Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Canada! How Does It Work?

1. First things first: In the '90s, one of the best things to watch on Canadian television (faint praise, that) was This Hour Has 22 Minutes. One of its most popular segments was "Talking To Americans," which was, more or less, just what it sounds like. Posing as a journalist, comedian Rick Mercer would get Americans to do things like congratulate Canada on its recent legalization of the stapler. Most of the interviews were conducted in the street-ambush style that makes you feel sorry for the targets, because God, some people were just out shopping and I wouldn’t know the first thing about Mexican politics if you asked me on my way into the Gap. Less sympathetic were the public figures Mercer would occasionally manage to get near. He would get Mike Huckabee to congratulate Canada on having built a glass dome over its “national igloo”; he would get George W. Bush to thank “Prime Minister Jean Poutine” for his endorsement. And oh, Canadians would snicker, but their laughter carried with it a tailwind of depression. Acknowledging one’s own insignificance is funny—until it's not.

I offer these prefatory remarks not because what I’m about to tell you about Canada, its politics and the upcoming election isn't worthy of ridicule. Rather, I want to indicate that most American notions of why it's ridiculous—the “eh” and the “aboot”—are… okay, the word I want here is "wrong." Just wrong.

2. The election will take place on May 2. It was officially “called” this past Saturday, the day after a non-confidence vote felled the minority Conservative government led by our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper. For those of you unclear on the mechanics of parliamentary politics: there is no set “term” between elections in Canada. Instead, the ruling party “calls” them. Unless, as here, the party is in the minority,1 in which case they can be defeated by a vote of non-confidence. Often non-confidence becomes an issue when the budget arrives, because Canadian culture retains, even in this multicultural age, a residue of Scottish Presbyterianism and we like to fight about money. But in the actual case, Friday’s vote took the form of a vote to hold the government in contempt of Parliament2 for failing to release financial projections about its purchase of 65 fighter jets and certain proposed anti-crime measures. This is the first time in Canadian history a government has been found in contempt of Parliament.3

But no one who isn't an op-ed pundit cares about that. The real issue is that our politics is paralyzed—largely by mediocrity but also by certain historical circumstances related to the party machinery in Canada.

As illustration, we need look no further than the current strange marriage of the Conservatives with the New Democratic Party (NDP), which is our “far left” party4—a blessed union which came about because the Conservatives, as a minority, needed to team up with another party. And so they ended up with the NDP, a party once once led by Tommy Douglas, the man who more or less invented Canada’s health care system. (Also, he’s Kiefer Sutherland’s maternal grandfather.) The NDP has never been seen as a viable governing party at the federal level—although the premiers (think “governor”) of Manitoba and Nova Scotia are NDP, currently—but the party usually manages to have at least some seats in the House.

The leader of the NDP is a man named Jack Layton, who, in what is an accurate reflection of the size of Canada's populace, went to my mother’s high school; but, as she would tell you, she didn’t really know him that well because he was two years behind her.5 I’d like to add an anecdote about Layton here but there aren’t any. That is, other than the general and characteristically vague Canadian sense that he is “out there” when in fact he’s really the scion of a long line of Canadian politicians, because the political class in Canada, particularly in the East, seems to be hereditary. (Don’t even get me started on Justin Trudeau.) Which, by the way, is also a reason why almost everyone you’re about to hear about are white guys who are utterly unrepresentative of the population at large.6

3. Jon Stewart famously analogized the Canadian Conservative Party to “Gay Nader Fans For Peace,” and yes, I laughed. But it wasn’t all that close to the mark. The party is actually relatively young in Canada. It was formed, in 2003, from the ashes of what was once called the Progressive Conservative Party (I know, I know, just run with me here, and we all called them the “Tories” anyway) and a party then known as the “Canadian Alliance,” but which had formerly called itself the Reform Party. That last qualification allows me to report this bit of trivia: The original name proposed for the merged party was the “Canadian Conservative Reform Alliance Party"—no one apparently bothered to check the acronym before releasing the name to the public.

The Tories were the dominant center-right party in Canada when I was growing up. In American terms, the Tory party would have been described as socially liberal7 and fiscally conservative. Under the leadership of Brian Mulroney, Prime Minister from 1984 to 1993, the party suffered a fall from grace. Complaints included, but were not limited to: free trade policy, an unpopular sales tax, a perception of excessive closeness with America and the fact that Mulroney really is just an enormous horse’s ass of a person. He was forced to step aside shortly before the 1993 election.8 I’ve tried to stay away from numbers, but really what happened in 1993 can only be illustrated with figures: the Tories went from a 151-seat majority government to just two seats. Two seats! It never really recovered and, after limping through the next few elections, merged with the Alliance.

In the meanwhile, the Alliance had crept up to fill the political space vacated by the Tories. The Reform Party came out of the West, specifically, the province of Alberta. If Canada has a Texas (and let us say for our purposes here today that it does, but then never again), it is probably the province of Alberta—its oil reserves appear to have engendered similarly individualistic politics. In its early days, the Reform Party tended towards social conservatism and was headed first by a Ross Perot-esque figure known as Preston Manning, who had as his chief policy adviser—wait for it!—a young Stephen Harper.

