OTTAWA — What makes a Canadian Canadian? With 90 percent of our music, movies, and television emanating from the United States, some would say we're just Americans with more extensive winter wardrobes.
But despite our overwhelming Yankee-like appearance, there are certain things that make us unique. For example, our skin is more translucent, for lack of sun. That's not surprising when you consider that we live in a country where summer is measured in days rather than months.
We can all skate and most of us can ski. Living in a land with 10 months of winter and two months of tough sledding makes that a necessity.
Canadians can talk hockey. Despite the fact that most National Hockey League teams are US-based and despite the fact that we regularly lose in the Olympics, it's still our national game and we love it. We just don't own it anymore.
And that's another distinguishing feature of Canada. We don't own it. Thanks to NAFTA and ever-expanding international trade, we're in hock to the rest of the world. The Mounties have even licensed themselves out to the Disney Corporation. About the only things we have left are the Rocky Mountains and a couple of Zamboni factories.
But what really defines a Canadian? Is it the simple fact that we say "eh?" instead of "huh?" Is it that we're supposedly quieter and more polite than our southern neighbours? Is it that we spell neighbour with a "u?"
I don't think so. Those things are pretty trivial, and if that's all we've got going for us we might as well throw in the towel and become the 51st state.
What we do have is a unique blend of British and American influences. We have a parliamentary system of government that grew out of a founding document that called for "peace, order, and good government." Pretty bland stuff compared with your "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." But it has helped to shape a political and cultural identity quite distinct from the United States.
Because we value the commonwealth over the rights of the individual, we have socialized medicine. Everyone is covered, and no one has to fear losing his home and savings to illness.
Because we value social order over individual liberty, few Canadians own handguns. And consequently, our crime rate is far lower than yours.
Because we value cooperative effort, we provide more-generous welfare benefits to those in need. This results in less of a disparity between rich and poor and the absence of gated communities for the well-to-do and sprawling urban slums.
Because we believe more in the reality of cooperation than the myth of the self-made man, we subsidize higher education far more than you do. Canadians believe that a real chance at success comes when society at large helps people over the first hurdles.
We regulate our cultural industries and our airwaves to an extent that would outrage most Americans. But we believe that television and radio licenses are public trusts, not simply gold mines for political friends.
Our unique history of resisting American assimilation has led to historical compromises and accommodations between French Canada and English Canada. We continue to struggle with this issue, but whatever the outcome, we won't resort to a civil war.
That same spirit of cooperation and accommodation has led to a multicultural society that is able to welcome newcomers from around the world without the ghettoization of immigrants that is so common in the United States. Ironically, we have come closer than you to achieving the melting pot that is part of the American mythology.
So that's what makes Canada Canadian. To paraphrase a bit, author Pierre Berton once defined a Canadian as somebody who knows how to make romance in a canoe. I still think there's some truth to that adage.
But today it might be more accurate to say that a Canadian is someone who can regulate the canoe industry to provide a fair profit for the manufacturer while still ensuring a strong social safety net for the employees.
David Martin is a lawyer with the Canadian government.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society