Happy Canada Day!

This is our first Canada Day since we emigrated from the States and there have been sporadic fireworks going off and maple leaf flags popping up for a couple of days now. I decided to start the day in a rather un-Canadian fashion, by listening to a tape from “This American Life”. But it was about Canadians.

Episode 65 of this clever radio program (now on cable TV as well) is a hilarious look at what it means to be a Canadian.  Or what it is perceived to mean to be a Canadian.  And what a difference a border can make, as I listened to the tape with new eyes now that I have experienced a bit of this Canadian Life!

The interview of Ian Brown of the CBC by Sarah Vowell is particularly enjoyable, as they spar gamely about what particularly experiences are like, and the subtle differences that exist, in Canada and the US.  I always stop what I’m doing when Mr. Brown describes the difference between the vastness of the US and that of Canada.  He talks of going 100 miles north of Winnipeg and being completely away from everything, to which Ms. Vowell responds that you can do that in Montana.  But, Mr. Brown goes on, the difference is that, in the US, you go out to the middle of nowhere and you’re standing where so many other people have stood (“Lewis and Clark”, etc.).  In Canada, however, you could go to the middle of nowhere and feel as though you’re the first person to have ever stood in that place.  When you consider that Canada’s population is smaller than that of California, it’s not hard to picture that kind of experience.  From a more day-to-day perspective, I enjoyed Mr. Brown’s discussion of Canadians’ reserve, and his quoting of Margaret Atwood and the Canadians’ reluctance to take off ALL their clothes and run naked through the snow!  (More Atwood quotes!)

Innovation is the ability to turn knowledge into new and improved goods and services. Canada is well supplied with good universities, engineering schools, teaching hospitals, and technical institutes. …. Canada’s weakness in innovation has been masked by good fortune—privileged access to the U.S. market, a low dollar and, now, high commodity prices. Canada produces science that is well respected around the world. But, with some exceptions—such as the BlackBerry—Canada does not take the steps that other countries take to ensure that science can be successfully commercialized and used as a source of advantage for innovative companies seeking global market share.

It is interesting to juxtapose this 2001 interview with the Conference Board of Canada‘s annual report card, How Canada Performs.  It highlights problems with adult literacy, sliding productivity, and lack of entrepreneurial spirit and innovativeness.  The Conference Board has not released its analysis but was particularly concerned about innovation:

As a newcomer who has a short exposure to Canadian business and culture, it is an interesting overview to read.  It’s hard to tell how important – or accurate – it is but certainly it highlights some interesting challenges.  Having come across the border recently, and sharing some of the almost universally positive stereotypes of what Canada and Canadians might be like, it is interesting to see an internal assessment of some quite serious negative trends.  Still, the overall report is quite positive about Canada’s place among leading nations and our first Canada Day is a good opportunity to reflect on many of the positive experiences we’ve had since arriving.

We’ll be watching the CBC later today to see some of the pomp and pageantry that is happening in other parts of the country.

One parting note:  anyone interested in the Maple Leaf flag can find more at the government Web site promoting the flag, as well as these posters that describe the many different flags used, and proposed, for Canada before the well-known emblem of backpackers everywhere was adopted in 1965.