Which is to tell you that Stephen Harper does not spring from the long Canadian tradition of “progressive” conservatism. Rather he's emerged from the fringes of what is viewed in Canada as extreme right-wing politics. He is virulently anti-same-sex-marriage, although he could never defeat it politically. He “jests” that the NDP’s existence “is kind of proof that the Devil lives and interferes in the affairs of men.” He admired George W. Bush’s grasp of Middle East politics. Perhaps most damningly, in an incident you might actually have heard of, in late 2008 he managed to avoid a looming non-confidence vote by “proroguing” Parliament, which nearly set off a Constitutional crisis.

In short, Stephen Harper is pretty far outside what “Canadian consensus” might be said to exist. Few people, particularly of the political and chattering classes, seem to actively like the man.

4. So why is a guy like that Prime Minister?

The answer has a lot to do with the third of Canada’s major political parties, the Liberals. This is the party of the one Canadian politician most Americans have heard of—Pierre Trudeau. But when it comes to the current Canadian political situation, a more important figurehead to know is Jean Chrétien, who succeeded Trudeau and served as Prime Minister from 1993 to 2003. In his own way, Chrétien was an odd but colorful figure in politics. His face was partially paralyzed, which gave his speaking style a loping quality. He looked frail on television, and styled himself “le petit gars de Shawinigan” (the little guy from Shawinigan), but was built like a lumberjack. He demonstrated this to great effect in 1996 when, confronted by a protester in full view of the cameras, he coolly grabbed the interloper by the throat to shove him aside.

With the Tories gone and the right split between two parties, Canada was essentially a one-party state in the Chrétien years. He ruled for a little over ten years, holding three elections, in each of which he sailed easily back into majorities. With each success, he grew more arrogant—entertainingly so. My favorite example came, in 2001, when Queen Elizabeth II nominated the now-disgraced Conrad Black for a peerage. Black’s newspapers, and Black himself, were critical of the Chrétien government. Another important fact about Black, which you may well already know, is that he had an abhorrent personality. Truly abhorrent! So Chrétien decided to dust off the law books and found himself a 1919 law called the “Nickle Resolution” which prevented Canadian citizens from receiving titular honors. Ultimately Black was forced to renounce his Canadian citizenship in order to become a Lord, although not before he did a lot of delicious public whining about it. I know of no Canadian who does not cackle in glee when Black’s name is mentioned nowadays. Oh, except maybe David Frum, but no one likes him.

In 2003, Chrétien became embroiled in a series of patronage scandals that forced him to to step aside in favor of his formerly much-adored Finance Minister Paul Martin. But the public perception of general Liberal corruption—an image that many people believe Martin himself stirred up in an effort to oust Chrétien—remained so strong that Martin could not keep the party in power. To this day they have not recovered from the Chrétien era.

Today, the Liberal party is headed by Michael Ignatieff. What’s wrong with Michael Ignatieff, you might ask? He's smart, a real scholar; he's a perfect standard-bearer, right? Well, here is the thing about Michael Ignatieff: He was out of Canada enjoying an illustrious academic career from 1978 to 2005, when he returned to Canada in a transparent move to position himself for leadership. And, as I'm sure you’ve by now picked up on, Canadians have a fraught emotional relationship with the United States, and particularly with those who go there to work. We call it the “brain drain” and lament the phenomenon—yet those who return home receive scant welcome. Which is the hard truth that Ignatieff has discovered. Being out of the country for too long suggests that you view yourself as “too good” for it, at least where the political culture is concerned. Anyway, I’d go on about Ignatieff, but this Adam Gopnik article will serve you just fine. I’ll only mention that he might have better ingratiated himself had not one of his initial moves been oversharing to a Globe and Mail reporter that “[h]is sexual initiation took place at a campground north of Toronto; he remembers the gravel against his knees and elbows was excruciating.” Suffice to say the Liberals should have made another choice. While anything can happen in a month, few expect that Ignatieff will manage to push Harper out.

5. The other pertinent factor in current Canadian politics, and the one that really deserves a primer all its own, is the presence of a Québec separatist party, the Bloc Québécois, at the national level. Here I have to get a little serious on you. The short and overly abridged version of the story is simply that yes, most people in Québec speak French as a first language (in Canadian parlance, are “francophone”), most people in what is sometimes termed the “Rest of Canada” do not, and there is an entirely separate culture in Québec that has evolved from that distinction. Few Canadians I know, even the most intransigently “anglophone” among them, would disagree with that, assuming they have spent any length of time at all in Québec.

But it’s not merely a cultural or linguistic difference that's at issue. We negotiated the “re-patriation” of the Constitution in 1982—effectively writing Great Britain out and including a shiny new Bill of Rights. In an incident known as, I’m not kidding, the “Night of the Long Knives," Québec was cut out of those negotiations, and because of that little maneuver, Québec’s government has never ratified the Constitution, even to this day. Efforts to negotiate some kind of accord have failed, and the issue of Québec sovereignty was put to a referendum in 1995 that came frighteningly close to passing. Interest in actual separation has faded since then; it’s hard to say why exactly, except that it probably has something to do with the resurgence of the Québec economy from the late 1990s into the 2000s.

