Happy 147th birthday, my fellow Canadians. I hope you’re enjoying the day by spending time with the family, maybe going to the lake, attending various Canada Day celebrations, etc. Me? I’m going to work. One way for millions to celebrate the birth of the dominion is to go shopping, and SOMEBODY has to be behind the counter to take your money. Sigh.
Anyway, before I head off to work, I’d like to give you something to contemplate. I think it’s time we took a good long look at our Canadian heroes, and what makes us proud to be Canadian. They need some work, people.
The Harper government. in preparation for our 150th birthday three years hence, recently conducted an online poll to help determine who are Canada’s greatest heros, and what are the accomplishments we’re the most proud of. Turns out all we did, to quote the famous line from Casablanca, was “round up the usual suspects.” You could probably name most of them off the top of your head without even thinking, which is the problem: the people surveyed clearly didn’t do a lot of thinking.
No. 1 on the hero list was former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, and interesting choice. Trudeau is benefiting greatly from early onset nostalgia. Seems to me that at the end of his career, he was loved and loathed in pretty much equal parts; many in Quebec still hate him. We even voted him out for a while and replaced him with Joe Clark, who was so shocked at becoming prime minister that he practically gave the job back to Trudeau. But I won’t deny his inclusion on the list of heroes, if for nothing else that for a while we had an exciting, world-famous political leader and an unflinching champion of Canada. For a country suffering from chronic self-doubt, that’s almost enough to make him a hero.
No argument here about Terry Fox, the Marathon of Hope runner. (Funny thing: the guy who actually finished the cross country run — on an artificial leg as well — was Steve Fonyo. That should have been enough to merit hero status, except poor Fonyo ended up being a bit of a sad case, getting into trouble with the law and various stimulants.) Sir John A. Macdonald is on the list, which is fine and right. So is Wayne Gretzky, which is also OK, even though he now lives in the U.S. and is rapidly becoming known more as the father of that fame whore Paulina. I’m happy Canadians still hold my political hero, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, in high regard. He gave us our flag and medicare, after all. (Another funny thing: Pearson never won a majority government. Not much of a hero when he was alive, it appears.)
Astronaut Chris Hadfield is on the list, which is pretty OK as well. Romeo Dallaire, soldier and humanitarian, is well deserving. We also have former NDP leader Tommy Douglas, the father of medicare, and I’m sort of OK with that. After that, however, the list gets pretty weak. We have David Suzuki, whose greatest accomplishment is holding down a job at CBC for 30 years on a show no one watches, and former NDP leader Jack Layton, whose single greatest accomplishment was a breakthrough in Quebec that may or may not end up being a one-off, then dying. (If you question my view on Layton, ask yourself this: if he was alive, would he be on the list?)
The general wishy-washyness of the list confirms what I already know: our knowledge of Canada is woeful.
Why isn’t Frederick Banting, the discoverer of insulin, on the list? Sir Wilfred Laurier, the first French-Canadian prime minister? Going further afield, how about Gordon Lightfoot, the quintessential Canadian songwriter? Or how about Reginald Fessenden, inventor of radio? John Molson, founder of Molson brewery (hey, few people have given us more pleasure). Or Gordie Howe who, until Gretzky came along, was the greatest hockey player of all time? Rocket Richard, perhaps? And seriously, no Man in Motion, Rick Hansen? Hey, folks, we can do better with our hero list.
Much worse is our list of accomplishments that “make you most proud to be a Canadian”.
Topping the list is medicare. Our obsession with medicare comes not from the fact that we have universal health care — which is pretty much the norm in every major country in the world — but with the fact the United States doesn’t have it. In all honesty, our health care system right now is seriously underperforming in relation to pretty much every other nation with universal health care. And yet, we cling to this as a great Canadian accomplishment.
Peacekeeping is no. 2 on the list. Yes, it’s a Canadian creation (Pearson again, by the way) but under Stephen Harper, we don’t even do peacekeeping anymore. Does anybody? The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is no. 3, which is nice, even if the vast majority of us couldn’t recite one line from it. Our contributes to World Wars I and II are justifiably on the list. Bilingualism and multiculturalism are both there.
But why or why do we have this baffling infatuation with the Canadarm, the space shuttle attachment? Seriously? A one-off invention used entirely by astronauts is one of our most proud accomplishments? Space exploration, of which we have done little, is also bafflingly on the list.
People of Canada! It’s time to upgrade our accomplishments! Therefore, I would like to propose that we substitute the Canadarm, space exploration and — dare I say it? — medicare with any or all of the following great Canadian accomplishments:
1. The discovery of insulin, one of the great public health advancements of all time.
2. Hockey. Seriously, people, is there ANYTHING we’re more proud of?
3. Winter. Yes, I know we didn’t invent it, but we survive it, which is an accomplishment.
And if of these inventions don’t make you proud, how about the following Canadian creations:
* peanut butter;
• the IMAX big screen movie format;
• the Wonderbra;
• the cardiac pacemaker, which kept my dad going for years;
• the snowmobile;
• the Macintosh apple, best apple ever;
• the Robertson screw, best screw ever;
• Marquis wheat, which made western Canada the breadbasket of the world;
• standard time;
• plastic garbage bags;
• the zipper;
• the walkie-talkie;
• five-pin bowling;
and, the invention that gives me the greatest pride as a Canadian …
• the paint roller.
Feel free to add (or subtract) your own. Happy Canada Day, or as I like to call it, Tuesday.