Canadians often vacillate between identifying ourselves as vastly unique from our southern neighbours, when they are acting in a distasteful manner, to admitting how much US culture, entertainment, and policies influence our everyday lives. The truth is there are great similarities and great differences between Canadians and Americans.
In the two years leading up to the 2016 presidential election and in the immediate aftermath, the idea Canada is vastly different from the US has gained a more permanent position. Canada has long cashed in on the reputation of an admiral set of values that shame its American cousin. But many Canadians who live here know that reputation just that; beliefs and opinions, not reality.
Before Donald Trump won the election, a common American refrain was “If he wins, I am moving to Canada.” Actually, Canada is not far enough away. Moving to Canada is not a solution for an embarrassed American. You have work to do in your own country. Get to it. Smart Canadians know that we have just as much work to do here, if not more, because all this US election is doing is laying the ground work for a less spectacular but equally dangerous version to happen to us in 2019. See: Kellie Leitch
Every four years Canadians are entertained by the spectacle that is the US election. Many of us know more about how that process works, broken as it may be, than how our own country’s political process unfolds. Canadians who are frightened by Donald Trump’s rise to power are best advised do research on how local policies are made and officials voted in at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. We need to understand how local non-profits and grassroots advocacy groups protect the values that make up our global reputation and move past the hashtag of the day to the action on the ground.
On November 21st 2016, The New Yorker published a collection of 16 short essays. Each of these accomplished writers wrote to seek some clarity and begin to lay a course of action for people in the face of the collective sense of hopelessness. Dr. Atul Gawande wrote that despite the values the election of President Donald Trump symbolizes, there remains established institutions where resistance and change for the better can take place. He writes:
“To a large extent, though, institutions closer to home are what secure and sustain our values. This is the time to strengthen those institutions, to better include the seventy per cent who have been forsaken. Our institutions of fair-minded journalism, of science and scholarship, and of the arts matter more now than ever. In municipalities and state governments, people are eager to work on the hard problems.”
Canadians can start to build substance for our reputation by asking questions, seeking the answers and engaging in the action. What are your children hearing every day in school? What is the climate in your workplace? What is the tone of the conversations within your groups of friends? If any of what you hear does not sit well in your gut, then there is work to be done. When assertions about how Canadians would do things different from Americans, ask yourself and your friends. How? If you do not know the answer, seek it. Or better yet, take the action that will create the answer.