Nevertheless, Québec voters apparently still feel that a distinctively Québécois interest ought to be defended at the national level, and the Bloc currently holds 49 seats in the House. It is led by a bland though kind of rat-like man called Gilles Duceppe, who has held his post since 1997. What Québec’s “distinct” interest consists of, federally speaking, isn't clear. The Bloc styles itself as a “progressive” party, because it favors strong intervention by the state in social policy, for example. But the separatists have also been tarred by accusations of racism. When the 1995 referendum was lost, then-Premier and leader of the provincial version of the Bloc, the Parti Québécois, Jacques Parizeau drunkenly slurred on national television that he blamed “money and the ethnic vote.” (Personally I find old white Québécois men no more nor less racist than old white men anywhere, but your mileage may vary.)

The upshot is, by occupying all those seats, the Bloc effectively creates a situation where, unless one national party is ascendant—as during the Mulroney or Chrétien periods—minority governments in Canada have become a way of life.

6. Are you depressed yet? Nearly every Canadian I know is, about this. It’s funny, because with the exception of the Québec issue this is not a fractured country. Unlike in the States, the Canadian problem isn't that there is a politically viable faction of people who are seriously threatening to abolish health care or make this a Christian country or nuke some country answering to the description “Islamic.” The problem, instead, is an overwhelming sense of complacency, brewed up simultaneously by the mediocre candidates, the general paralysis in the legislature, and the peculiar though distinctly Canadian sense that we ought to at least be grateful that things here are “okay, if not great.”

It is almost like we enjoy being disgruntled.

1 For those not versed in Canadian parliamentary politics: When the party with the most seats in the house does not have more than 50% of the seats, it's a “minority government.”

2 We have a bicameral legislature, but when Canadians refer to Parliament they generally mean the House of Commons. Our Senate is appointed, and notoriously useless. There's another wrinkle here that involves a Queen and a Governor-General but basically the realpolitik of the thing is as described above.

3 That said, this was the sixth time in Canadian history that a government was felled by a non-confidence vote. That makes it sound more common than it actually is. I grew up thinking of minority governments as rare. But since 2004 we’ve more or less continuously had them. Before that, the last one was in 1979—it lasted about nine months.

4 Canadians and Americans label the political spectrum differently. As a schoolchild I was taught to identify the American Democrats as a center-right party, a fact I mention to give you a sense of how “out there” the NDP would seem in an American context. (Caveat: While in college at McGill, I was a member of the campus NDP, though I actually never officially joined the party. I did, however, attend a conference about the future of the party held in the summer of 2002. After that conference, however, I dropped my involvement.)

5 In fact, I feel I must add to note 4 that there are likely connections I have that I don’t even know about. Canada is damned small, and I went to law school in Canada, which is an even smaller constituency is the source of a truly appalling number of politicians. I met Layton once, I think, but have retained nothing of the encounter, though he’s my MP (Member of Parliament) now and I’ll probably vote for him. The other day I caught sight of a prominent opposition figure commenting casually on a friend’s Facebook wall.

6 Another part is language politics, which I don't have time to get into fully, but which—short version—effectively mandate bilingualism in national political leaders, albeit to varying degrees.

7 In Canada, “liberal” does not mean “leftist.” Sometimes you’ll hear reference made to “small-l liberals” if a Canadian wants to use the term in the American way. See note 4 above on the different labeling of the political spectrum.

8 His Justice Minister (although she was in National Defence by the time he stepped down), a woman by the name of Kim Campbell, took over as leader of the Progressive Conservatives, becoming Canada’s first lady prime minister. She is pictured up top.

Michelle Dean's writing has appeared, among other places, at Bitch, The American Prospect and The Rumpus. She sometimes blogs here.

Photos of Chrétien and Ignatieff via Ignatieff's Flickr account. Second photo taken by Dave Chan.

98 Comments / Post A Comment

Smitros (#5,315)

Very well done. Thank you.

I lived in Canada from 1993 to 1995 and, due to then-unenlightened immigration policies, was unable to stay.

Chretien, like Clinton and many other developed world leaders, missed out on some rule opportunities to rebuild the world in the 1990s.

Moff (#28)

I offer these prefatory remarks not because what I’m about to tell you about Canada, its politics and the upcoming election isn't worthy of ridicule. Rather, I want to indicate that most American notions of why it's ridiculous—the “eh” and the “aboot”—are… okay, the word I want here is "wrong." Just wrong.

Very politely put.

juicetin (#8,266)

If you're not Canadian but maybe wanna see where you'd be on the political spectrum if you were, go take a 30 question quiz on CBC's site:

With the quadrant I ended up in, there is not a single party that represents my values. Looks like apathy just took a strong lead!

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

It plops me right in the middle of the big cluster of parties. I feel bad about this, but it's getting clearer and clearer that if I ever have kids, I'll be jumping ship.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

I uh, didn't know the answer the a lot of those questions. The hell is a riding?

myfanwy (#1,124)

Riding = constituency, electoral district etc.

It's like a US congressional district.

jaimeleigh (#1,840)

Well done, Michelle! Other than that I am totally bummed out by the reality that we're in for more puppy eating Harper, I have nothing to add.

