Canada Rules!

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It was just one of those run-of-the-mill articles about how taxes are higher in Canada than in the United States. But it appeared in the National Post last Monday, the same day that virtually the entire paper was devoted to Canada’s Olympic hockey triumph.

So there, amidst all that joyous national celebration, was the tiresome old stuff from the regular menu about how bad things are in Canada, what with our high taxes and low productivity. Obviously the country only remains populated because all that additional, post-September-11 security at the border must be slowing down the brain drain.

The article quoted economic analyst Dale Orr saying that the total Canadian tax burden has not fallen much over the past seven years — a fact that “will be disappointing to many Canadians.” No doubt Canadians everywhere interrupted their rapturous revelry to register their disappointment about the lack of change in the Canadian tax burden. (Of course, one wouldn’t really expect the tax burden to have dropped over the past seven years since, as Orr himself noted, the massive CDN$100-billion tax cut introduced in 2000 only started to be phased in last year.)

But back to hockey. It struck me that the national euphoria over the Olympic triumphs of our men’s and women’s teams revealed more about the mood of Canadians than the “tax rage,” which, despite the best efforts of the National Post, never seems to materialize.

In a recent front-page opinion piece in the Post, historian Michael Bliss posed the question: “Is Canada a country in decline?”

We now have an answer — apparently not! Much as Bliss, backed up by the Post, would like to portray Canada as a nation of losers — a coddled, weak-kneed, unproductive people — well, think again, pal.

The outpouring of emotion over the hockey conquest seems to me in many ways like an expression of defiance, a spontaneous rising up of people who are sick of being told by commentators and “market watchers” that we as a nation are lousy at this and lousy at that, and that anyone with a shred of talent should have left the country long ago.

This Canada-bashing isn’t confined to the Post. You can also see it in our other national newspaper, The Globe and Mail many of whose columnists lecture us against opposing the American way of doing things, for fear of showing anti-Americanism. But how about anti-Canadianism — how come it’s OK? (Imagine how quickly the accusation of anti-Americanism would be leveled against someone writing that the United States is a nation in decline.)

Globe columnist Edward Greenspon tried to spin the hockey victories as evidence that Canadians have adopted the more competitive mindset of the global economy, and are no longer willing to be second best. (I guess that explains why Canada did so poorly in the 1972 hockey series against the Soviets. Back then, in the heyday of social welfare programs, before we had globalization to egg us on to excellence, we were content to be second best, as Paul Henderson showed.)

Greenspon apparently sees our current hockey victories as evidence that we’re moving “from policies based on equity to policies based on excellence.” And, in a sentence worthy of the Post, he continues: “No longer are we content as a society with coddling our losers. ”

I find this juxtaposition odd.

Just because Canadians believe in excellence — who doesn’t? — doesn’t mean we can’t also be committed to egalitarian values and, yes, even to coddling those whose natural limitations sometimes leave them unable to make it on their own.

That’s part of being a humane and functional community. (Another option, of course, is to throw them in jail, as Ontario Tory leadership hopeful Jim Flaherty has urged.)

Sacrificing our commitment to equality and inclusiveness — values which have been taken more seriously in Canada than south of the border — is unlikely to foster excellence. Closing swimming pools at Toronto schools, as may happen due to inadequate provincial funding, won’t increase our chances of winning swimming medals at future Olympics. It’s likely, of course, to do the opposite.

It strikes me that the excitement and pride palpable across the nation last week reveals that, deep down, Canadians actually like this country, that we’ re attached to our way of doing things here — and that includes our more egalitarian approach. (We use our tax system and social programs to redistribute resources more equitably than the market does — or than the Americans do.

Of course, once the $100-billion tax cut is fully phased in here, our ability to do that sort of redistribution will be more limited.)

I would go so far as to argue that one of the things that made Canada’s Olympic triumphs so sweet was the fact that they were against the United States.

No, that doesn’t mean we’re anti-American. But in recent years, we’ve allowed ourselves to drift more and more into the United States orbit.

Our political leaders have led us to believe — falsely — that there’s no alternative, that the global economy obliges us to give up national control over our economy and allow most of the decisions about our lives to be made by a small coterie of corporate chief executive officers (CEOs) located largely in the U.S. And now our soldiers are even under the command of American generals.

So when Joe Sakic scored the goal that clinched our victory over the Americans on ice, we saw a vision of ourselves that, for the first time in a long while, excited us.

The jubilant celebration seemed like a collective cry from deep in our souls that responded to all those Canada-bashers, with their reams of productivity stats: “Take your productivity levels and shove ’em! We rule! ”

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