As stunning as it seems, two countries sharing the largest international border in the world and having very close economic and historical ties, are strikingly different in terms of identity. Canadian and American culture, way of life, worldview, and mentality are two distinct phenomena. Yet in the past decade the unprecedented rise of America’s power resulted in the growing influence it produces on Canada. How devastating can it be for Canadian identity?
In the era of globalization, there is no single country on the globe that can protect its national identity from external influences. As globalization grows, the opposing trends are also developing. The swift rise of nationalism is an indicator of need to protect national identity. For some countries, there is no outright danger in the process of globalization. But there are also countries where the national identity is weaker. I dare say that Canada is among such countries. While France or Russia can always base their cultural revival based on rich history and well-established position in the world politics, Canada have traditionally been a cosmopolitan country, ready to accept and accommodate people from different parts of the world and cultural backgrounds. In the course of its history, it developed its own national identity, but it isn’t as strong as in the countries with centuries and centuries of history.
The unique and fragile Canadian identity is in clear danger nowadays. Mel Hurtig (2003) suggests that Canada is loosing it’s independence in every domain – cultural, political, economic etc. He clearly states that the influence of the U.S. has already produced a devastating impact on the Canadian identity. The writer also suggests that CIA is to blame. What seems like another fabricated conspiracy theory is supported with abundant evidence in his book.
One may wonder if the U.S. and Canada are really that different. Canada-US comparisons have always been in the center of the heated debate among researchers and public policy practitioners (Boucher, 2004).
We must admit that at a certain point in history, two countries followed a similar path of development. Michael Adams (2004) draws our attention to the fact that at the beginning of the twentieth century the two countries were tending toward convergence as they both embraced materialistic culture, fought together in two World Wars, collaborated with other allies in the subsequent Cold War etc.
Nowadays the convergent identities are a myth.
For instance, the social system in two countries is strikingly different. While Canada is considered to be a classical model of social welfare state, the U.S. government urges its citizens to fight for the American dream on their own, without governmental help. With the recent liberalization of Canadian economy applauded by our southern neighbor, the unique social system of our country can be destroyed. For example, the worries about the 2005 Supreme Court ruling allowing American Health Management Organizations (HMOs) bring their private insurance schemes to Canada were not groundless as this ruling opened the door for further Americanization of Canada (Sthompson, 2005).
The Canadian values have been traditional based on social cohesion, empathy, and tolerance. The American culture is rather linked to the spirit of entrepreneurship and self-reliance. As you may see, these identity paradigms are hard to call similar. Today, the corporate America is persistently trying to invade the Canadian market. Many Canadian companies are being taken over by U.S. companies, Air Canada, Canadian National, Future Shop, Molson’s, Tim Hortons, Shoppers Drug Mart, EnCana, Club Monaco among them, to name a few (Newman, 2006).
In the framework of NAFTA, the U.S. is trying to get better access to Mexican and American markets to establish itself as a regional leader dominating North America. Probably, NAFTA put forward plausible goals at the moment of its inception. Yet ‘[s]ince then, the war in Iraq, friction over illegal immigration, violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and a lack of compliance on trade agreements have resulted in a marked deterioration in U.S. relations with its neighbors [and] the percentage of Mexicans and Canadians with a favorable view of the United States has fallen by nearly half since 2000.’ (Pastor, 2006, para.1)
Another issue where the U.S. and Canada part company is the situation with gun control and violence. Michael Moor in his movie “Bowling for Columbine” contrasts the situation in two countries and makes a substantive argument. In Canada it’s easy to purchase a gun, and many people do owe guns, but there is much less violence and insecurity: never has Canada witnessed horrendous slaughters in high schools as the U.S. did. The director went from house to house and discovered that the Canadians didn’t even close their doors as they have nothing to fear about. Indeed, ‘[o]ver the past 20 years, Canada recorded much lower rates of violent crime than the United States did…The homicide rate was three times higher in the United States than it was in Canada, while the American rate for aggravated assault was double the Canadian rate. For robbery, the rate was 65% higher in the United States.’ (The Daily, 2001, para.1-3)
However, there are growing concerns that such situation won’t endure. The influence from the U.S. can contribute to the rise of crime level inn Canada. Many American cultural products glorify aggressiveness as the main virtue. The example is readily available: let’s just think of American action movies centered on a figure of superman with cold steel and cold heart.
In fact, when we analyze the divergence of crime rates, ‘the reason for the difference is the Canadian social welfare state, certainly a factor, and the media-induced culture of fear in the United States.’ (Adams, 2004, p.119)
The new America mythology certainly tries to depict the U.S. as a warrior nation. In the rhetoric of the political elite in America, we often hear about the War on Terror, War on Drugs, War on Poverty, and even, as hilarious as it seems, the War on Obesity. Canada has always been different. The underlying values here are peace, neutrality, and consensus-based conflict resolution.
The U.S. is now promoting an interesting kind of wartime nationalism. This can be observed by the growing tensions between Americans and immigrants. On the contrary, ‘Canada had been among the most tolerant and accommodating countries to its immigrants in the world, and where celebration of diversity for its own sake had been made almost an official fetish.’ (Dalrymple, 2000, para.2)
Another trend many analysts are alarmed by is sway of U.S. media products in Canadian public sphere. America holds the leadership position in the sphere of media and entertainment products and tries to spread its products all over the world. These media products, be it a Hollywood movie or news release, it often presents a biased, distorted and incomplete picture of the world.
In politically correct terms, this is dubbed as ‘cultural diplomacy.’ In fact, it means imposing American values and lifestyle on the rest of the world, and Canada is no exception. If Canada doesn’t star paying sufficient attention to the development of national media products, we are doomed to loose this battle. The defeat on the media battlefield means compromising another parcel of our cultural identity.
‘When we talk about cultural boundaries, communication and identity in northern North America, we need not tarry long over questions of McDonaldization, Disneyfication or other forms of so-called ‘Americanization’. For reasons of geography, economy, demography, technology and language, Canada experienced these forms of cultural and economic influence first.’ (Ferguson, 1997, para.2)
Summing up, the Canadian national identity has already suffered from the devastating American influence. Keeping in mind the fundamental differences between our countries in social, cultural, and political spheres, there is a clear and consistent need to protect Canadian identity from further Americanization.
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