TheRtHonPM (#10,481)

I'd like to get all humorless and make one quibble with this otherwise excellent article: budgets as confidence motions are not some "residue of Scottish Presbyterianism", they are central to the origin of what we now call the Westminster system (the kind of government you find in the UK, Canada, Australia, and other former British realms).

Around the turn of the 18th century, the "revolutionary settlement" in the wake of the turmoil following the English Civil War gave the UK parliament the power to approve or reject the government's (i.e., the king's) spending. In exchange, it was agreed that only ministers of the crown could propose spending bills in parliament. So if parliament rejected the budget, then it was kind of a big deal because the government couldn't spend any money.

Also, I would argue that giving up and calling a new election following the defeat of a budget is a more civilized solution than, let's say, shutting down the whole government for a couple of weeks in a legislative game of chicken.

jfruh (#713)

Also, I would argue that giving up and calling a new election following the defeat of a budget is a more civilized solution than, let's say, shutting down the whole government for a couple of weeks in a legislative game of chicken.

True, but the last five years or so of Canadian politics have shown the shortcomings: since you can always give up and go back to the voters, there's more of an impetus to do that in the hopes of getting a better deal; but the voters keep electing basically the same unworkable constellation of parties, which prevents much forward motion. The American version is sort of the equivalent of locking the two sides in a room together and forcing them to compromise.

CHORUS LINE appears STAGE LEFT, slowly kicks across to CENTER STAGE, where it shouts "Canada!" and proceeds just as slowly to exit STAGE RIGHT.

Why is the contempt of Parliament story not gaining traction?? I totally care about this and it's weird everyone seems to be so inured to the hatefulness of Harper that it's seemingly a non-issue!!

I agree with most of this — except i find Gilles Duceppe is kind of a hot grandpa. He's a PILF in my books, mais, c'est moi!!

This election is so fucking depressing. Everyone seems to hate Stephen Harper, but Ignatieff is also very scorn-worthy. Like, very very scorn-worthy.

My best hope is we get another Harper minority which will finally flush Harper out of the Conservative leadership. It should also force out Ignatieff out of the Liberal leadership.

The Libs need a new hot leader, and I am looking at you Dominic Leblanc.

I am not a Liberal or Conservative, but as the NDP will never be chosen to govern, obviously the lesser of two evils is what is desired here… So, so depressing.

TheRtHonPM (#10,481)

It's worth remembering that Ignatieff — while still at Harvard — published an article in the NYT Magazine in favor of invading Iraq. So, this kind of permanently qualifies him as a douchebag in some people's eyes (e.g., mine).

@TheRtHonPM: Total agreement! The Liberals I know who would love to love them a Liberal loathe the man for this reason. It's not so much he's been out of the country as a successful academic, it's that he was a giant d-bag while out there doing it!

djfreshie (#875)


Gilles is probably the most intelligent Canadian politician of the last three decades. Now that is depressing. Let's see, I can vote for Sweatervest, Bald Asshole, Vampiregnatieff, Dirty Hippie…oh and here's a super charistmatic, seemingly honest, incredibly smart and wry politician. He annihilates everyone in every debate, and doesn't resort to asshole tactics and bullshit nonsense regurgitation.

Aaaaaand he's a seperatist.

@djfreshie: Total agreement. I fell hard for him during the debates last election. He's super cool and hot, his kids all work in Quebec film and television and he's a Montreal dude through and through.

Last weekend Gilles outright called Sweatervest a liar. But in calling the man a liar, he is only telling the truth and not being a dick. SWEATERVEST LIES! So much love for Gilles Duceppe. I will never vote for him, but if i ever see him around, i will seek him out and swear my eternal fandom.

djfreshie (#875)

He calls people out, but honourably! Last election, when Harper outright lied at one of the debates, Jack Layton just started yelling at him. Sure he was right, but Layton is such a sleazy cock that you can't help but wish he was wrong. Then he went into his whole kitchen table family yadayada. You could tell Harper didn't even care to defend himself, because Layton was making an ass of himself anyways. Why bother? He was almost doing sweatervest a favour.

Meanwhile, Gilles just sat there, expressed actual facts and made his point calmly, and without making Harper feel like he was being attacked. And that's when SV actually had to defend what he was saying, because here was someone being nice and genuine but also laying down an accusation.

Side story about Layton: My GF's brother was in the same building as him during the olympic gold medal hockey game, and apparently he was being blocked, on camera, by other people cheering. He actually physically pushed their arms out of the way, so the camera would capture him celebrating something. I think that sums up the perception most Canadians have of the guy. He's just a big loud sack of bullshit attention hogger. Why the NDP thinks he's a good representation for their party (considering their target voting demographic!) is kind of mental.

jaimeleigh (#1,840)

Am I the only person in the world who adores Jack Layton and gets a cuddly wuddly feeling from him? Really…?! His wife I could take or leave, but I like Jackie boy!

@djfreshie I agree with you about Layton. Something about him just rubs the wrong way.

@jaimeleigh The folks I know in Toronto really seem to love Olivia Chow and NOT her husband. Layton just seems too opportunistic and smarmy for me personally. I dunno. I *want* to like the man, I just don't.

djfreshie (#875)


I have always been a staunch [STAUNCH!] NDP supporter. Staunch. Trust me when I say that I would vote NDP if they were led by an inanimate bowl of brussel sprouts.

