Smug liberality is one of Canada’s less endearing traits. Some (too much) of that was on display yesterday at an event I attended that went under the title of a “Foreign Policy Camp” organized by something called Canada’s World. The basic impulse was to ask how Canada could lead the world, as it was apparently born to do, by spreading its fine liberal values to the less fortunate mass of humanity who sadly live elsewhere on the globe.
I participated in person (with a call for Open Borders that went down surprisingly well), but some of the discussion can be found on twitter. In the fray, I seem to have started a bit of an argument with one of Canada’s best and brightest after she was quoted as saying that the influence of “diaspora communities” made the country “vulnerable”. Oh well.
(And yes, those who are so minded can follow me on Twitter here.)
I also, incidentally, got to meet up with my old buddy and sparring partner Carlo Dade, who mentioned what to me is the astonishing fact that immigration has never yet been on the agenda of the Summit of the Americas.
Anyhow, I happily admit to having an ambivalent relationship to Canada. But increasingly I come to discover that such ambivalence is itself rather Canadian… and in so far as it can be considered a potential antidote to the temptation to smugness, it is one of the country’s virtues.
Perhaps the same fundamental insecurity drives the smugness, too. But far better for it to be articulated as openness to others, and a willingness not to tout “Canadian values” but to rethink them. For indeed, this country is far more hospitable to others than many. And, for instance, fear-mongering against immigrants has yet to make great inroads here, unlike (say) in the UK or the US.
But all this is prelude to the following video, which I was indirectly recommended by a guy, Gord McIntyre, whom I first met twenty years ago, at a very difficult moment, in Guatemala, when we were both attached to a human rights NGO in Santa Cruz de Quiché. (It was that experience that first really made me doubt the whole discourse of human rights, by the way.)
Recently Gord got back in touch, and it turns out he now lives in Winnipeg. He suggested I might like one of that city’s local bands, the Weakerthans, and I find that they wrote this marvellous song that encapsulates something of Canada’s virtuous ambivalence and self-doubt. Long may it continue thus. And long may Canada continue “weaker than” it would rather be.
To put this another way: let us all hate Canada in exactly the same way as the Weakerthans hate Winnipeg.