OH CANADA!

Patriotic or apathetic? Canadians ponder their native land.

July 1 1994

OH CANADA!

Patriotic or apathetic? Canadians ponder their native land.

July 1 1994

OH CANADA!

Patriotic or apathetic? Canadians ponder their native land.

SPECIAL ISSUE

MORDECAI RICHLER

Writer, 63, Montreal

The separatist cause is a bourgeois vanity, a kind of bourgeois conceit that can only be done on the backs of the working class and the farmers, because there would be a hell of a price to pay. But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Even the Parti Québécois is afraid of holding a referendum now, or so it seems. But they’re going to put us through a grinder, and it’s totally unnecessary.

I think the country’s worth saving. It’s a good society, it’s a civil society. But there is a wasting disease, and I can understand people in English Canada being fed up. And [Bloc Québécois Leader]

Lucien Bouchard, being a very intelligent man, is trying to fan those feelings because it’s in his interest—you know, to go to Western Canada and say, ‘Boo.’

If this country goes down the tubes, which I strongly doubt, then the politician most culpable is Brian Mulroney, who, satisfying his own mean ambitions, held the rest of us to ransom. He cut a Faustian deal with the Québécois nationalists to win office, then he reopened the constitutional debate when the PQ was moribund. And at the end of the day, he put the Conservative machine behind Kim Campbell. Had Jean Charest been their candidate, the Tories would have won a good 20 or more seats in Quebec and maybe seven or eight elsewhere. Bouchard would not have been leader of the Opposition. So Mulroney has a lot to answer for. His was a government primarily known for its sleaze. I think it was a shameful period. If [then-U.S. President George]

Bush was the manager of the ball team, Mulroney was willing to be the bat boy. One of the most pathetic moments in one of the campaigns was Mulroney saying, ‘I know George and Barbara Bush personally.’ I mean, Jesus, wasn’t that a recommendation— ‘George and Bar’? And that moment in Quebec City on the stage with

Mulroney and Reagan singing When Irish Eyes Are Smiling? I wanted to take a shotgun to the TV.

I think I’m correct in saying that 40 per cent of Canadians are neither of British nor French extraction. And that’s going to increase. There are going to be more MPs in Ottawa who are originally Italian or Sikh or Chinese or Haitian. Maybe there’s some hope, and they’re gonna say, ‘Enough of this about the two founding races. We’re all immigrants here and we’re bored with your old quarrel and let’s get along.’

SARAH McLACHLAN

Singer-songwriter, 26, Vancouver

Well, I have a beef. Brooks & Dunn, who are an American country act, are playing Canada Day in Newfoundland. We were supposed to play there, but the promoters bumped us out. Can you believe that? I cannot play on Canada Day in my own country. Now what does that tell you about nationalism in Canada?

ERNIE COOMBS

Children’s entertainer, 66, Pickering, Ont.

For the past 28 years, Coombs has been known as Mr. Dressup, host of the popular CBC television program. On July 1, in a ceremony on Parliament Hill, Coombs, who came to Canada from the United States in 1963, is finally becoming a Canadian citizen.

I get a lot of mail saying that I am a great Canadian and I guess it began to get on my conscience. I always had in mind that, being bom in Maine, I would retire there. But five or she years ago, my wife and I decided that we didn’t really want to go to Maine, where I was brought up and have my summer home. At that point, I said: ‘Well, I may as well become a Canadian citizen since I’ve got so much out of Canada.’ But I didn’t get around to it. And you know, my wife died and things were sort of muddled for a while. Then, last November, I said: Well, I’d better get going on this.’ And I did. I think it will be very emotional for me.

ALEX COLVILLE

Artist, 73, Wolfville, N.S.

If Quebec separates and the country breaks up—which I think would be the inevitable consequence—the Atlantic area would be the one most damaged outside of Quebec. It would be a virtual catastrophe.

