PUBLIC Speaking: Why the U.S. Needs More Canada
At the end of June, on the week before Canada Day, United States President Barack Obama paid Canada the ultimate compliment. In front of an adoring House of Parliament, he told the country that “The world needs more Canada.”
As an American living in Toronto, I think the U.S., specifically, could use a good dose of Canada, too.
And why? Because Canada had one hell of a summer when compared to its southern neighbour. In fact, as a country, Canada is having something of a moment.
What’s emerging is a Canada that welcomes newcomers, is thoughtful about its place in the world, embraces Canadian art, culture and collective history, yet isn’t afraid to acknowledge and address its warts. Consider the following events from the summer past:
- Canada continued to proudly and warmly welcome 30,000 Syrian refugees. The major complaint from Canadians: refugees weren’t getting into the country fast enough.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proved Canada’s world stature has improved dramatically since he took office and only partly because he isn’t afraid to be shirtless or involved in a high-profile bromance… He’s also headed to China to talk trade, human rights and tourism.
- Canada honoured, revered and celebrated perhaps the most quintessentially Canadian band ever–The Tragically Hip–through a sad yet cathartic tour that culminated in what can only be described as a national hug watched by more than 11 million people on the CBC. (Eleven million-plus Canadians watching the same thing that didn’t involve a vulcanized rubber puck!)
- Canadians also came together in collective awe around 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak’s four medals in the pool and sprinter Andre De Grasse’s arrival as the heir-apparent to sprinting legend Usain Bolt.
- Even the country’s warts were on display–but in true Canadian form, they were accompanied by reflection and careful attention. The video of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack was posthumously released, but instead of being tabloidesque it launched a debate around whether it was ethical to watch it. In addition, a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was launched into a long-standing social injustice.
And what has been happening south of the border? To put it bluntly, all hell is breaking loose.
The national identity is fractured and the emerging sense–at least as viewed from across Lake Ontario–is the American social, cultural and political fabric is fraying.
- Here was a Republican National Convention that was at best odd (Chachi?) and at worst had all the trappings of an angry, racist mob. The anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, isolationist tone was unmistakable and scary. Donald Trump also doubled down on his idea for “…a great wall along the southern border”–even a Trump Presidency wouldn’t convince Canadians that a southern border wall is a good move.
- There was continued stubbornness in dealing with rampant gun violence–even in the face of the worst mass shooting in American history. Every day 91 Americans are killed by guns. (Let that statistic sink in a bit. By comparison, the latest data from the Great White North (from 2012)show Canada had 172 gun deaths in a year.)
- There was some conversation but little action around police brutality against people of colour in the United States. And that’s the problem–whether or not a quarterback stood or sat during the national anthem. (Also, perhaps the NFL has bigger fish to fry?)
- A triumphant American Summer Olympics was–and still is–being overshadowed by hysterical media attention paid to Ryan Lochte’s tabloid-ready story of Ryan Lochte.
Of course, there are still Americans that instead of longing for an isolationist, bigoted, hysterical America are the voice of reason. And once again, we can look to President Obama, who said this during the Democratic National Convention:
“My grandparents explained that they didn’t like show-offs. They didn’t admire braggarts or bullies. They didn’t respect mean-spiritedness, or folks who were always looking for shortcuts in life. Instead, they valued traits like honesty and hard work. Kindness and courtesy. Humility; responsibility; helping each other out.”
That refrain may have sounded familiar to many Canadians–because Canada’s embrace of these values was on full display this summer. In fact, it’s almost as if Obama was actually referring to Canada when he made those remarks.
As we enter the home stretch of a divisive US election, Obama’s refrain that “…the world needs more Canada…” could more aptly apply to his own country. Indeed, America needs more Canada.
Jay Rosenthal is an Account Director at PUBLIC Inc. Follow him on Twitter @jaymrosenthal.