A Maclean’s poll finds deep patriotism— and tough attitudes on separatism
What divides Canadians often seems to matter more than what unites them. When they are not raging in—or about—Quebec, denouncing Toronto or hand-wringing about Ottawa ignoring their own region, they generally unite at the polls for only so long as it takes to send the party in power crashing from its pedestal. Divided by demographics and unable at times even to agree upon which official language to argue in, that seldom stops them from having a good angry argument anyway. Who gets all the best jobs, receives all the government’s favors, and appreciates none of it? Anyone, anywhere else, but certainly not us here, would be a typically Canadian response.
What is the cause of the bickering and cleavages that are splitting the country? English-Canadians line up on one side, French-Canadians on the other—and both sides, after blaming each other, sometimes pick on the native people and immigrants who preceded or followed them. And why do Canadians spend so much time complaining about their lot? Perhaps because it is such an un-American thing to do. So goes the conventional self-image of Canadians.
But now, consider the proposition that, despite all that, most Canadians are actually happy and relatively optimistic and show remarkable agreement on a series of fundamental lifestyle issues. Regardless of age, most like their lives enough that, if given a choice between being bom in their own decade of birth or another, they would choose their own, or the decade closest to it. Canadians of all backgrounds share ^ strikingly similar views on the importance, 5 or lack thereof, of spirituality, regular sex “ and children. Overall, and to a very high y
degree, they share a pride in Canada and confidence about their personal futures.
Further, consider that despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, Canadians display a high degree of willingness to serve in elected office and insist that Canada is different from the United States—even as many fear that is becoming less the case. In fact, given a choice between living anywhere in Canada or the United States under relatively similar conditions, they would usually choose to stay in their home and native land. But one time-honored element of the country’s eternal soul-searching remains unchanged: Canadians are convinced there is such a thing as a unique national identity—even if they are unable to agree on what constitutes it.
Breakdown by sex and by age of people who agree that they could have a rich and rewarding life without ever having children.
People who think that in the future they will be better off, by age group.
That often compelling snapshot emerges from a wide-ranging Maclean’s poll measuring the attitudes of Canadians as they approach the country’s national holiday and 128th birthday. For Allan Gregg, chairman of The Strategic Counsel, which conducted the poll, the fact that these attitudes are shared by a strong majority of Canadians in a manner that transcends region, language, gender, income or age lines shows that “there have
Percentage of people who think that in the future they will be better off even though they think the country will be “significantly” worse off
Percentage of people who think that in the future they will be better off or at least the same even though they think the country will be “significantly” worse off
been lots of assumptions about regional and societal differences and tradeoffs that simply are no longer true.” Adds Gregg: “There is a great commonality of thought on fundamental issues that cuts across most lines.”
Overall, says Gregg, the poll reveals Canadians to be “a people very much at a crossroads: questioning the past without breaking from it completely, ready to try almost anything in the future.” To support that view, Gregg cites the growing interest in spiritual fulfilment outside such traditional venues as churches and synagogues, and the rise in popularity of parties, such as the Ontario and Alberta Progressive Conservatives and the federal Reform Party, that explicitly reject the traditional Canadian fondness for activist government.
But even as they turn back the tide of Big Government, Canadians remain quietly passionate about the country itself. Judging by the emotions expressed about the flag and
the national anthem, and the apparent determination of most respondents to remain within the country, Canadian patriotism runs silently but deeply in most hearts. Nearly nine out of 10 (89 per cent) of all respondents say they feel pride when they see the flag or hear the national anthem. Eight out of 10 say that if they were given a choice between doing the same job in Canada or in the United States, they would choose anywhere in Canada first.
Those findings are no surprise to people who know both countries well. “Canadians may not wear their patriotism on their sleeve like Americans, but they feel very, very deeply about their country,” says Victor Konrad, the Ottawa-based executive director of the Fulbright Program for Education Exchange between Canada and the United States. One difference between the two countries, says Konrad— himself a citizen of both who regularly travels throughout the two countries—is that Canadians inhabit only a small proportion of the country they live in. Americans, who outnumber Canadians by more than 10 to one, live in a country that is much smaller geographically. As a result, says Konrad, “There is a sense of ownership of the entire country here that is absent from the United States.”
In fact, even as some Canadians fear that the country’s sovereignty has been eroded by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Konrad believes that NAFTA has actually strengthened Canadians’ sense of purpose and identity. “Instead of judging from a distance, you see Canadians actively involved with the United States and Mexico and comparing the different lifestyles of the three countries,” he says. “And the result, very often, is that Canadians like what they see about themselves and their country.” The Maclean’s poll supports Konrad’s view: nearly three-quarters (74 per cent) of all respondents agreed with the assertion that Canadians have a distinct character.
