedazzled belt buckles are superficial similarities when it comes to Canada and the United States. Much like two brothers, Canada and the United States share a heritage and upbringing. As such, they are constantly compared. When this comparison is made, Canada’s masterful marketing and the USA’s tendency to royally fuck up means Canada is perceived as the golden child. This is dangerous.
The Sibling Complex
a) A state whereby a child is unnecessarily subjected to the standards set by another child. These standards can be high or low.
b) Not an actual psychological term – a figment of this authors ‘psychological-poetic license’. Should not be used around particularly informed parties for fear of embarrassment.
If the world was one messed-up family, the United States and Canada would be the legitimate offspring of Britain. The USA’s overtly imperial and neo-liberal policies in the previous 30 years have landed it the role of rebellious ‘who-invited-that-guy’ teenager. It’s recent nomination of Donald Trump, retreat from a necessary environmental policy and rather worrying affair with crazy uncle Russia has landed it squarely in the bad books.
Canada, on the other hand, is the enlightened golden boy of North America. When the USA nominated an orange-faced media tycoon, who is incompetent at constructing coherent sentences, Canada voted for a bi-lingual charmer with damn fine hair. Trudeau’s elegance has graced the pages of Vanity Fair and Vouge. The Canadian government’s warm welcome of refugees, crowned by touching YouTube videos of Trudeau at airports meeting ravished Syrians, has stood in sharp contrast to Trump’s ‘lets build a wall’ rhetoric.
“The comparison between Trump and Trudeau is grotesque,” said Dr. Carl Hodge, professor of Political Science at UBC. “Just look at Trudeau’s visit to Washington. He was beautiful and charming. What’s not to like? Trump is childish and petulant. Trudeau’s always in a good mood. Trump constantly looks like he’s passing a kidney stone.”
Canada’s largest crime against humanity was Justin Bieber. Understandable.
Canada’s position as ‘North America’s Darling’ precedes Trudeau’s election and Trump’s rise to power. In July 2015, after almost a decade of the Harper government, CBC reached out to 7,000 academics outside Canada who teach Canadian studies. Michelle Gadpille from Slovenia stated that “Canada is bathed in a glow as rosy as the leaf upon its flag” and Irene Salverda, a professor in the Netherlands, stated that her friends and students refer to Canada as “the European version of America.” The remaining professors reiterate these perceptions.
When Reddit was asked in 2013 for some candid worldwide views about Canada, the top comment was:
“Generally chill, but don’t understand how you let a fuck like Justin Bieber reach stardom.”
So, according to Reddit, Canada’s largest crime against humanity was Justin Bieber. Understandable.
Everyday on the way to work, I come face to face with numerous advertisements all touting Canada’s wholesomeness. From the huge sign “The World Needs More Canada” at Indigo books to Root’s “Canada is Nice” logo, the message is clear: Canada is pretty neat.
Canada also promised to meet targets as part of the Kyoto Protocol, but it overshot carbon targets by billions of tonnes.
If Canada was a cooperation, it’s marketing strategy would be on par with Mickey Mouse. Everything speaks to wholesomeness. Just consider our national animal—the beaver. It’s a hardworking herbivore with a passion for controlling fast-moving bodies of water.
As such, in March, a ranking of the best countries in the world conducted by U.S. News & World and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and Global Brand Consulting, ranked Canada the second-best country, just below Switzerland. (The United States was ranked number seven).
Not Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice
Despite what our doting parents might think, Canada isn’t all rosy cheeks and dimples. Much like our bad-boy brother, we’ve committed some egregious human rights violations against our Indigenous population, have irreparably tarnished our environment, and you best bet we have our stubby fingers in pies across the globe.
Consider this: Canada is often perceived as a champion in the fight against climate change while our big brother serves as the antagonist. This was furthered when Trump left the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Yet, the agreement was voluntary. Trump’s rebellion was symbolic; it had few real ramifications. In the same way, Canada’s choice to remain loyal to the agreement also holds little meaning. Yes, Canada made promises in Paris, but only time will tell if these commitments are met. Canada also promised to meet targets as part of the Kyoto Protocol, but it overshot carbon targets by billions of tonnes. As such, in 2016, Canada ranked 56th in the world in a Climate Change Performance Index conducted by Think Tank ‘Germanwatch’.
It does not mean that goodie-two-shoes child cannot get better. Or should not be better.
Vancouver might be home to a plethora of Teslas, but in the province next door resides the world’s largest Oil Sands.
Even with regards to the refugee crisis, Dr. Hodge argues it’s nothing to be proud of.
“Trudeau has offered to house 25,000 refugees…in a country that’s largely empty. Germany on the other hand is accepting over a million. Canada is hardly heroic. Yet, we tend to get credit for it.”
Much like a parent finding their precious a-rate child tripping on some ganja, information regarding Canada’s scandalous past and dirty present would be a surprise to many in the outside world.
As a British Citizen who lived in Texas, I was certainly sipping on the Kool-Aid ladled out by Canada’s magnificent branding mechanism. When I moved to B.C., Canada’s reputation seemed as untarnished as her wilderness. It was only after years of studying political science, economics and philosophy that I started to grow weary of this ‘world needs more Canada’ stuff.
While the Canadian population’s focus remains on what it is not, it forgets to focus on what it is.
Nevertheless, whenever I go down south to visit family, this skepticism gently erodes as I find myself constantly comparing the Great White North to the open plains of Texas, landscapes populated by pumpjacks, unregulated credit unions, and impoverished minorities. I find myself thinking “Canada is pretty great”.
Wrong. On the front of environmental policy, corporate regulation and treatment of minorities it can be argued that Canada is better, however it is far from ‘great’. Much like the parent of a train wreck might look at their second, average child and think “they’re great”, what they mean is “they’re great… in comparison”. It does not mean that goodie-two-shoes child cannot get better. Or should not be better.
The United States’ contentious and destructive nature has set the bar low. Canada is always able to appear high and mighty simply because it isn’t as bad as ‘that guy’. This is a dangerous position. While the Canadian population’s focus remains on what it is not, it forgets to focus on what it is. As a population, we remain willfully apathetic. Instead of focusing on how bad Canada could be, we need to focus on what Canada should be.