Tuesday, November 1, 2011

We Stand on Guard for Thee

RABID NORTH AMERICAN CHAUVINISM is not a popular political posture these days, what with all the anxiety about Mexicans, but I am so guilty of it. What an excellent continent!

First, let's talk about this big place as it compares to the world's other big places in terms of natural endowments. Just run down the list of North America first-place finishes for the continent versus continent Superlatives of Nature Awards.

World's Greatest Grassland: Great Plains, Saskatchewan to Chihuahua.
World Greatest Coast: California.
World's Greatest Erosion: Grand Canyon.
World's Greatest Rainforest (Cool-Weather Category): British Columbia.
World's Greatest Climate: Mexico City.
World's Greatest Harbor: New York.
[And we pick up silver and bronze in Mountains, Rivers, Deserts, and Coral Reefs.]

The same chest-puffing applies to our social arrangements. Any American knows that we live in the greatest country on earth, but as great as we are, you have to admit that the neighbors couldn't be nicer. Mexico and Canada! It's hard to imagine two less threatening abutters. Here's a thought experiment. Imagine what US history would have been like if our neighbors had been Afghanistan and Germany. I mean, shut up.

I've already written about my family's incurable fever for Mexico and mejicanismo, but the opening of hockey season prompts a few nosegays for the True North.

Canadians: peaceable; democratic; educated; multi-ethnic; creative (frequently); funny (very frequently); and intelligently dressed for dismal weather. Terrific flag, national health service, Alice Munro, Neil Young. And they beat us in the War of 1812 but are too nice to harp on it!

But seriously... Think about Canada's unusual – and instructive – ability to tackle the inherent difficulties of a multinational federation. No nation has better handled a serious, sustained secessionist movement advocated by a significant-sized national minority. The emergence of an autonomous but not-quite-independent Quebec is a great achievement. Patience, compromise, no shooting. There were ups and downs, and angers and resentments, and there remains not a little active dislike. But in the end, anglophone Canada and francophone Canada accommodated each other and co-exist pretty well. Compare to Russia, China, Turkey. Yugoslavia.

Pierre Trudeau, pictured here in his salad days, was aiming for something kindred but more grand. He stood for a Canada where speakers of either language would feel at home anywhere in the country, where Ottawa would be as French as it is English. But above all, he stood for a unitary Canada with a strong national government. That hasn't happened, not the unitary part, at least. But Trudeau's legacy of bilingualism and cosmopolitanism has served Canada well, providing the basis for the imperfect but attractive country we know today. Imperfect country but perfect neighbor.

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