One of the most dangerous books ever released about my beloved homeland of Canada was a paperback ditty released in 1977 with the very politically incorrect title of The Retarded Giant.
Written by American ex-pat Bill Mann and illustrated by the now legendary political cartoonist Aislin, it mercilessly poked fun at this lumbering landmass of a country and its many particularities, foibles and shortcomings. Disguised as a mere joke book, this piece of subversive literature made me laugh, but also made me wince with jibes like "Canada's leading export to the USA is Canadians" and "The weather will keep Canada out of the big time."
Well that was then and this is now. And given what went on last week in Calgary, ironically, weather is now PUTTING us in the big time, and exporting our heroics. The reaction of the populace, particularly the city's ballsy mayor Naheed Nenshi, to the floodwaters that ravaged the city painted us as tough-as-nails action figures fighting World War H20.
Despite this, the majority of non-Canadians still see us more as that somewhat dopey, big obliviously-smilin' guy portrayed on the cover of Mann's book than they do us as the fearless, hip, smart folk we know we are.
Which is why, if I could change anything about our country...it would be the symbols that define us to others.
When it comes to our symbols, everything about us screams "nice" (and "nice" is something that is at its worst when screamed). Our nation's flag is a trifling leaf. Our national animal is either a beaver or a moose -- creatures feared only by trees or small cars on Newfoundland highways. Even when we invade Las Vegas and take over Sin City, we do it with the least amount of sin possible with Grandparent-friendly stars like Celine Dion and Cirque du Soleil. Even Wayne Newton has more edge.
Thankfully, our symbols are changing, albeit slowly, led by the country's mayoralty. As a counterbalance to Calgary's white knight Nenshi, in Toronto's Rob Ford we've got an anti-hero combination of Tony Soprano and Walter White of Breaking Bad.
It's even worse/better in Montreal and Laval, where for the past year, mayors have either been shamed out of office because of corruption, arrested while in office, or abruptly resigned from office after being caught in an escort service scandal. Compared to this type of rampant bad-ass, so-called toughies like Chicago's Rahm Emmanuel or New York's Michael Bloomberg look like kindergarten ballerinas.
A tougher Canadian image requires a stronger national motto as well. We've hidden behind the Latin of A Mari Usque Ad Mare for so long we've almost forgotten that is translates into the banal "From Sea to Sea." Even the most geographically challenged amongst us can look at a map and be stunned by its obviousness and irrelevance; one can be equally as effective by saying "On Top of the USA" or "Under The Arctic Circle" in Latin. No, we requite a motto that sells our feisty spirit and reflects the disparate interests of the provinces, territories and people that fill the space between two seas...one like "One Nation, Millions of Different Opinions" or better yet, "From Disagreeing to Disagreeable."
Then there's our currency; its Monopoly-money color and Canadian Tire-money design are a source of international snickering and ridicule for years. Now that it has changed from paper to polymer, the day-glo sheen of our cash takes it from mere sore thumb to a full, five-fingered "Yoo-hoo!" wave.
But laugh all you want at our "funny money"; while the rest of the world teetered on financial ruin a few years ago, our legal tender stood legal tough. Which is why I think -- like Jones Soda does with its labels or Canada Post has done with its stamps -- the Bank of Canada should allow us to customize our cash with the toughest mofos around, namely us! The technology is already here; upload a photo and replace some old monarch or long-haired remnant of a history book with your own likeness, or that of your snarling pet or Bar Mitzvah-celebrating child.
The surcharge and collector's item element of this program would fill bank coffers and make us the only country in the world guaranteed to make money with its money.
Best of all, this windfall could be put to good use, like hiring a whip-smart ad agency to come up with way better ideas than the ones I've proposed here...
...or for buying up, and shredding, all remaining copies of The Retarded Giant.