In this archipelago of envies called Canada, we share few ecstasies. Since Lester Pearson’s 1957 Nobel Prize for peacemaking at Suez, we’ve found fraternity in circuses: Expo 67, the 1976 Olympics, dirty hockey in Moscow, and— oh, pathos!—two teams of U.S. baseball players “uniting” Canada by playing America’s national game in Montreal. Archives burst with treatises on the Canadian psyche—analyses of how whining stops a country from winning. On how it’s hard to have fun when you’re burdened with both Calvinism and Jansenism (the theologians’ tease: which, of such Protestant or Catholic puritans, savor sin more?). The patriotic equivalent of puritanism may be our sisyphean search for national unity. Capture, as wise lovers know, is no guarantee of rapture. Getting there can be all the
fun. To keep a satisfying neurosis going, perhaps we should forget seeking unity and drink the consoling angst in this: our identity is our identity crisis.
Taking what Halifax writer Harry Bruce terms “birthplace bigotry” as their scalpel, CanLit surgeons of the soul might stop deploring Canadians’ inability to share great loves and get on with celebrating their genius for petty hates. They might flee Bear-hugging, Surfacing, Fifth Businessmg and other melancholies to dissect two joyful syndromes of how Canadians unchurch each other as countrymen: heartland hysteria and hinterland paranoia.
Heartland hysteria is the illusion of Ontarians and Quebeckers (and outlanders living in Ottawa) that they are Canada. In “Central” Canada people believe, nay they know, that the sun rises and sets on the doings of the Triangular Trendies (TTs)— the power-wielders and power-voyeurs, the caliphs and eunuchs of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. Pick your pomposity before you prick it. In politics, economics, culture, universities or journalism, you find a smugness recalling the comment Hollywood screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz made when huge-egoed mogul Harry Cohn intoned that he could tell if film rushes would make a great movie because greatness made him twitch in his seat. Risked the wit, before departing presumably to sell encyclopedias: “Imagine—the whole world wired to Harry Cohn’s ass.” Take bureaucrats, whenever you can. The other day some Ottawa insider leaked me a classic brown envelope of documents stamped CONFIDENTIAL from the federal-provincial relations office. It was a collection of provincial throne speeches, long ago better précised in the press. My colleagues of the Fourth Estate are not the least cavalier traffickers in heartland hysteria. They still ring an old pal at 6 a.m. in Vancouver (9 a.m. in Toronto), no doubt to help launch his predawn yoga. But the most cheerful practitioners I recall were the Toronto editor who told me I couldn’t write on national affairs from Vancouver because that would be “pontificating from afar,” and the CBC-TV news editor who told Vancouverites at 11 p.m., ninety minutes after the Pope had died on Seattle TV, that “His Holiness is fading fast.”
John Paul I was already pontificating from very far indeed.
Hinterland paranoia stirs no less pleasure. It rouses the same thrill of contempt for countrymen, albeit tinged more with rage at being overlooked than with practised indifference. From the “amused pity” that my friend Allan Fotheringham discerns in British Columbians for Central Canadians, to the whipped-dog resentment at “Canadians” (i.e., other Canadians) of some Newfoundland nationalists, hinterland folk siphon enormous glee from sneering at the TTs. Maritimers grumble at Upper Canadian greed with as much delight as Prairie farmers “goddam the CPR”in Montreal. Especially in these times of government-blessed usury (the economists call it monetarism), Hogtown bankers arguably provide more purging fury to more Outside Canadians than does Pierre Trudeau himself.
The big kick in hinterland paranoia comes from wallowing
in the humiliation that others think you’re out of things. That gives you pretext to rail against their arrogance, their ignorance, their imperialism. It lets you blow off countrycalming steam about how insufferable, how unworthy, how un-Canadian, in effect, is everybody but you.
Let all curers of Canada think on this. We shall never unite Canada through new constitutions, bilingualism, cost-sharing or ideal-sharing. zWe shall never do it by firing the Queen in a revolutionary spasm, blasting the French navy from Mururoa Atoll |when they next beat up our anti-nuke protesters, or un-
hinging the U.S. by sneaking white dye into Ronald Reagan’s Grecian Formula 16. We can only unite Canada by no longer trying to unite it. By making virtues of our quarrelsome vices, by forgetting loving each other in favor of distrusting each other more zestfully.
Actor Donald Sutherland traced the source of our meanness with aching accuracy: Canadians are like kids pressing their noses against the great window of life, who secretly suspect they are missing the fun their wilder American neighbors grab. We are, he diagnosed, like the younger brother who forever envies his older, bolder brother who ran away to sea, caught the clap in Hong Kong and made a million in Costa Rica.
We crave our Costa Ricas. To open our psyches to them, we need to toss off the guilt of disunity and revel in the sniping that is our fated substitute for love. Giving free rein to downing all Canadians who are other than us, perhaps we shall overdose on hate and stumble onto ... oh, not shared ecstasies, but some more serviceable secret of the adventurous heart. Could this be it? That to rise above bastions and boondocks, heartlands and hinterlands, each insecure, unchurching Canadian should chant each day this morning mantra: “the centre of the world, perhaps even the centre of Canada, is wherever I am.”
Keith Spicer, the former commissioner of official languages, is a broadcaster, author and nationally syndicated columnist based in what he knows is Canada ’s heartland, Vancouver.
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