* Clarification: I offer props to Margaret Atwood throughout and at the end because this is almost word-for-word (with subtle Canadian content modifications) a letter that she wrote to America in 2003, its appropriateness for the current Canadian context notwithstanding [clause]. Her prescience is uncanny [valley]. Perhaps she, too, has been back… to the future?! My plagiarism is fully intentional (and satirical, but perhaps too subtle) – after all, mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery. *
This is a difficult letter to write, because I’m no longer sure who you are.
Some of you may be having the same trouble. I thought I knew you: We’d become well acquainted over the past few years. You were the Nelvana of the Northern Lights and Hitler-punching Johnny Canuck comic books I read from the 1940s. You were the radio shows on CBC. You were the music I sang and danced to: Alanis Morisette, Lights, Barenaked Ladies, Justin Bieber. You were a ton of fun.
You wrote some of my favo(u)rite books. You created The Hockey Sweater, Anne of Green Gables, Water for Elephants, and Valancy in The Blue Castle, courageous in their different ways. Later, you were my beloved environmentalist David Takayoshi Suzuki; political philosophers George Grant and Charles Taylor; and Margaret Atwood, writer of letters to America. You were Northrop Frye, heroic snowplower of mean streets in garrisons; even later, you were the amazing trio, Layton, Ignatieff, and Duceppe, who traced the dark labyrinths of your hidden heart and, with their own Canadian idealism, went after the sham in you, because they thought you could do better.
You were Marty McFly in Back to the Future, you were Jim Carrey in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, you were Benton Fraser in Due South. You stood up for freedom, honesty and multiculturalism; you protected the innocent. I believed most of that. I think you did, too. It seemed true at the time.
You put the Queen on the money; that gave you an ambivalent, ironic, tempered self-confidence. You have always wanted to be a city upon a hill, a light to all nations, and for a while you were. You were peacekeepers and a friendly middle power, you declared, and for a while you meant it.
We’ve always been close, you and us. History, that old entangler, has twisted us together since well before the early 17th century. Some of us used to be you; some of us want to be you around election time; some of you used to be us. You are not only our neighbor(u)rs: In many cases — mine, for instance — you are also our best friends, our colleagues, and our employers. But although I’ve had a ringside seat, I’ve never understood you completely, from my position as transient resident of north and south of the alleged 49th parallel.
I’m like spy from the War of 1812 peering over the wall at the real Canadians. What are they doing? Why? What are they doing now? What up with that? Why is the soothsayer wholesaling the Bewares?
Perhaps that’s been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I’m not sure I know what’s really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don’t already know?
This might be the reason for my hesitation: embarrassment, brought on by a becoming modesty. But it is more likely to be embarrassment of another sort. When my grandmother — from an Irish background whose family got to America-land via Canada — was confronted with an unsavory topic, she would tell you what to do and follow up in six months with a phone call to remind you of her opinion. And that is my own inclination: to remind you to take care of business!
I’ll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley’s Ghost, who figured it out too late, humankind is your business. I have every reason to wish you well.
I won’t go into the reasons why I think your recent adventures have been — taking the long view — an ill-advised tactical error. Let’s talk, then, about what you’re doing to yourselves.
When did you get so scared? You didn’t used to be easily frightened.
You’re the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, according to Wikipedia. This makes some folks very cross. They’ll be even crosser when they can’t take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.
You’re torching the economy. Is the country going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs? Will the biggest business sector in Canada be the prison system? Let’s hope not.
If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They’ll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision of peacekeeping on them. They’ll think you’ve abandoned the rule of law. They’ll think you’ve fouled your own nest.
The Americans used to have a myth about Osama bin Laden. He wasn’t dead, but hiding in a cave, it was said. You, too, have spirits of the past you may call upon as catalysts and, more to the point, you have people of courage, of conscience, of prescience who will stand with you, inspire you, and defend the best in you in the country’s hour of greatest peril. Call on those people now – you need them.
With apologies to Atwood, and the rest of Canada,