I will, staunchingly speaking, not vote for a party led by that man. That's how much he challenges my staunch. Figurehead or not…he's like a Bizarro Rob Ford in every physical way, but they are the same politician. No evidence of any brain activity regurgitating the same meaningless catch phrases over and over again. The smarmy car salesman description is accurate, except he's kind of terrible at selling cars.

jaimeleigh (#1,840)

Okay, okay, okay. I am willing to re-examine my position on this man. Maybe I see him in a better light because one year after a 10k run for the cure he was greeting people as we crossed the finish line? A little crazy from the exhaustion? I don't know! But I've heard this sentiment about Layton many times before…so I'm willing to accept there might be something to it! Also, I'm too scared to vote NDP…worried it's only ever going to be a vote for the Conservatives. But the NDP owns my heart.

djfreshie (#875)

Right, but in re: the 10k run thing…I point to the aforementioned hockey game arm pushing. If there's a chance for some publicity, ol' moustache is there. It's just, he's so so very babykissey handshakey, but he seems really phoney about it. Although to be fair, next to Ignatieff he appears very human. When someone proves that Ignatieff isn't a bloodsucking vampire, I'll vote Liberal. I'll vote twice! You can't do it though. He's for sure a daywalker.

myfanwy (#1,124)

Since we're discussing the leaders' physical appearance: have you seen Harper's eyes? They are cold. Some comedian here joked about the terrorist beheading plot awhile ago – said it wouldn't matter if they were successful, since his head would grow right back.

djfreshie (#875)

Oh, they're cold and unfeeling. Which is why I think he's a robot for sure. But sort of harmless, because I think you could just dismantle him or something. Whereas Count Ignatieff is here forever. I feel like you could probably compare all the candidates to horror movie villains, and it's probably best for voting purposes. Layton would be like an Alien pretending to act like a human being. Gilles might be like some sort of charismatic serial killer. May doesn't even really count as a villain…she's just one of the group of rag-tag soldiers that dies in the first act.

Mindpowered (#948)

See, Layton always gave me the feel that he'd really like to be Gordon Campbell, but couldn't stomach leaving Toronto.

You guys are seriously NOT kidding about the "small world" stuff! I lived in the same city as Obama and the closest I could get was an old episode of Check Please!

KeithTalent (#2,014)

Layton used to (late 2000s) do a lot of grunty dumbbell work in the windowless U of T weight room while wearing a gross white tank top. It was not a pretty sight.

TheRtHonPM (#10,481)

@jaimeleigh: Whenever I see Layton, I feel like he's trying to sell me a used car.

jfruh (#713)

Do I even want to know what the "P" in "PILF" stands for? Maybe it should be QSILF (for "Quebecois sovereigntist").

jfruh (#713)

(or perhaps more obviously, "MPILF")

@jfruh: 'P' stands for politician. He's the only one out of the big 4 i find remotely doable (see notes on Dominic Leblanc above).

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

This was truly excellent.

I interned in city hall in my hometown during summers while I was in college, and my boss got his doctorate studying parliamentary governments, so pretty much every lunch hour in 2004 was spent talking about the 2004 election, and I loved it. Good work, Michelle!

jfruh (#713)

Isn't there also some dodgy down-low love between the Conservatives and the Bloc? Like, in theory they have to hate each other because the Bloc is generally lefty and the Conservatives like to thunder about "treason" (as they did when the Liberals and NDP tried to form a coalition w/Bloc backing last year), but in practice Conservative goals for more provincial autonomy end up dovetailing nicely with Bloc goals for more autonomy for one particular province.

myfanwy (#1,124)

Many of the Bloc politicians used to be PCs, which may have something to do with it.

IBentMyWookie (#133)


I support regime change.

SidAndFinancy (#4,328)


(Too long; not in Québécois.)

thundacunt (#10,611)


cuz i mean Canada? amiright??

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

Sorry, thunda. You're not right.

Dr. Mario (#3,353)

But what are their stances on Crosby's concussion!

DMcK (#5,027)

Question from a non-Canadian: from what I've been reading, I get the impression that Ignatieff's lackluster popularity has less to do with the "brain drain" thing, and more with the fact that he's a completely spineless and ineffectual party leader whose political strategy seems to consist largely of caving to the other side (sort of like a Canadian Harry Reid). Any substance to that?

MichelleDean (#7,041)

This is also true. As you've probably gathered, I had a length problem, here. Although in Canada caving to the other side is not strictly objectionable.

That said, spineless and ineffectual are not much of an impediment to leadership in Canada, these days.

IBentMyWookie (#133)


myfanwy (#1,124)

The Conservatives are doing an excellent job of tarring him with the "spineless" brush, but I think it's more of a John Kerry situation, i.e. (intellectual) man changes mind with new information, is tarred a flip-flopper. Which is not to say that I adore him, but I don't think he's as ineffective as the media (cough, National Post) likes to portray.

