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Strictly Canadian = Doomed to Fail?

This weekend at Spur–a festival “of politics, arts, and ideas”–a vital question will be discussed.

What do you think of when you see the question, “Strictly Canadian = Doomed to Fail?”? Consider the explanation on the event’s web page.

As for me, I won’t go into too much detail. (My thoughts are pasted below.) But suffice it to say that when I was younger and I heard that something was “Canadian”, I cringed almost immediately. Whatever “it” was, I assumed that it either sucked, or was going to.

Enlightened, I know.

I felt then something that’s still with me–a bit of curiosity over what might have been if I had been born American…With an underlying sense of gratitude to God that I was not.

Several days ago, everyone from Average Joes to great thinkers from across the country were invited to share their thoughts on the intersection of quality and Canadian culture. The people at Spur were then going to select the writers of the top four entries to participate in their live panel. I recently found out that although my essay didn’t make the final four, it was shortlisted. My thoughts on my nation’s identity have evolved over the years. Consider Spur’s question as I first read it…

Does labeling something as “Canadian” build our society or doom our cultural industries to failure?

My Response:

At first it may seem that labeling something as “Canadian” can determine its destiny. But the true test lies in the innovator’s perception of what it means to be Canadian, as well as consumers’ reactions to his or her product. In my opinion, one must consider deeper questions about our cultural identity: How well do we know ourselves? How much faith do we have in our national destiny?

In my youth when I crossed the border I encountered myths about where I was from. During one visit to America, I was met with jokes about igloos and questions about endless snow. In my 20s while working at a call centre, one client wanted to know why I didn’t have an accent like Céline Dion.

People’s perception of your nationality can color the vision that you have of your country. You know that the lies people choose to believe aren’t true. Yet they grate on your nerves. Hence, it can be all too easy to cling to the notion that for when something is “Canadian”—not merely by label, but by fact—it is odd, inferior, foreign, and campy. It can be easy to grow pessimistic about where you come from and everything that is created there. You bend so that you may cling to what is whispered instead of teaching yourself to roar.

Last year in an interview in The National Post, Rudyard Griffiths stated that “Through the 1950s…into the 1980s there were three pillars of Canadian identity: peacekeeping, healthcare, and the threat of Quebec separation.” Immediately after this statement Mr. Griffiths declares his belief that our citizens’ interests extend beyond those issues.

Because my interests lie outside of the political arena, I can attest to the fact that in the quest to discover our national identity, our young people want pillars of success that stem beyond that trinity. In avenues such as technology and the arts, we are tired of being bested by other nations.

We want visibility and influence. And we want them to come at the hand of achievements that are distinctly our own.

Many of us have had more than enough of our neighbours’ innovations shoved in our faces. Hence, one might think that this would inspire our leaders to do better and make resources available for tomorrow’s captains of industry.

Meanwhile, when progress is made, we must be careful not to undermine our success by lashing out at our competitors. Doing so only leaves us sounding like an immature brat, left pouting on an international playground.

Speaking of which, I am always curious when a news story appears concerning how we are perceived as a nation. We seem to mind what others say about us. But really—should we? What do others have to say about us, the Canadians? And when they say something, what do we hear? Better yet…(Why) should we care? In my opinion, Canadians should be aware, yet not become overly invested in others’ expectations. I fear our reputation as polite peacemakers leads to others believing we are passive.

Yet a fear is only as powerful as the amount of faith people have in it. My concern, however, is that many Canadians believe our role as a nation is to remain modest—allowing others to obtain praise for their progressiveness while we take a backseat.

Consider the recent news regarding the Conference Board of Canada’s report on our “lack of innovation” .

Consider the Conference Board of Canada’s recent report on our lack of innovation. In comparison with other countries, our performance is abysmal. From what I gathered, although the ability to perform well in areas such as scientific research exists, the amount of funding available to support such initiatives is limited.

Our nation’s reluctance to spend in areas where citizens are attempting to make progress sends a disappointing message. Especially when contrasted with treatment received by our neighbours. If people know less funding is available to support their ingenuity, they may (rightly) believe there are fewer opportunities available here. I believe this ultimately results in a loss of faith in our potential as a nation. Hence, future innovators may be reluctant to invest their time or talent in a country where even its resources seem engineered to embrace doubt.

When I was younger, some called the phenomenon of Canadians leaving to make it big elsewhere “Brain Drain”. Now, perhaps they ought to merely call it common sense.

Ultimately, I believe that labeling something as Canadian has the ability to build our society. That is, so long as the visions of our people are given the resources needed to change for the better.

Endnotes:
Carlson, Katheryn Blaze, “Year in Ideas: How Canadian identity has changed and what it means for our future” http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/12/28/year-in-ideas-how-canadian-identity-has-changed-and-what-it-means-for-our-future/, Retrieved April 8, 2013

“Lack of innovation holding Canada back, says Conference Board report” http://www.therecord.com/news/business/article/913167–lack-of-innovation-holding-canada-back-says-conference-board-report Retrieved April 8, 2013

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