Defining a Nation

By: Rachel Marsden

News about the collapse of Canada’s military was virtually pushed into the classified section this week by front-page stories and endless drivel about a rich, old British woman’s cross-country tour and a major league hockey commentator’s minor league hissy-fit over salary negotiations. Everywhere one looked, it was all about the Queen and hockey. It’s symptomatic of the fact that many Canadians mistakenly believe that cultural identity is the key to a nation’s sovereignty. But if this was indeed the case, the French-Canadian separatist yahoos from Quebec would have packed up their province and gone off on their own a long time ago.

Some Canadians spend an immoderate amount of time and energy figuring out how to distinguish themselves from Americans. We’re inundated with American culture, American food and fashion, American television shows, American politics, and American news. As former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once said, "Living next to the US is like being in bed with an elephant. You feel every twitch and grunt."

There are Canadians who fear (or, in some cases, hope) that one day, Canada will simply be gobbled up by the United States, and that such an annexation is virtually inevitable. They figure that the key to our independence and clout on the world stage is to make ourselves culturally unique and as un-American as possible. Institutions such as the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)—Canada’s equivalent of America’s FCC—are set up by the Canadian government for this very purpose. The CRTC’s mandate is to safeguard Canadian culture by ensuring that a minimal level of Canadian content is maintained in radio and television broadcasting—which means that you can’t spin the radio dial without smacking into a hit by Shania Twain, Céline Dion, or Alanis Morissette.

Canada is still pathetically clinging to its ties to the British Monarchy—the world’s most notorious dysfunctional family with the possible exception of Ozzy Osbourne’s—under the pretense that doing so increases its international profile and distinguishes it from the US. Queen Elizabeth II arrived in Canada this week for a 12-day Royal tour to celebrate her 50 years on the throne. "Lizapalooza" has dominated all Canadian media coverage since the Queen’s arrival. There isn’t a media-savvy Canadian alive who doesn’t know that Rigby & Peller makes the Queen’s lingerie; that she’s worth $666 million Canadian; that her favorite drink is water; that she hates coffee, soccer, and tennis; and that all her pet corgis (except for one) "came from the same bitch that she was given on her 18th birthday." I can’t wait for Liz to pack up and hit the road so I can use my daily newspaper to actually find out what’s going on in the rest of the world again.

The day the Queen arrived on Canadian soil, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister John Manley said he believed that Canada should dump the Queen as its head of state in favor of a uniquely Canadian institution. I agree—it’s time for Canada to grow up as a nation and stand on its own two feet. Besides, even though the Queen’s role in Canadian government is largely symbolic, it’s still a symbol of imperialism and tyranny, and it has no place in a 21st century democracy. America recognized this at the very outset, when its founding fathers decided that Article 1 of the Constitution should read, "No title of Nobility shall be granted." Australia figured it out when they adopted a minimal republican state that retained the essence of parliamentary government and changed only the way the head of state is chosen.

Canada can never be a true democracy without a head of state elected by the people. The Queen and the Royals no longer represent Canada abroad. They represent Britain. Period. It’s time for Canada to stand up and represent itself.

Canadian author Will Ferguson once said, "With or without the Royals, we are not Americans. Nor are we British. Or French. Or void. We are something else. And the sooner we define this, the better." Besides, at least $34 million a year (and this is a conservative estimate, as it was put forth by the Monarchist League of Canada) is spent on the Monarchy every year in Canada. The current Royal visit is costing Canadian taxpayers about $5 million. Surely this money could be better spent elsewhere at a time when Canada’s armed forces are on the verge of collapse.

Canada only spends 1.2% of its Gross Domestic Product on defence, putting it nearly dead last in the group of 19 NORAD countries. The number of Canadian military personnel has fallen drastically from 87,000 to 57,000 in fewer than 10 years. Even with a looming war in Iraq, a report produced by the Conference of Defence Associations—which includes a panel of top military officers—points out that up to half of the army’s vehicles and weapon systems could be put out of commission over the next 18 months due to a lack of spare parts.

Without a strong military presence, any cultural distinctness, sovereignty, or national identity Canada has would rapidly erode. We would become fully reliant on other countries to defend us, and would be seen as nothing more than freeloaders. In the same way that a teenager who mooches off his mom and dad for lunch money isn’t fully mature and independent, neither is a Canada that relies on Mamma Britain or Daddy USA for military support and defense.

One would think that Canadians would be up in arms over their country’s lack of military clout. However, they seemed to show far more passion and support this past week for a taxpayer-funded CBC Hockey Night in Canada co-host who was having some trouble getting a raise of his $400 thousand a year salary. Heaven forbid that Ron MacLean be denied a few more of our Canadian dollars—you know, the ones with the Queen’s face on them! After all, hockey is such an integral part of Canadian culture, and Hockey Night in Canada is the cornerstone of that culture. And is it any surprise that Canadians are all psyched up about the Queen dropping the puck at a Vancouver Canucks hockey game during her Royal tour? But what Canadians really need to wake up and realize is that without a strong military, Canada has no presence on the international stage. And neither the Queen nor hockey will be able to save us from erosion of our national pride and identity. So let’s rethink our priorities, refocus our passions, get ourselves an elected head of state, and use the money we’d normally spend on the Queen and raises for hockey announcers to fund our dilapidated military and carve out our own, uniquely Canadian national identity once and for all.