Monday, February 8, 2010

Among the avalanche of questions being asked by foreign journalists about Vancouver and the Winter Olympics, one took aim at our Prime Minister’s recent remarks regarding Canada’s intention to win these games, and isn’t that uncharacteristic of a Canadian -- to insist you are out to win something?

The question caught me off-guard. In responding I had to step back and examine the assumptions behind it. I had to remind myself what a Canadian was, a question that never yields a good response, Canada being indivisible, the equivalent of 1080 into 343, something that cannot be melted in a pot. Second, is our Prime Minister someone who relates to this kind of ambiguity? No. Harper is to the cookie cutter what El Zorro is to the sabre. Third…what was the question again?

The question was repeated.

Where did you hear him says this? I asked.

The reporter told me it was something he had heard second-hand, from a Canadian back east.

But that is where Canada lives, I replied, where it is constructed, disseminated. You are asking me to comment on something twice-removed.

That's when it dawned on me: I was being taken for a ride, lured into saying something impractical, unuseable, when what I really wanted to talk about was the symbolic: how for Canada’s Prime Minister the Olympics is our Iraq – a distraction from our “work” in Afghanistan. So I told the reporter, Our Prime Ministers are not part of our intellectual tradition. We’ve never had a Thomas Jefferson.

What about Trudeau?

I think Trudeau was out to destroy intellectuals through his inhabitation of stereotypical intellectual behaviour – detached, arrogant, impatient. Our intellectuals – our public intellectuals -- come from the infrastructural: transportation in the case of Harold Innes, communication in the case of Marshall McLuhan. But getting back to Trudeau, this was a man who, in 1970, evoked the War Measures Act because he had lost touch with Quebec, an action that allowed the RCMP to enter any home in Canada, not just in Quebec, and beat the shit out of anyone who stood in their way. The only thing that comes close was Brian Mulroney’s first act as Prime Minister: the dissolution of the Foreign Investment Review Board in order to open the country to a trade deal that would endanger one of its most treasured assets -- a mixed economy.

Three seconds of silence.

You are passionate about your beliefs, said the reporter. Not what I think of when I think of Canadians.

I rest my case.

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