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Media Bites: Insulting Americans Makes Us Ugly Canadians

07/08/2013 12:11 EDT | Updated 09/07/2013 05:12 EDT

The Harper government, they say, is currently unloading untold oodles of taxpayer cash to promote a more robustly "patriotic" understanding of Canadian history.

If that's true, we're totally getting ripped off.

Forget Heritage Minutes and fancy museums, near as I can tell, a properly "patriotic" understanding of Canadian history requires little more than internalizing three simple rules:

1) Canada is always right.

2) America is always wrong.

3) Even when Canada is wrong, you can still make us look right if you squint hard enough.

Still hazy? Allow me to direct you to a couple of recent Canadian editorials that show how it's done.

Writing in the Washington Post, of all places, on July 4, of all dates, Canadian Paul Pirie (identified with the strangely ironic title, "former historian") wants you to to know he considers America's independence from England a "flop."

"The easiest way of assessing whether the United States would have been better off without its revolution," writes Paul, "is to look at those English-speaking countries that rejected the American Revolution and retained the monarchy."

Canada, for instance.

This is a trendy thesis you hear now and then -- the idea that Canada and the United States are basically the national equivalents of two lab rats in adjacent cages, one fed the drug "revolution" in 1776, the other not. And look, notes Dr. Pirie with great pride, the Canadian subject has fewer people in prison, better healthcare, and longer vacations! So much for We, the People and all that junk. The results speak for themselves.

And perhaps they do -- so long as we believe the ultimate goal of the American rebels was to merely produce a placated population. But it's hardly trivial to note (as Pirie doesn't) that their revolution also happened to generate an economic miracle unprecedented in human history, and the richest and most powerful nation our planet has ever known.

American innovation and enterprise gave the world the lightbulb, the telephone, the airplane, the television, the PC, and the Internet, as well as a man on the moon, cures for polio, pneumonia, whooping cough, and yellow fever, and Breaking Bad. Its innovative political system, with a nationally-elected president and sturdy walls separating executive, legislative, and judicial power, has been copied by dozens of countries on every continent. Ditto the clear language of its inspiring Bill of Rights.

The Canadian colonies, meanwhile, stayed loyal. Suspicious of democracy, Canada's counter-revolutionary emigres rejected elections and independent legislatures in favour of monarchism and aristocracy -- the principles that only people with magical blood should rule -- and established a rival society based on quietly doing what you're told.

This vision, unsurprisingly, proved monstrously ineffective in practice, and led to decades of economic mismanagement and political oppression at the hands of incompetent, inbred viceroys. Only after bloody riots in the 1830s -- led by bitter Canadians openly jealous of American-style democracy -- were parliamentary institutions slowly introduced to Canada, culminating in the Confederation act of 1867. This weak declaration of continued non-independence upgraded British North America to roughly the status of the original 13 colonies -- which was just as well, as they had finally achieved a comparable population.

Two hundred and thirty years after the Loyalists, Canada still has yet to produce an automobile, multinational corporation, or even sitcom of any note, and all the most ballyhooed Canadian inventions -- the Canadarm, basketball, Superman, Hollywood starlets, etc -- bear a giant American asterisk somewhere. As long as we're talking flops, it's also a tad ironic that a country founded to be America's ultraconservative alternative now defines its nationalism primarily in terms of having better government-run healthcare.

But yes, we do have fewer people in prison. Call it a draw.

Elsewhere in medialand, we've got good ol' John Boyko in the National Post, excerpting a section of his recently published book that attempts to put patriotic gloss on an even less admirable lost cause of Canadian history -- the Canadian colonies' rampant support for pro-slave forces in the American Civil War.

This is a hard sin to excuse, and Boyko's twisted attempts to justify how "many factors led Canadians to sympathize with the Confederacy" are painful in their moral convolutions.

You must understand that Canadians were "unanimous in their abhorrence of slavery," says Boyko. In fact, we even abolished it "earlier" -- assuming by "we" you mean the British Empire, and by "earlier" you mean 1833, 30 years after Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut  New York, and New Jersey had already done so.

But anyway, the situation was complicated. Like, sometimes mean "anti-Canadian rants" appeared in Northern newspapers. And some Canadians were so virtuous they didn't think old man Lincoln was nearly anti-slavery enough -- which of course made supporting a government that wasn't anti-slavery at all the logical response.

The Occam's Razor explanation -- that Canada backed the slave-holding Confederacy because we were a fanatically loyal colony of Britain, and 1860s Britain was a jealous empire trying to weaken American power through a vulgar alliance with the racist south -- is obviously insufficient for a patriotic writer unaccustomed to the idea that Canada could ever lack moral superiority over the wicked nation below it.

American history is obviously ripe with errors and crimes, and Boyok and Pirie are more than happy to expose them. But there are a great many problems with Canadian history too, particularly this country's childish immaturity in remaining a British dependency well into the 20th century, and the dark legacy of economic and constitutional backwardness that miscalculation wrought. A legacy we've only recently begun to escape.

Canadians like to think of themselves as modest, and heaven knows, as Churchill once said of an opponent, we've got "plenty to be modest about." But this noxious obsession with one-upping America at every turn, even (especially?) when it requires rewriting history to reimagine America's good ideas as bad ones, and Canada's bad ones as heroic, is the complete antithesis of modesty, or even decency. It's obnoxious, ugly, and dishonest, and certainly not the stuff from which great patriotism is made.

Bet You Didn't Know They Were Canadian