IBentMyWookie (#133)

Yes, what myfanwy said.

myfanwy (#1,124)

Also, in Canada (well, at least it used to be), the leader of the political party isn't as important as it is in the States. Ideally, you would vote for the person who would best represent you in your riding, you don't vote directly for the Prime Minister.

hapax (#6,251)

I really oughtta be thanking you for explaining a generation of Canadian politics so clearly, thoughtfully, and humorously [sic, motherfucker], but INSTEAD, I'm going to satisfy a more immediate need, which is to express my immense relief at finding someone else who thought Talking To Americans just wasn't really all that funny. There is something very, very ugly about the sneer in some of my compatriots' voices as they confidently list all the reasons that All Canadians Are So Obviously Superior To All Americans.

joeclark (#651)

The province situated between Ontario and New Brunswick is Quebec, not “Québec.” Its largest city is Montreal (not “Montréal”) and its capital is Quebec City (not “Québec City”), for additional information.

Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms; it has no Bill of Rights.

You have all sorts of copy errors, and everything you’re hard-coding as a number is actually an ordered-list item, but the Awl perpetuates America’s stupidity with HTML semantics.

jaimeleigh (#1,840)

Dearest Fuck,

Check out the Government of Canada's website. You'll see there that Michelle's spelling is correct – Québec, Québec City and Montréal. And Canada does have a Bill of Rights! Still in effect, although it is a federal statute, not a constitutional document like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which proceeded it.

Also, you're a pedantic dick. Good day.

Flashman (#418)

Joe is correct. In English unless you're a pretentious douchebag you say Montreal, not Montréal, and you call it Quebec City rather than 'Ville de Québec.' So you should write it the same way.
- ex-Quebecker

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

"Use of Acute Accents" is on the fast track to replace "What Do We Do with Our Pubic Hair" as The Pressing Issue of Our Time.

djfreshie (#875)


Shawarman (#2,864)

Actually, given the pettiness and avoidance of serious issues in current Canadian federal politics, there is a decent chance the use of acute accents and other French punctuation minutiae could figure prominently in the campaign. I wager accents get more mention than Libya.

MichelleDean (#7,041)

If your entire family is from Québec, even if your dad's side is populated by intransigent anglos in the Outaouais and your mom's side is a bit more complicated because she lives as an anglo while her sister and her sister's children now live basically as francophones, and you yourself lived for seven years in Montréal and know and count many francophones and even separatists among your friends, you use the accent because you think this situation Is really complicated and it seems like a very small sign of mutual respect since the accent is important to francophones when the word is written down.

That said I do pronounce these words the English way when speaking in English, though I tend to say kay-beck instead of kwe-beck.

That is me, though. If you want to die on a hill over this trivial issue, go right ahead.

joeclark (#651)

Yes, of course we rely on government Web sites as style guides.

Canadian Oxford lists Montreal. Quebec, and Quebec City in the senses used here, and no alternatives with accents. But Cologne is really Köln, isn’t it?

andj (#1,074)

The Charter is a bill of rights. A bill of rights is just a list of important rights. Sometimes a country calls a bill of rights The Bill of Rights. Other times they give it a different name.

joeclark (#651)

The Charter is a bill of rights. It is not a, or the, Bill of Rights.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

I would never use an ol for this. It would just tack on a lot of left margin for no benefit; it's not as though there are any plain paragraphs to contrast. The shortest item is two paragraphs long; you're unlikely to see three numbers on screen at a time. Plus you would just be asking for trouble with the left-floating images.

Also, "color" doesn't have a U in it. Canadians spell some words differently? A quick wikipedia search indicates that those accents are quite correct in French, and as such probably see frequent use in Canada.

More importantly it is the official mode in which these words are printed in this province. Michelle is showing respect, and further happens to be fitting in a column of this nature. Contrast this with a special lack of respect above and welcome to my world.

joeclark (#651)

CSS has already been invented, Doctor Disaster. Semantics are non-negotiable, like vocative commas.

We aren’t writing in French, Doctor, hence Quebec is Quebec the way Moscow is Moscow.

DoctorDisaster (#1,970)

Sorry, but you're just wrong on standards. Not everything that starts with a number is an ordered list. Ask yourself: what exactly is being listed or outlined here? Nothing. This is an article with NUMBERED SECTIONS. If you're seriously suggesting that the

  • tag was intended to separate sections of an article, my advice is to revisit the standards yourself.

    From a pragmatic point of view, your criticism still makes no sense. You're suggesting either that the writer of the article should stick a

  • Kevin Knox (#4,475)

    Joe, I'm genuinely curious: Has anything ever met with your approval?

    joeclark (#651)

    Yes. Possibly including your cock, but let’s evaluate that in person.

    Spatchcock (#10,814)

    Well done. I've been encouraging my son, who is 13, to emigrate when he's of age, and he seems to favor Canada. I'll have him read this for its socio-political-historical value.

    Keith Kisser (#9,714)

    What would change this attitude among Canadians? or to be more brusque about it, what do Canadians want out of their government that they aren't getting? I ask out of genuine curiosity.

    Here in the US, it's pretty obvious that our ruling class doesn't give a gyrating turd what the voting populace thinks and is entirely beholden to corporate interests. Americans may not be able to agree on exactly how we want to change things but there is wide agreement that we need to make changes but none of our leaders will do so. (there's also the creeping fear that the red necks will get into power again and start lobbing nukes-for-Jesus at anyone with a darker complexion than Mitt Romney).

