O Canada

Guest post by Graham Watt

Harold’s note: This is the post that I would like to have written, but Graham says it so much better than I could have.

Springfield, a small community in New Brunswick, has been in high dudgeon in past weeks, after the principal of Belleisle Elementary School there, cut out the playing of O Canada at the start of each school day. The reason given was the objections of some parents to their children having to stand and sing the anthem.

I have a 10-year old daughter attending public school here in New Brunswick, and she has always had to sing O Canada each morning. In fact, down here, it’s quite common to still hear God Save the Queen at some school and civic events. Evidently while colonialism is slowly ebbing, it is being replaced with good ol’ American patriotism. The many recent letters to local newspapers extolling the virtues of patriotism and hooking it onto the O Canada anthem is perhaps another indication of how this part of the country has become a pale imitation of the U.S., where everything and everyone must have a reputation as a stalwart defender of freedom, and hopefully, a missing arm or a visible wound, preferably still bleeding. Not quite the Deep South, more like the Deep East.

O Canada is a wonderful anthem, a bringer of tears during emotional moments, be they Olympic victories or the sight of our poor soldiers returning home in boxes, having given their lives not only for their country but also for misguided foreign policy. Must we play it every day in schools, like a song for some brand we’re trying to sell? Why not keep it for occasions that merit our tears of joy or sorrow? Why not keep it for those who have earned its playing? They are the brave lost ones who have no recourse, nor do their families, but to be proud that they kept their word, and did their duty.

The playing of O Canada every day in schools, is supposed to celebrate the country and make us all proud. Exactly what are we proud of? That we’ve become employees and managers but not owners in our own land. That we rank 17th out of 23 industrialized countries in rates of child poverty? That we’ve killed all the fish, cut down all the trees, dug up all the coal, sucked out the world’s dirtiest and most expensive oil? That we keep saying we want to keep our beloved public health system while our business elites keep wanting us to get rid of it so they can pay less tax and make more money with a private system?

Are we proud of watching U.S. television programs so much that we have next to no original work of our own? Proud that we use another country’s television programs to describe ourselves? So that when a possibility of a coalition government forming occurs in our parliament (a perfectly normal event in a parliamentary system) we cry unfair, coup d’état, because “Hey man, they don’t do that in the U.S., so we can’t do it here”? Is this a reason to sing O Canada? Are we proud that we don’t offer our children civics courses in school? Or that any immigrant to this country knows more about our political system than we do ourselves? Are we proud of being in Afghanistan to help build schools for children while tacitly ignoring the plight of our aboriginals here? The same aboriginals whose life spans are the same as in the poorest third world countries? The same aboriginals who saved our sorry asses each excruciatingly cold winter of our ancestors’ arrivals here? Canada is in the top 5 in the UN’s human development index. Our aboriginal population is in 78th place. Do we think of this when we sing we’ll stand on guard for thee?

And exactly why are we trotting out the tired old word “patriotism”? A state that Samuel Johnson said was the last refuge of the scoundrel? Why? This is one of the few countries in the world that grew out of peace and not revolution or violence. That’s its charm and its promise too. That might be something to proud of if we’re not of the current machismo bent.

So why are we outraged about a school principal who stopped the recorded anthem every morning, when we trash the same anthem incessantly, trivializing it at every baseball game, every hockey game? Exactly what are we so proud of every school day? That we’ve cut back on education so much that our children are among the lowest scorers in literacy in the country? That we have fewer doctors per thousand people than every other OECD country but three? Have we done some reflecting about our country? Do we have enough confidence to look at its failings as well as its successes? Have we thought about how during World War 2, when Jews needed safe refuge they were turned back by our government, the classic explanatory phrase which summed up the attitude being: “None is too many!”?

We should think of that next time we stand to hear the familiar strains of O Canada. Think of how this country is more than a hockey game or a pale imitation of another country. Somewhere good and sometimes not so good. We should reflect on how we might cut back on the puffing up of our chests, and get our hearts and souls into remedying some of the enormous social problems we face by actually realizing we’re not a smaller version of some other fantasy country. That would be a good start. And perhaps think that past all the faults and the timid advances into a vast and wild land, we finally built something unique in North America, not by grabbing and stabbing, but by sharing and caring.

Graham Watt

4 Responses to “O Canada”

  1. Brian Ward

    Graham, you make some interesting points.

    However, I can’t help thinking that the banning of our national anthem is a first step on the slippery slope towards the rescinding of all that we stand for, even though, as you quite rightly describe, we are a long way away from achieving it. As an immigrant, I am very proud of my adopted country, because I believe that, in comparison to many other countries we are leaders, if not in practice, at least in thought. I am happy to sing, tearfully, our National Anthem on any and every occasion.

    In regards to us being a ‘smaller version’ of our southern neighbor, I would respectfully suggest that you read the multi-year studies comparing regions of Canada with the United States of America, conducted by Environics and reported on by their President Michael Adams…Fire and Ice would be a good place to start. As the Seattle Times put it “Adams’s findings titillate because they fly in the face of conventional wisdom; namely, that the two similar societies, inundated by the same brain-numbing, body-bloating doses of American reality TV and fast food, will grow more and more alike over time, turning Canadians into ‘unarmed Americans with health insurance,’ as they lie to say up north”

    It seems that us Canadians do NOT see ourselves as pale imitations of our US neighbors after all, as the Environic’s studies confirm.

  2. Harold Jarche

    Brian, the national anthem was never banned at the school in Springfield. For almost two years it was played at monthly assemblies and special occasions. Like many other schools in the country, the anthem was not played each morning. The statements made by Conservative MP’s in the House were inflammatory and not based on fact. It is interesting to note that the school Principal was the Green candidate in the last election and campaigned against the current Conservative MP, who is also the Minister of Veterans Affairs. This entire affair was political.

    You’re right, too many people in Canada have become “brain-numbed”. The woman who brought the complaint even noted that “The Pledge of Allegiance” is no longer said in school. We don’t have a pledge of allegiance. Canada has an Oath of Allegiance, which has never been required for school children, only officials of the Crown and members of the Armed Forces.

  3. graham watt

    Brian, I too get teary when I hear O Canada. But not at hockey games where half the players are from European countries. and not at similar trivial events which
    evoke nothing from me. But I cried when I was in Innsbruck and some friends of mine won a gold medal in bobsled, many years ago. I get teary at accomplishment, less so at patriotic showiness. I think one of the great lessons in life is to be try and be a critical thinker, to challenge assumptions, hers, his theirs, and most importantly, my own. To unflinchingly salute the country when
    it stumbles or is plain wrong is to adopt the same behaviour of parents at hockey games who see their children’s on ice behaviour as always right, and vocally
    trash referees and other players.


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