July 1: National holiday of one of the world’s least nationalist countries. Canada Day was invented in 1982, shortly after Canada legally secured (or “repatriated”) its own constitution, replacing Dominion Day, which many people saw as a holdover from the colonial era. By contrast, conservative politicians, thinkers and writers saw Canada Day as a Liberal plot by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to impose on the country such evil ideas as free speech, equality rights, freedom from unreasonable search, and life, liberty and security of the individual person.
Many observers have described Canada as the world’s first post-modernist country (this was back in the 1990s when “postmodernism” still existed as a form of pop philosophy). Such talk may have since faded, but the grain of truth in its characterization of Canada remains. Canada has no single national language, no predominant ethnicity, and the question, What or who is a Canadian?, becomes increasingly impossible to answer. (The answer, by the way, is: someone who supports the values of the Canadian Constitution, and more or less speaks one of the national languages.)
Although much criticized by grumpy Canadians, and the subject of lots of self-deprecating humour, Canada as a non-nationalistic, multi-ethnic society that admits a quarter of a million immigrants annually into its vast geographic space, seems to work. A half-century-old policy of multi-culturalism has, remarkably, resulted in no bloodbaths in the Canadian streets (unless one counts drug dealers shooting each other as an ethnic group). It’s produced a culture with generally low levels of violence (in contrast to many of its north, central and south American neighbours).
Politically, the country is disposed toward an old-fashioned notion of “peace, order, and good government.” The goodness of particular governments remains, as always, in dispute, but the idea of having a stable national government is more generally accepted than in, say, the U.S. or Somalia. Canadian governments, irrespective of political label, tend to be social democratic in character, resembling northern European states more than their American neighbours. Despite having the same oppressive, racist, sexist history as most nations, Canada has had a half-century of public healthcare, public broadcasting, a minimum of fuss about cultural diversity (e.g., it was one of the world’s first nations to legalise same-sex marriage), and it avoided most of the Great Recession of the last half-decade.
When the country goes through a bad patch, as is currently thought to be the case under Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative regime, it is promptly announced by left-of-centrists that the country is on the road to fascism, and the 60 per cent of the population that doesn’t vote for unregulated privatization of goods and services is temporarily forgotten, as is the possibility that they might form a coalition to oust the present administration.
Overall, Canada is a modest nation that works hard at not making headlines in other countries’ newspapers, and is very good at saying, “Sorry.” For example, the Dictionary unreservedly apologises for not thoroughly trashing Canada as a colonialist, sexist, racist state. Sorry about that.