He also believes that many of the enduring clichés and comparisons between Canadians and Americans “have become clichés precisely because they contain large measures of truth.” Canadians, he says, are generally less impulsive, more reflective and more trusting than Americans. Despite recent tensions and debate over Canada’s relatively high immigration levels, he also believes that Canadians are far more tolerant of racial diversity and more interested in other cultures than Americans. Again, the poll shows that Canadians support this analysis. When asked what makes Canadians—as individuals—distinct, most respondents chose a tendency towards nonvio-
Percentage of Quebecers and people from the rest of Canada who agree that they feel proud when they see the Canadian flag or hear the national anthem.
Breakdown by age of people who agree that they feel proud when they see the Canadian flag or hear the national anthem.
Breakdown by sex and by age of people who agree that they would welcome the chance to serve Canada or their community by becoming an elected official. FEMALE MALE 41% 52%
Breakdown by sex and by age of people who agree that they find themselves thinking more and more about their health and the fact that they will not live forever. FEMALE MALE 80% 72%
lence (30 per cent) or a tolerance of others (29 per cent). As a nation, they cited social programs (38 per cent) and a nonviolent tradition (23 per cent) as the two leading factors that make Canada distinct from the United States and other countries.
I At the same time, the poll demon“ strates that Canadians, while prefer8 ring their home country, are evenly divided on the issue of whether Canada is becoming more like the United States, with half agreeing that is the case. Still, a strong majority of Canadians would rather live anywhere else in their own country than anywhere in the United States. Twothirds say the equivalent salary would produce a better lifestyle in Canada—although they are far more enthusiastic about some places than others. Nearly half (46 per cent) of the respondents who said they would rather move to the United States than to a particular part of Canada said they would rather not move to Quebec. And Canadians believe they not only live, but learn, better at home: 54 per cent said they would get a better education at a top Canadian university than an American one, while 28 per cent think the contrary. But most Canadians reject the notion that sensational or horrific events, such as the trial of accused rapist and murderer Paul Bernardo, are proof that the more violent tradition of the United States is taking hold here.
In another poll result that is a dramatic departure from traditional Canadian attitudes, respondents display more optimism about their own future than that of the country. Threequarters said that their personal prospects will either remain unchanged or improve, but only 55 per cent felt that way about the future of the country. That is a significant change from the high-rolling 1980s, when most people felt that their own fortunes were linked with those of the country and its governments. The change, says Gregg, results partly from the sense that budget-strapped governments are playing a less prominent role in the lives of most people. And that attitude, says Gregg, “has made people more willing to stand on their own feet, but much less trusting in government. The leaders they like are guy-next-door people, like Jean Chrétien, Mike Harris or Ralph Klein, not some guy in an ivory tower telling them what to do.”
In turn, that suspicion and hostility manifests itself in the sharp political shifts that have taken place in recent years, ranging from the meltdown of the federal Progressive Conservative Party in 1993 from majority government to just two seats, and the rise of the Reform party and Bloc Québécois. More recently, of course, Ontarians swung hard from the left-of-centre New Democratic Party to Harris’s unabashedly right-
wing Progressive Conservatives.
But the defining elements of Canadian character are found at a far more personal level. No matter what their age or gender, Canadians say that the way they view themselves revolves largely around the work they do: 77 per cent of men and 73 per cent of women agreed with that proposition.
Still, on another question,
Quebec emerges as a very distinct society. Asked whether they expect to inherit enough money in future to live more comfortably than they do now,
37 per cent of respondents overall agreed. But that figure reflected sharp differences between Quebec, where the figure was 61 per cent, and English Canada, where it was just 29 per cent.
On a less material level,
Canadians’ self-examination ranges from a new interest in dabbling in different forms of spiritualism to questioning the importance of such prominent elements of traditional life as having sex, and children. One out of three Canadians say it is possible to live a rewarding life without children, and 42 per cent could imagine a “complete life” without having sex regularly, although women are much more likely to hold this view than men. In Atlantic Canada, by contrast, three-quarters of the respondents rejected the idea of a childless life as satisfactory. As for the absence of regular sex, it is most accepted within Quebec, where nearly half (49 per cent) of respondents agreed with that notion. In fact, given a choice, many Canadians appear to place spirituality on a higher level than they do having sex on a regular basis. Two out of three Canadians say that the notion of being a “good person and finding spiritual fulfilment” is “more and more” on their minds lately: that is more the case among
women—71 per cent of whom agree—but a strong majority of men (59 per cent) share the same sentiment. Other than that, there appear to be precious few certainties about the future among Canadians of any age. “We are on the cusp of some of the most dramatic changes in recent memory,” says Gregg. “The orderly progression of Western society through most of the last couple of centuries is no longer something anyone can rely on.” As change in their everyday lives becomes more of a constant factor for Canadians, he adds, “it is inevitable that people will focus their attention more, and discard some of the values they are now experimenting with.” Which only makes it more likely that in the future, Canadians, typically, will be divided even about the qualities that now unite them. □
Breakdown by sex and by age of people who agree that a big part the way they view themselves revolves around their work.
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