Nowhere has become Somewhere

May 14, 2008

Paul’s been reading Noah Richler’s phenomenal This is My Country, What’s Yours? and it’s got him thinking. Maybe it’s his way of psychically connecting himself to his two western-bound co-authors (both of whom are busting their butts, while he “works on his film” in Toronto), but either way Richler’s book his unlocking a slew of previously only half-developed thoughts.

One such thought is this: Canada really is a kind of nowhere for most of the people that live here. Now, that’s not necessarily a negative thing. Who can deny that Canadians are among the luckiest inhabitants of the planet? Our country offers refuge and opportunity (though not enough much of the time) to new arrivals. We have won the resource lottery (though we often waste our winnings with too much relish) and have built a society that works about as well as any in the world. Though the winters can occasionally be a pain (and no, that’s not just another Torontonian complaining), we’ve got it pretty good up here.

But despite all that, too many Canadian live with the sense the path of capital ‘H’ history doesn’t run through our part of the world. We are spectators, not participants. If you want to participate in history, it’s best to go elsewhere: to the US, to Europe, to China, Abu Dhabi, etc. Canada is too small. Our politics don’t matter enough. We have few if any global brands. No one listens to us.

When Jim Balsille, the Co-Chief Executive at Blackberry, came out this week and said that Canada should speak up, many rolled their eyes. ‘No one cares what we say,’ I heard too many exclaim. ‘We’re a tick on the elephant’s backside.’

Okay, so yes, we’re small. Okay, so yes, we don’t engage in grand scale power politics. But that’s no reason to believe that we are Nowhere and that no one cares. As Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his debate with Adam Gopnik about Canada’ meaning: our size gives us power. Not as much power as a state full of nukes, perhaps. But power nonetheless.

The sooner we start thinking of Canada as somewhere – a place of innovators that the world pays attention to, a place where we know how to live with one another and live out great ideas – the more of a voice we’ll have. In other words, it’s time to realise that our little nowhere has become a somewhere.

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