Lately, though, I’ve begun to feel more optimistic about things. Before the election, I thought the Liberals were extremely stupid to have picked Chrétien. But he has turned out to be a lot better than I think anybody—except maybe his wife and mother—would have thought. It may well be that he will handle this with some kind of remarkable sort of hidden skill. Quebecers may actually vote against Parizeau’s party, despite all the polls, and elect the Liberals. And if they do, I suspect Lucien Bouchard will take over as a major opposition person in Quebec. Who knows? Bouchard may even end up as prime minister of Canada one day.

Bouchard is clearly an ambitious guy, a very interesting person. He is obviously very bright. He is by far the most interesting figure in public life in Canada right now. He is a guy who has read Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. No wonder they feel the rest of us are kind of dull. I can’t even speak anything but the most primitive French and I would rather be in Montreal than any other Canadian city. I think they find the rest of us actually kind of a bore.

SANDRA SI LIMAS

Comedian, 37, Toronto

I’m still confused as to which words were changed in the national anthem. I still sing the old one, reckoning that if I keep my lips moving no one will notice. But being Canadian is my greatest asset. In the face of the relentlessness of the American entertainment industry and its voracious appetite, the fact that I am Canadian offers me a sense of natural reserve, a natural hesitation. In the United States, everybody’s ‘fabulous’ and ‘wonderful,’ and they love big adjectives. Adjectives are pretty cheap.

I think it would require a genetic mutation to become American. We all want to hang on to what we have. The longest unprotected border in the world—Canadians are so proud of that. But we don’t want to become them. It’s like the British talking about the French: ‘We love their food, we love their countryside, we love their architecture. We just don’t like them!

PETER GZOWSKI

Host of CBC Radio’s Morningside, 59, Toronto

When you write down the seven or eight important things that make Canada what it is, you start to wonder about how many are being nickeled and dimed away—from the trains to the CBC, the Canada Council, the national view of the arts, the sense of us huddling together against the cold. We still like to huddle together against the cold, but more and more now you have to bring your own overcoat. I worry about the really basic stuff: the social safety net and health care. I’ve always thought it was a defining fact of this country if there weren’t enough jobs in Cape Breton, we somehow figured out a way that you could stay there until the jobs came back. And I’m not sure we are as prepared to do that, or as able to do that, as we have been.

But I think a lot of the hand-wringing is becoming perilously close to self-fulfilling, rather than healing any breach. Most of the Quebecers I am in touch with are just laughing up their sleeves at us. Parizeau said very clearly that they are voting for sovereigntists, not sovereignty. What the hell are we freaking about? The polls are not that far from where they were in 1980 and 1981. We haven’t had the election and we haven’t had the referendum.

I wish there were more voices from the centre, more people saying: ‘Wait a minute, this is what we are throwing away, this is what Canada means. It is a land of concern, it is a land of gentleness. And let’s reach down and find its heart and celebrate it.’

DAVE NICHOL

Spokesman for President’s Choice products, 53, Toronto

We’re on the brink of economic and social chaos. The government is equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists: the world of having everything we want, the world where government can spend $1.78 for every dollar in taxes and there will be no day of retribution. Canada needs a wake-up call. For those who can react to change, there are going to be great opportunities. I can almost assure Canadians that we’re about to go through a very trying period—and we’re going to come out of it as better people and as a better country.

SPECIAL

ISSUE

NORMAN JEWISON

Movie director, 67,

Toronto/Los Angeles

I don’t understand why Canadian banks and financial institutions have never really thrown any money at film and television production. They’ve left it up to the poor old CBC and Telefilm Canada and every body scrambling and young people leaving the country and working for American companies-which bugs the hell out of me. It could be a tremendously unifying force. Film crosses all borders.

I think that Parizeau is very clever. He and Bouchard seem to have access to the mass media—and I’m a great believer that the battle is really over who has access to the mass media. The power to change what people think no longer derives from telling people the truth but from being able to tell your lies. These are the days of hype and glory. And if the hype gets strong enough, people will believe it. That is the danger of it.

