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Hola desde Toronto, eh?

January 6, 2012

I have a personal rule: When traveling, eat nothing but the local food as often as possible. Food is such an important part of experiencing culture. We have to eat for survival, but what, where, and how we eat at least partially defines a society.

So you’re darn right that I just stood in line for about 15 minutes to get some traditional, authentic Tim Hortons, right here in the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada. The alternative was no line at Starbucks, an indication of how seriously the Canadians take Timmy’s.

It seems to me that I can’t call this a blog of “the Americas” if I never write about Canada. I tend to agree with National Geographic Traveler’s Digital Nomad, Andrew Evans: layovers count (well, kind of). So it seems appropriate to blog about Canada from Canada.

The Economist recently ran an article explaining the contextual irony of a joint (Canada and US) commemoration of the War of 1812. I have to admit that I hadn’t read much recently on Canadian politics, so this came as a bit of a surprise to me:

As part of an extended effort to move Canada to the right and beef up the country’s army, Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister, wants to replace the image of Canadians as passive peacekeepers with something more robust. His government has seized on the bicentennial anniversary of the war between Britain and the United States as the perfect opportunity to talk up Canada’s proud military history, given that the British troops, colonial militia and native allies successfully prevented an American invasion. Mr Harper has taken to describing Canada as a “courageous warrior, compassionate neighbour, and confident partner”.

I actually hadn’t heard any of that, so I did a little more reading.

All of the Canadians I’ve ever met have enjoyed describing Canada (and Canadians) in terms of how they’re different from the US (and Americans). I can’t think of a single time I’ve ever been offended by this.

There are always exceptions, but the vast majority of Canadians I’ve met tend to be good natured people who are easy to get along with, seeing the differences as matters of humor and curiosity, rather than contention.

This is why it surprised me to see a piece from June 2010 asserting that the Obama-Harper political contrast meant a blurring of the line.

The article begins by describing how Canada tends to define its national identity in terms of the United States’ national identity, “emphasising its differences and ignoring its similarities.” It goes on to explain:

Few nations have mastered this better than Canada, which for decades has seen itself as a kinder, gentler counterpart to the United States. But under Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative prime minister since 2006, the two countries have been converging. While Barack Obama has embraced policies that Canadians hold dear, such as near-universal health care and stricter financial regulation, Mr Harper has been importing many hallmarks of American Republicanism.

The article goes on to cite some specific policy issues–primarily in Harper’s Canada, but it also mentions a few from Obama’s United States–that might point to a melding of the two political traditions.

I was actually more surprised to see a similar piece from September 2010, discussing Harper’s increased emphasis on defence. I knew that Canada has been very supportive of the mission in Afghanistan, but here’s the context:

Mr Harper sees this muscularity as part of a broader effort to “revive Canada’s leadership in the world”, which peaked in the 1950s, when its military power was at its height and Europe was rebuilding itself. It has certainly improved relations with the United States, which soured when the Liberal government refused to join the Iraq invasion.

However, changing the direction of a government often does little to change the attitude of the general public:

But it has not increased enthusiasm at home for shooting wars. A 2009 poll by Ipsos Reid found that the share of Canadians who think the army should only conduct peacekeeping operations rose from 46% in 2008 to 50% last year.

Canada has a very good reputation for peacekeeping missions. As an outsider, when we speak of “Canada’s leadership in the world”, it seems to me that Canada brings a level of courage and professional expertise to peacekeeping missions that many other countries can learn from.

The story of L.Gen Romeo Dallaire in Rwanda comes to mind.

God bless Romeo Dallaire, and God bless Canada.

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