Canada has been over-praised lately for, in effect, going about our business as usual. In 2016 such luminaries as US President Barack Obama and Bono, no less, declared “the world needs more Canada”. In October, the Economist blared “Liberty Moves North: Canada’s Example to the World” on its cover, illustrated by the Statue of Liberty haloed in a maple leaf and wielding a hockey stick. Infamously, on the night of the US election Canada’s official immigration website crashed, apparently due to the volume of traffic.
But as well as practical considerations for remaining an immigrant country, Canadians, by and large, are also philosophically predisposed to an openness that others find bewildering, even reckless. The prime minister, Justin Trudeau, articulated this when he told the New York Times Magazine that Canada could be the “first postnational state”. He added: “There is no core identity, no mainstream in Canada.”
Though sovereign since 1867, Canada lingered in the shadow of the British empire for nearly a century. Not until the 1960s did we fly our own flag and sing our own anthem, and not until 1982 did Trudeau’s father, Pierre, patriate the constitution from the UK, adding a charter of rights. He also introduced multiculturalism as official national policy. The challenge, then, might have seemed to define a national identity to match.
This was never going to be easy, given our colonial hangover and American cultural influence. Marshall McLuhan, one of the last century’s most seismic thinkers, felt we shouldn’t bother. “Canada is the only country in the world that knows how to live without an identity,” he said in 1963.