    How does Canadian sentiment differ?

    andj (#1,074)

    This is a complicated question. Canadians are less patriotic than Americans are, and sometimes I think that's a good thing and other times I think it leads to less investment in the political process of the country. By way of illustration, I read an article recently about a Canadian who purchased an old building somewhere in the states (Delaware? my memory is sketchy). Later, it was discovered that the building had been used as a barracks in the War of 1812. Local sentiment rejected foreign ownership of this building, and the Canadian was forced to sell it. Meanwhile, they recently discovered the remains of our Second Parliament under a gas station somewhere in Toronto, and the local consensus was to just leave it there and maybe excavate it some other time.

    myfanwy (#1,124)

    Re. smallness of Canada: I grew up in the vicinity of Weyburn, which is Tommy Douglas central. There are, unsurprisingly, many things named after him. (I still reside in Saskatchewan.)

    Re. Ignatieff – I did not know about the "gravel" remark. Unfortunately now I do.

    Re. Francophones – there are pockets of them over Canada, in addition to Quebec. I know there is a significant amount in southern Sask and Manitoba. (Not that it's super relevant, but people forget this. Also, Saskatchewan has pockets of violently anti-French sentiment, mostly due to bitterness from forced French class from kindergarten to grade nine, but also fallout from Quebec separatism and what they see as the federal government pandering to minority Francophones. See also: pedantic dick upthread dismissing French spellings of Quebec, Montreal etc.)

    Re. Liberals – in the crowd I run with, they're seen as centrists, and swing left or right depending on what issue you're discussing. Like, they're for universal health care, but also pander to large corporations and the wealthy, unlike the farther left parties. Pretty much everyone is for universal health care, except for the Conservatives who want to sell out to private interests and dismantle unions.

    andj (#1,074)

    If Canada is small, Saskatchewan is even smaller. When I needed to sublease my apartment in Toronto, I found someone by asking my mom who asked her aerobics instructor (both from SK), and I ended up renting to the instructor's brother. As it turns out, he was also a member of my grandparents' church choir and a good friend of my best friend crica grade 2.

    boyofdestiny (#1,243)

    You folks are talking about the second largest country on earth the same way I talk about my home in north Jersey. I'm fascinated.

    Connor (#4,136)

    I'm from PEI where everyone literally knows everyone. We are the smallest province, and we're very old fashioned and stubborn about a lot of things. We just recently got canned pop. But yeah, if anyone knows anyone from PEI, I have (most likely) met them, and if they're between the ages of 18 and 27, I've probably drank with them too.

    @myfanwy: A friend of mine spent four months in Swift Current with Katimavik and loved it. Absolutely loves meeting people from there. It sounds like a really nice place. :)

    There's a story, kind of, I guess it's more of a rule. If you're in an airport and you're from PEI, you will meet someone and end up talking to them and they will either be from there, or have a good friend from there, or they will have family there. It's a fucking law of science at this point.

    Bittersweet (#765)

    Re: francophones outside of Quebec. My husband and I once drove from Seattle to Kingston, Ontario via the Canadian Rockies and the Trans-Canada Highway. We stopped in Winnipeg for lunch one day and I heard the next table over speaking a language that seemed familiar but I couldn't place it. After about half an hour I realized they were speaking French. But not Quebecois.

    Connor (#4,136)

    They were probably from New Brunswick.

    Bittersweet (#765)

    I was tempted to ask, but wasn't sure my French was up to it.

    Mindpowered (#948)

    Actually it was probably Metis French. Red River and all.

    myfanwy (#1,124)

    Connor: My coworker is from PEI. She's going out there in May for a couple of weeks. Chances are you know her family as well. Her last name is Pratt?

    Seriously though, canned pop is gross. Glass bottles are much nicer.

    Connor (#4,136)

    If she's related to Shannon, then yeah. I know Shannon the UPEI newspaper, the Cadre, which I edit (shameless plug), and she runs Music PEI.

    myfanwy (#1,124)

    Hey andj: what part of Sask is your mother from? I'm only semi-joking; there's only a million people here so chances are I know her, know someone who knows her, or we're related.

    andj (#1,074)

    My mom is from Rose Town/Saskatoon. My dad is from Swift Current. I lived in Saskatoon as a child before moving to Calgary in the early '90s. My sister still lives in S'toon (along w/ grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins).

    Where are you from?

    myfanwy (#1,124)

    I live in Stoon, have some relatives here, in Weyburn and Tisdale, and my uncle's family (in-laws) are from Speedy Creek. I went to high school in a small town outside Weyburn, and university here. If anyone in your family is between the ages of 20 and 28 and either participated in track/partied anywhere, they will know my cousins. (I'm not sure how much to reveal on here, since I enjoy being semi-anonymous, at least.)

    MichelleDean (#7,041)

    On the non-Québec francophones, yes, and there are also Acadians around in New Brunswick and living elsewhere in exile. Again, a length issue but this is an important point.

    myfanwy (#1,124)

    Also, no mention of the Green Party? ~7% of the vote isn't a lot, but hey, Elizabeth May came off the best in last election's debate. Of course, this would devolve into a discussion over seats, first-past-the-post, electoral reform, and then Senate reform (or abolishment) so…never mind.

    hman (#53)

    Jeff Douglas is smoking hot – thanks Canada.

    jfruh (#713)

    By the way, the cruel bastards at YouTube aren't letting USA Americans watch Jean Chrétien try to strangle some guy.

