Sidestepping into History and the Rebranding of Canada

Information from The Canadian Press today outlines how Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, the face of Canada in dealing with other nations, has muscled aside usual rules in order to customize his business cards. A trivial thing? Maybe, for some. I’ve had personal experience in private industry with branding representation on my business cards, but, then, I’m not a federal Minister and representative of a nation. And, as much as I have taken a dose or two of shit from the few who allow my opinions to be inflicted upon them for decrying the resurgence of references to the monarchy in our government institutions, I believe that all of this is bundled with a number of other individually less alarming moves by the Conservative government to form a sad and disappointing departure from pride in our Canadian identity.

Call me a drama queen if you like, but some of us used to be proud to say we were Canadian and feel that it made us different from the rest of the world.


Well, okay, in fairness to a professor I had in Canadian Literature, defining “Canadian” is actually remarkably more difficult than you would normally expect. However, setting aside academic debate about the narrative quality of identity and my own notions on the impossibility of defining an enduring Self, Canada is a unique nation born by means that many of our neighbours can’t understand.

When I lived in the US, one of the biggest accusations I heard was that Canada simply doesn’t “do” anything. Of course, this is in reference to our non-confrontational and unaggressive nature on the world stage. But, it is also attached to our history, and the fact that we did not break from English colonial rule through force of arms, but have instead laboured for countless decades to emerge a more or less sovereign nation from our colonial roots. The Americans take great pride in winning everything through combat, including and especially their independence from the UK. The fact that we didn’t beat back the Brits to free ourselves of their shackles and instead talked our way more or less free is seen as quaint, and a flaw in our character. We like diplomacy, and that is seen as weak by some other nations. I would imagine that by others, it’s seen as something commendable.

The monarchy is held by much of the world to be a symbolic and almost completely irrelevant structure. Hell, many Brits feel that way. That’s not to say that the Queen is all bad; I’m sure the old girl is tons of fun to chat with over tea, and the fact that the British Monarchy has weathered so very long is admirable. But, the monarchy is antiquated, and beyond the symbolic representation of tradition and history that it serves as an icon, it doesn’t mean much to very many in 2011.

Neither am I saying that I am not proud of our history as a British colony. I have read the early literature of this country, I’ve enjoyed the insight into the framing of our nation that the words set down by people like Susanna Moodie have given me. I was sad to see the institution of the Hudson’s Bay Company, such a formative part of our existence on this land, become American. I’ve learned some of the history and been ashamed of our role in the extinction of the Beothucks in Newfoundland. I’m not a historian, and certainly not as well acquainted with where our country came from than some others, but I think I have a better grasp than many, and I try and remain objective instead of blind to our faults along the way. The birth of Canada from European settlement through the atrocities of our treatment of the original native people’s of Canada, to our conflicts at home with the French and Americans, and our conflicts afar in two World Wars and other battles, is a massive and impressive story. And, for any American who says they are better because they fought for their freedom where we negotiated ours, I suggest they sit firmly on one or both thumbs and keep their violent and intellectually inept rhetoric to themselves. Canada is impressive because of its history.

And, it’s impressive because we are no longer living our history.

Through various entirely proper acts of Parliament, British or Canadian, Canada has slowly become more and more independent. The original British North America Act was written in 1867, and it wasn’t until 1949, some ten revision the the BNA later, that Canada gained limited control over constitutional amendments and opened our first foreign Embassy. With the passage of the Canada Act in 1982, we formed our own constitution and the previous BNAs were either repealed or adjusted. Trying to truly place a date on when Canada became a nation is difficult, but the earliest suggestion would be 1949, or more likely 1982. Before that, we were just an extension of the United Kingdom.

This is why it was deplorable to see our Prime Minister parrot not only the sentiments, but the actual words of the United States President in almost every major public address in the early years of his rule. The fact that those speeches that were copied almost verbatim were copied from George “Dubyah” Bush is just more shameful, really. This is why it was deplorable to witness our long and protracted combat entry into Afghanistan, a war that is being waged for the wrong reasons and without any clear end in sight. This is why it is embarassing to see the number of times the public has been duped and lied to, and the rules of our government shat upon by our Prime Minister to further his agenda, through proroguations, shady spending habits, secretive policies, torture scandals, and unprecedented contempt of parliament. This is why the enforecement of the rebranding of our Canadian government as “The Harper Government” is shameful and sickening, as was the breach of established rules to brand a federal government website as Conservative as possible. This is why the recent revival of old names for the armed forces, “Royal Canadian,” the removal of artwork that has hung on Parliament Hill since the Queen herself opened the building, to hang a picture of the Queen, and the enforcement of hanging a portrait of the Queen in all embassies is sad.

This is why John Baird’s removal of the Canada wordmark, bilingual text and name of the building he works in (because it is named after a Liberal) from the cards he gives to foreign partners is shameful.

Have we not worked long enough, hard enough, and lost enough lives in enough wars through the decades in service of the pursuit of our own independent identity from that of our colonial birthplace? Do we not deserve this independence, without stepping backwards into our history, after all this time?

They’re just business cards. The portrait of the Queen is just a picture, and, after all, the Queen is a big part of our history.

Sure, that’s about right. And it’s also a spit in the face of every soldier who has ever fought in defence or support of Canada that the dog-faced jackass that represents us in foreign affairs finds it necessary to remove the Canada wordmark that all other misters have on their stationary from his business cards so that he can place an expensive gold-leaf embossed coat of arms there instead. It’s insulting that he’s so childish that he has to remove the name of the building he works in from his address, simply because the Prime Minister it was named after was a Liberal. And it’s downright pathetic that we need to regress through symbolism and branding back towards our colonial roots just because our fat-assed leader wants to ride the coattails of popularity that William and Kate have found in the world.

I was asked to grow up when I complained about the portraits of the Queen being hung. It’s interesting that being upset that the character of the country I live in being assaulted this way is perceived to be a sign of immaturity. I wonder what would happen if Obama mandated that the Queen’s portrait be hung in all US embassies. I wonder if the millions who would be offended would be asked to grow up, or if the whole thing would be ignored the way it largely is here at home. After all, the US was once a British colony as well.

When will we decide as a nation that moving forward is more important that being dragged back by a need to show homage to our distant history? How many great things does a modern and independent Canada have to do before that becomes enough of a history in itself that it is worth honoring?

I am proud of our history, both as a subject of British rule and as a nation with our own Constitution. I am ashamed, as well, by some of that history. I think it’s the right and humble thing for a person to recognize the greatness, and the wrongs, that their country has been a part of. I think our history gives us stength at our back. But, if we keep turning to face our history, it becomes something that pushes us backward rather than forward. I hope that four years from now we haven’t lost too much of our national pride and sense of being to the likes of idiots like Baird and his keepers. It took us a long time to get here.

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