As mentioned before in this space, I was the youngest of four children. So understandably, I tended to be the last to achieve the various landmarks in life - finishing school, getting my first job, and so on. But there was one significant landmark I reached before any of my siblings (or even my parents), at the moment of my birth. I was born here, so I have always been Canadian.

I remember when I was about six, being picked up from school and heading downtown so that the others in my family could "get" their citizenship. I don't remember anything about what citizenship ceremonies involved in those days, or what people had to know about their adopted country to pass the citizenship test (if there was one), or much of anything else about the whole process. If they distributed flags back then, it would have been the red ensign, not our current maple leaf flag. I don't know when the red ensign supplanted the plain old union jack as the usual flag of Canada (in older pictures of post-Confederation Canada, it does seem to be that the union jack was the usual occupant of the flagpole), but I do vividly remember the spirited debate over the "Pearson pennant" in the 1960s - which was originally going to have blue bars at the sides and three red maple leaves rather than one in the middle.

I grew up in a time of burgeoning Canadian nationalism. Quebec nationalism too, but that probably should have been a topic for last weekend, when the province celebrated St-Jean Baptiste Day. I remember the Bilingualism and Biculturalism (B&B) Commission, the growth of Canadian content regulations in the mass media, the growth of bilingualism in the federal public service. I remember going to Expo '67 with my class and again in the summer with my mother. That period from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies was an era of optimism, nationalism and prosperity. Then came the first wave of oil-price shocks (with the threat that we would all be "freezing in the dark") and stagflation followed by the recession of the early 1980s.

In an open economy, an era of free trade and common currencies, is there still a legitimate role for national pride? I hope so.

One thing I have noticed over the past few years is that it's becoming increasingly difficult to buy Canadian. It used to be, for example, that if you bought a pair of jeans, whether its label was Howick, Levi, Wrangler or Lee, the garment itself was almost ALWAYS marked "Made in Canada" and often had the union label. Nowadays, most jeans sold in Canada seem to be made in China, or occasionally Vietnam or Bangladesh. I now gravitate towards the Lois label because most (though not all) of their jeans are made in Canada.

I get particularly annoyed when I see products with labels I think of as Canadian icons - like Roots - only to scrounge inside for the fine print and find that they were made in China. That's not true of all Roots products, mind you, but you have to be careful. There's also a popular line of camera bags which sports a maple leaf on the outside - implying, no doubt intentionally, that they are made in Canada - but inside, most have labels indicating that they are in fact made in China.

What's a poor Canadian patriot to do?
I sometimes think Canadians have no sense of time, or history, while Europeans have no sense of space, or distance.

In Canada, a particular building can be only a few decades old and already we're screaming "Heritage! We CAN'T get rid of THAT building - it's a superb example of 1970s neo-brutalist architecture!" Meanwhile the Brits, for example, with their castles dating back to the Norman Conquest, shake their heads in disbelief.

Here in Ottawa, there was something of a kerfuffle recently about getting rid of the last "temporary building" near the Supreme Courthouse. The temporary buildings were put up during World War II to provide office and other workspaces for the vast influx of workers required for war-related industries. Umm, doesn't "temporary" imply that they're supposed to be dispensed with once they no longer have a purpose? What's next? Will folks in the educational sector object to the elimination of portable classrooms because they are such iconic representations of school architecture of the baby boom and baby-boom-echo generations? Or perhaps we should protest the, er, elimination, of the last remaining urban outhouses? Of course, income tax was supposed to be a temporary measure too, but retaining it has enabled many of us to enjoy a standard of living beyond what we could otherwise have enjoyed - so maybe keeping what was supposed to be temporary is not always a bad thing. Perhaps in that respect, we do not have such a throwaway society as Alvin Toffler maintained in Future Shock. (Aside: We don't have overchoice either, as I pointed out in my previous entry about the rise of big box stores)

Now let's talk about space, or distance, and how we get from point A to point B. It's often said that we are extremely spoilt in Canada because gasoline (or petrol, or gaz or essence if you prefer) is only about half the price here that it is in Europe. There is some truth in that, of course. On the other hand, gasoline (at least until alternately-powered vehicles become more widespread and affordable) nudges closer to the "necessities" side of the balance sheet in Canada, but closer to the "luxuries" side in Europe. If you travel from the west coast to the east coast of Canada, then travel that same distance across Europe, how many European countries would you have travelled through? The fact is, in many parts of Canada you have to travel vast distances just to get to your destination. And vast swaths of Canada are virtually uninhabitable or at best, are beautiful places to visit but it would take a pretty hardy soul to live there full-time. Moreover, a harsh climate - hot humid summers and bitterly cold winters - make certain forms of transport that are widely used in Europe (cycling, for example) impractical or unpleasant for much of the year here.

Yes, we need to improve our public transit. We need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources. We should strive in general to reduce our carbon footprint. I'll talk about these and other ideas in future blogs, but they are beyond the scope of the point I am making today.



June 2017

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