We've always loved being such a "cool" country. We've loved our own brand. We've loved comparing ourselves to our gigantic southern neighbour and bragging about our much more progressive, much more "worldly" social values...from racial integration, to gender equality, our social safety net, our smaller income disparity, lower crime rates, gun laws, gay marriage, environmental sensitivity -- you name it!
We just loved being the continental superstars and we always corrected every unaware European who would dare call us "American." Canada has always stood out by being one very big step ahead and that may have been our most precious national asset.
But is that still the case?
I found myself in Washington a few days ago, accidentally and continuously immersed in Republican circles, staying with Republican friends and going to Republican Christmas parties. I was so intrigued and so ready to launch into typically righteous Canadian lectures about who's on the wrong or the right side of history. Imagine the stark contrast -- an outspoken, liberal Canadian social entrepreneur in rooms full of hardened, prominent American Republicans! As black and white as it gets!
And yet, something funny happened on the way to that brag-fest:
First came the "Oh No Canada" bus shelter ads on Pennsylvania Avenue, a block away from the White House. They were hard to miss and even harder to take. Their stinging message: how Canadians like to brag about our environmental credentials but how it's all smoke and mirrors; how we pretend to care about the planet but we only really care about our oil and our wallets; how we pretend to set nice targets but we shamefully and unapologetically miss them, all the time. I was stunned, crushed and speechless.
Then came the party conversations about cities and youth and new lifestyles. People (Republican people) bragged to me about how their world is changing so fast, about how so many people are moving into their urban cores and transforming their cities, about how none of those people will ever drive cars and how superbly important public transit has become in transforming lives and economies.
They asked if we too, "up in Canada", saw the same enormously transformative trends in our cities and they seemed genuinely ready to embrace it and harness it all as a new giant opportunity, the way Americans have always been known to latch onto and harness new trends faster than anyone else. And again I just stood there, almost speechless, reflecting on our endless and paralyzing debates about the "war on the car" and the crazy "cost" of public transit.
And then, at the height of the party, I noticed the few gay couples in the room, dancing affectionately together and blending so perfectly into the crowd. I went up and talked to them and found them to be so completely comfortable, so perfectly "colour blind" on the issue of sexual orientation, so much keener to debate world affairs (from a Republican perspective, of course!) than what they already perceive to be yesterday's social integration issues. Really? Is this right-wing America today?
Eight years ago our country chose to take an unusually sharp turn to the right and at the core of that change was the question of whether we had been a bit too far ahead, a bit too progressive in terms of our social values. For the first time in our history we elected a party that was simply Conservative, not Progressive Conservative.
For the past eight years things have been shifting steadily in our country: We toughened our crime laws, when the rest of the western world was actually moving in the opposite direction; we toughened our stance on world affairs and became less of a peace broker and peacekeeper nation; we concentrated our economic ambitions sharply on our natural resources, ignored the concerns of others and mismanaged the optics around climate change; we disenfranchised and tuned out our young people; and, by obsessing over the vast, vote-richconservative suburbs of our cities, we completely ignored one of the biggest economic trends that's sweeping the industrialized world: rapid urbanization.
And while we were so busy slowing down our progressive national march, the rest of the world was picking up the pace!
Maybe it's time to take a really honest look at ourselves and figure out how to win back some of our "cool."
Part of a painting of Prime Minister Stephen Harper fully nude, by Kingston artist Maggie Sutherland, is shown at the Central Kingston public library in Kingston, Ont. on May 18, 2012.
Stephen Harper and wife Laureen in 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8472663517/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets behind the bar at the Victoria pub in Montreal Friday, March 16, 2012 where he stopped in to meet some supporters and have a drink for St. Patricks Day.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper and Laureen Harper stand next to a tray of hot cross buns at a bakery in Mississauga, on April 23, 2011.
Stephen Harper with wife Laureen and their chinchilla Charlie. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8425819048/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves after going for an ATV ride as he visits a farm for a campaign event in Wainfleet Ont., on Monday, April 4, 2011.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper eats maple taffy as he visits a sugar shack in Norbertville, Quebec on Tuesday, April 5, 2011.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives his wife Laureen a kiss following a day of G-20 meetings in Toronto. June 27, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=938&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays with foster kittens at 24 Sussex. May 1, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper throws a small snowball at photographers after talking with reporters at a campaign stop in Guelph, Ontario Saturday, Jan. 21, 2006.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives Taylor Swift the book "Maple Leaf Forever" before her concert at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. May 20, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=900&media_category_typ_id=6&media_id=5512" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Stephen Harper <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/23/harper-wedding-photos-ottawa_n_2006374.html" target="_blank">surprises an Ottawa couple on their wedding day</a> in 2012.
Laureen Harper laughs as she holds a husky dog with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper as they tour Caribou Crossing, Yukon, south of Whitehorse Monday August 20, 2012.