    I like to think that this is just thinly veiled, "polite" Canadian revenge for Hulu not working in Canada. Well-played, Canadian!

    MichelleDean (#7,041)

    Indeed polite in Canada usually does mean passive aggressive. But I dunno why that link is not working for you? Bastards.

    andj (#1,074)

    Does this one work?

    It was also cool when Chretien's wife, Aline, confronted a home intruder armed with a knife and locked him in a closet.

    Flashman (#418)

    I guess the only bright side to this election, if the current polling bears out, is that it'll set in motion Ignatieff's resignation.
    Every time I hear Bob Rae being interviewed on the radio I just think, what the fuck were they thinking, choosing Ignatieff over Rae?

    Mindpowered (#948)

    Aside from the minor issue that Bob Rae goes over like a Brick of Plutonium in Ontario, what were they thinking?

    Mr. B (#10,093)

    Informative! But I'm disappointed that you never actually explain why it's wrong for Americans to make fun of Canadians for saying eh? So, I'm just going to continue thinking it's hilarious. ("Aboot," yeah, I know you guys don't really say that; it sounds more like "a-bowt," with a little guttural fourish in the latter syllable.)

    Also, what's up with Mac 'n Cheese being called "Kraft Dinner" up there?

    LN (#6,267)

    So I had to log in and leave my first comment because I turned to my roommate (who is American) and said 'oh how funny, this guy thinks Americans don't say Kraft Dinner' and she gave me a blank look. I had no idea! None.

    Also? This was a terrific article.

    Mindpowered (#948)

    Mr B. " It's gotta be, K.D."

    Mac & Cheese doesn't quite have the same ring.

    Which is to tell you that Stephen Harper does not spring from the long Canadian tradition of “progressive” conservatism. Rather he's emerged from the fringes of what is viewed in Canada as extreme right-wing politics.

    I think the case with Harper is slightly different, although he certainly started in the far-right muddle. I don't think there's any doubt anymore that what he is isn't so much a right-wing ideologue as a man totally committed to getting and holding power in any way that he can, including espousing and then ignoring whatever beliefs he needs to to get where he is going.

    He helped form the far-right populist Reform party, as a Calgary MP and then the moment they got a couple of seats, was instrumental in totally dismantling it to merge with the Oldest of the Old Guard in Federal power. He advocated against social movements and the left in general, but always stayed carefully away from the most radical parts of either the Reform or the Tory party.

    When he got into power, I recall some halfhearted bleatings about same-sex marriage, but that soon stopped entirely. Like, not just stopped, but stopped throughout the entire Conservative machinery. He then brutally clamped down on the media, limiting any and all access, brutally clamped down on his own party, limiting their ability to say any opinion in the media without having it first vetted through his own office. He dropped any pretense to opposition to abortion and opposition to official bilingualism and became the perfect Canadian Prime Ministerial candidate – a bland, unassuming person about whom no opinion was known, who let zero information slip out, so that the Canadian population, eternally choosing to be slightly dumb and lazy about things, could just fill in all the blanks. So the response wasn't "how come we don't know anything he's doing", but instead became "wow, his quiet competence is so profound that even our evil media can't find anything wrong with him".

    I mean, he even went so far as to propose a conservative alliance with the Bloc to stall a liberal minority government a few years ago. It's really hard to see Harper as anything but the world's most perfect opportunist. I mean, he would be the greatest serial killer the world had ever seen "oh what a surprise officer. He always kept to himself, but was polite and smiled… I never heard a bad thing about him!"

    And the Quebec issue is a thorny one because Quebec, despite being a lovely and wonderful province (albeit weirdly racist both towards foreigners from white people, and towards white people from foreigners), generates an absurd amount of dislike because of their minority lynchpin status.

    They've been the party and the province to be courted for so long that it's become sort of a way of life for the politicians and people. The people demand that their leaders get more of what the Federal Government "owes them", and the leaders know that they can because they just offer their cooperation in Parliament. And even if Quebec might not actually get more money than any other Province in transfer payments or infrastructure payments, they always APPEAR to, and that's the trick (although actually, they almost certainly do).

    Just this morning on the French news, I saw a dude from Quebec who represents their student union say "well, if the Government were serious about improving the quality of Universities, there's an election – they could demand money from the Government". I mean, that's from a left-wing student union guy, and he's just tossing off on National news about how the Government should basically blackmail the Fed whenever they want something. It's that sort of Governmental practice of entitlement that grates on people.

    It's nice to see people in America learn something publicly about Canada, however. Very nice article.

    Just to be a pedant, Chrétien didn't succeed Trudeau. You are missing six glorious years of John Turner.

    MichelleDean (#7,041)

    Oh you are so right. Is he dead? I only half remember him. But I appreciate this particular correction.

    But it's very long! i did not expect it to be this loooooooong. plus i didin't even read it because it's too loooooooong!!!!!!!!!!

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