PIERRE BERTON

Writer, 74, Kleinburg, Ont.

One thing that holds us together is the tension over Quebec—that is one of the fundamental things we have in common.

I don’t think Quebec is going to go. Whatever happens, they’ll cobble together some kind of a country and call it Canada. It may be a different kind of country, but every country evolves. The background of this country is so different from any other country—the geographical background, the ethnic background, the historical background. None of that changes. The Canadian Shield can’t be sandpapered away in a day.

Canada has an enormous mythology—Louis Riel is part of it, John A. Macdonald is part of it. We don’t go around shouting from the housetops about how patriotic we are—it is not our style. But when people say that we have no style or mythology or history, all they mean is that we haven’t an American history, an American style or American mythology. We have our own. Most Canadians are far more patriotic than people take them for. They don’t put their hand on their hearts and recite the oath of allegiance. That’s a joke to us—we think the Americans are funny when they do it because we are a different kind of people. Our patriotism is not expressed in the same flamboyant way because we are a less flamboyant people. We are not a revolutionary people.

One of the unifying forces of Canada is

the long debate about who we are. No other country in the world debates the way we do, and that is because of the presence of the States. It is not a bad thing to debate it though, to understand where we come from and who we are. There is nothing new about this— it comes in cycles. I think Chrétien is smart to play it down. He’s keeping his powder dry. We’ve had a recession and people are far more concerned about their pocketbooks and their bellies than they are about this abstract thing called nationalism.

Because I could have gone anywhere, I stayed here. I am a seventh-generation Canadian— maybe eighth, I’ve forgotten. When I was a young man I g thought, ‘Oh, I’ll go to the á States and become a big shot.’ i But as soon as I began to work I and started to write Canadian 5 things, I decided to stay. I don’t I think I would have done any better in the States—perhaps worse. I feel comfortable in Canada.

The cultural renaissance of the last quarter century is very important. When I began in this business there was no Canadianism—everybody was leaving for the States. There was no theatre, there was no ballet, there was no opera, there were no bookstores—there were no books to put in them. The Writers’ Union, which began about 20 years ago with a handful of people, is now up to 900 members; the same with the ACTRA [performers’] union. These are signs of the times. We are beginning to get a film industry. It is the culture that holds the country together—culture and sports. And I don’t see any diminution in that.

BUFFY SAINTEMARIE

Singer, artist and educator, 53, Hawaii

I was adopted as a baby and raised in the United States. But I was reunited with my family in Saskatchewan as a teenager and that was it: I had found my home again. I come from an underdog, indigenous culture, but I feel as though both native leadership and the Canadian mainstream can rise to the challenges. I think we’re doing better than anyone else in the world.

We’re certainly doing better than the States.

You don’t even hear about the issues that face natives there.

But Canadians are cool about our problems because we do deal with them. That puts us ahead of everybody else.

NICK BANTOCK

Writer/artist, 44, Bowen Island, B.C.

British-born Bantock became a Canadian citizen in 1990.

Before I came here, before I knew anything about Canada, I thought, ‘Isn’t it great, the idea of going to a country that has two languages?’ What that meant to me, in my innocence, was that my children would grow up speaking and thinking in two languages. I was really surprised to find that it was not considered a bonus, but a bone of contention. You look at what breaks up Northern Ireland, at what broke up Yugoslavia. What’s the real history of anger and frustration here?

FRANÇOIS GIRARD

Movie director, 31, Montreal

For many years, people kept talking about the Quebec problem, but now the most pressing problem is the Canada problem. Quebec doesn’t have an identity problem any more. But Canada has become a kind of virtual country, existing only through institutions such as television. What people of my generation are asking is: are we still willing to pay the price for it?

REID ANDERSON

Artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada, 45, Toronto

One of the great things about Canada is being able to go to a province like Quebec. It reminds me a lot of Europe. People have a different way of thinking about life in general, and certainly about the arts. It is so different from the rest of Canada—but the thing that makes it so charming is that it is a part of Canada.