Stephen Harper, his children Ben and Rachel, and wife Laureen cross Abbey Road in 2009. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/12OfGXN" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper hams it up with Bonhomme Carnaval in the Prime Minister's Centre Block Office. November 25, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1238&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, far left, watches a third round match between Agnieszka Radwanska, of Poland, and Serbia's Jelena Jankovic with his children Rachel, center, and Benjamin, right, at the 2012 US Open tennis tournament, Saturday, Sept. 1, 2012, in New York.
Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, speaks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2011.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his son Ben watch a bloopers show while attending the Calgary Flames NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Calgary, Saturday, April 11, 2009.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper practices a few chords after arriving at home from work. February 19, 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1457&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Conservative leader Stephen Harper gets a hug from his mother Margaret during a visit to his campaign office in Calgary, Saturday May 29, 2004.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper holds up a moustache scarf to kick off the start of ‘Movember’, November 1, 2012 Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8146161138/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Senior Legislative Assistant, Katherine Locke, left, and Government House Leader Special Assistant, Zoe Lawson, show off their House of Commons gingerbread house to Prime Minister Stephen Harper in his office on Dec. 16, 2010. The gingerbread house was filled with rows of gummi bears as members of Parliament. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1355&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper waves to tourists as he walks on the beach after the closing of the VI Summit of the Americas on April 15, 2012 in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper plays a game of table tennis with Team Canada's Mo Zhang at Canada House in London on Tuesday, June 5, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tries on an old hockey helmet at he tours the Yukon's Hockey History exhibit at the McBride Museum in Whitehorse, Yukon on Thursday, August 25, 2011.
Stephen Harper, his son Ben, and Wayne Gretzky watch the men's ice hockey team's gold medal game at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8457917081/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Stephen Harper and his son Ben hit balloons into the crowd after his speech at the party's three-day policy convention in Montreal on Friday March 18, 2005.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jamie Robinson (guitar) play along with Blue Rodeo's front man Jim Cuddy, and recording artist Jimmy Rankin as they belt out a tune during a Juno Awards reception at 24, Sussex March 31, 2012. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=2099&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, looks up from dishing out pancakes at Stampede breakfast in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, July 10, 2011.
Stephen Harper welcomes two Chinese pandas at Toronto's Pearson Airport on March 25, 2013. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8588948719/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
A young Stephen Harper.
Clowns ham it up with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick. July 19, 2010. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1037&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, throws Senator Gerry St. Germain's cowboy hat into the crowd after presenting him with a new one as his wife Margaret St. Germain, right, laughs during a barbecue at St. Germain's ranch in Surrey, B.C., on Monday August 6, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper gives the thumbs up from the cockpit of his campaign plane as he arrives in Ottawa,Tuesday May 3, 2011.
Stephen Harper presents Justin Bieber with a Diamond Jubilee Medal on Nov. 23, 2012. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8212520594/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Stephen Harper and Wayne Gretzky, joined by students on an outdoor ice rink in Saskatoon on Feb. 5, 2010. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/ZTlKy6" target="_blank"> Facebook</a>
Stephen Harper, wife Laureen and Suraksha, Grade 10, visit an IMAX theatre in Bangalore, India on Nov. 8, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper poses for a photograph with Halloween trick-or-treaters at his official residence in Ottawa, Wednesday, October 31, 2012.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper bundles up in a parka as he tours Frobisher Bay in Iqaluit, Nunavut on Thursday, February 23, 2012.
Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper adjusts his hat prior to the arrival of Britain's Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, for the official start of the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Alberta, July 8, 2011.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen play with some furry friends at the official opening of the new Ottawa Humane Society facility on July 6, 2011. Source: <a href="http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/media_gallery.asp?media_category_id=1724&media_category_typ_id=6#cont" target="_blank">Pm.gc.ca</a>
Met Batisse X, official mascot of the Royal 22nd Regiment, prior to welcoming French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault to Ottawa. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8554783327/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper receives a cricket lesson from Ankur Biswas, cricket team captain, at the Bishop Cotton Boys School. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/12OffwT" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper drives a dog sled after meeting mushing teams at the Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife, N.W.T., Monday, March 10, 2008.
Stephen Harper meets Canada's women's hockey team, gold medal winners at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/17v6qKa" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen, left, make cookies with 10-year-old brain cancer survivor Baxton Wacholtz, right, and his mom Michelle, of Telkwa, B.C., during a photo opportunity at Ronald McDonald House in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday August 7, 2012.
Canadian musician Jens Lindemann visits Stephen Harper before a concert. "His blue trumpet reminded me of Sgt. Pepper," according to Harper. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8519328992/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Met with Constable Dan Allen of the Child at Risk Response Team (and Cagney the dog) while in Calgary. Source: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/pmharper/8640427193/in/photostream" target="_blank">Flickr</a>
Prime Minister Stephen Harper points out the camera to baby Grayson, dressed up as a giraffe, during his first time trick-or-treating at 24 Sussex. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/10ppG5w" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
Stephen Harper hugs his daughter Rachel Hugging Rachel as results come in after the 2011 election. Source: <a href="http://on.fb.me/15WI2TY" target="_blank">Facebook</a>
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