A funny thing occurred toward the end of the recent U.S. presidential election in which Barack Obama was returned to office. A number of irate Americans announced their desire to move to Canada in protest. Something which many in Canada — and Americans in the know — regard with amusement…and more than a little bemusement.
Earlier, liberal and left-leaning Americans had announced they might move to Canada if Republican Mitt Romney won, and one can kind of get that (though most of us assumed it was more rhetoric than actual intent). But then the pendulum started to swing toward Obama, the polls started to solidify behind him (apparently Republicans were blindsided by the election results because they had convinced themselves the polls were just a “mainstream media” conspiracy and trusted to their internal polls instead which told them what they wanted to hear…and were wrong), and finally he was returned to office. And it became conservatives and right wingers who then announced a desire to participate in this fantasy exodus.
And the reason it’s funny, of course, is because…um…Canada.
Just about everything the right fears Obama will do to America is already in place in Canada, and fairly deeply entrenched. Federally Canada’s had universal health care since the 1960s (and even earlier in some provinces) and though Canada may have a Conservative government in power…even they’ve pretty much resigned themselves to same sex marriage being here to stay (which Canada has had for a few years).
Obama eked out a small — but genuine — victory in America, winning both the Electoral College Vote (whatever the heck that is) and also the popular vote (meaning more Americans cast a vote for him than for Romney) — yet according to polls, had Canadians been voting…Obama would’ve won by a landslide!
So why on earth would American right ringers, protesting the election of a man who by Canadian standards might only be described as “centre” (Red Tory might be a better label), decide to move to The Great White North? I mean, if they felt Obama’s liberal policies were too much for them and they threatened to emigrate to, say, Iran, it might make more sense.
(And for those puzzled by polls suggesting 70 percent of Canadians would vote for Obama yet Canada currently has a Conservative government, you have to realize that in a multi-party system like Canada has — as opposed to what is practically an either/or two party system like in the U.S. — the governing party rarely can boast about winning the popular vote. I believe the Conservatives formed the government with between 30 and 40 percent of the popular vote.)
But it’s interesting to consider — and look past the easy jokes and dismissive superficial smugness that Canadian pundits can fall into.
Maybe after hearing liberals threaten to move to Canada if Romney won, conservatives figured they could threaten the same, as a kind of “nyah nyah, if you can do it, so can we” thing. And they assumed the liberals were eyeing Canada for its geographic and linguistic convenience…not realizing there was an ideological thread to the thought. Particularly because, as I say, I doubt very much too many people (left or right) literally intended to move anyway.
But it raises the question about just how little these people seem to know about Canada. I mean, Canadians accept that Americans don’t necessarily know (or care) that much about Canada…but we kind of figured certain things were at least general knowledge, like universal health care (I mean, they made jokes about it on The Simpson’s for Radisson’s sake!) And didn’t American hawks get up in arms when Canada refused to join the (second) Iraq War? But maybe that was seen as an issue in isolation, and not perceived as being reflective of any general social or philosophical trend. Canada was a haven for American escaped slaves and Vietnam War draft dodgers, surely intimating a pattern. But does Canada remain just a blob on a map to them (assuming they can even find it on a map)? Devoid of history and context? A vague name that denotes simply some place “other” to which you escape? As quasi-mythical as “Albuquerque” was to me in all those old Bugs Bunny cartoons which simply signified a place where Bugs took a wrong turn?
Perhaps more troubling, is it not that these Americans know nothing about Canada…but do they think perhaps they do know something about it, and assume it’s a place they would feel comfortable? I mean, a lot of Canadians (not, obviously, right wing conservatives) pride themselves on Canada being a liberal, progressive, tolerant, pluralistic nation…but is that message getting out there?
Just as an example, I’ve noted before that even as Canada is a multi-cultural, multi-racial nation…I sometimes get the impression in American perceptions, Canada is a monolithic, white, culture. The very stereotypes of Canada presented often in American media — Canadians as white, guileless, stick-in-the-mud, bumpkins — could be construed as Canada as basically a hermetically sealed clone of America as it used to be. Do Americans have an image of Canada as a kind of artfully preserved 1950s America, of white faces, moms in the kitchen, and a dog in every yard?
And so the question is: if there’s a misperception about Canada, if American conservatives “fearing” an Obama administration are somehow under a delusion that Canada is the place for them, then the question is:
Whose fault is that?
Who’s responsible for presenting a face — and a vision — of Canada before the world? Answer: Canadian artists and storytellers.
And so we come to a recurring theme of mine: Canadian identity, and Canadian culture, as portrayed (or NOT portrayed) in Canadian pop culture — specifically movies and TV. I’ve said before a lot of Canadian movies and TV shows actively pretend they aren’t Canadian (being set in the U.S.) or go for a kind of Anytown, North America. But even programs that do — supposedly — admit they are set in Canada often go for a kind of soft, generic Canada, deliberately presenting a Canada where even if they reference place names, or show a flag (or the CN Tower) in the background, anything too distinctly Canadian is carefully excised from the scenes and the dialogue.
Is it any wonder some Americans might perceive Canada as being, essentially, just a 51st State only comfortably isolated from whichever administration is in Washington because, in a sense, that’s the vision Canadian film and television producers present to them in series like Saving Hope, Continuum, Rookie Blue and Primeval: The New World (the latter, admittedly, I’ve only seen two episodes so far…but they’re carefully using American pronunciations of words).
So, hey, if a gun totting, Creationism believing, racist, anti-Obama American moves in next door to you and decides you’re going to be his new BFF — you know who to blame.