Tag Archives: canada

An Engaging Way to Shine a Light on a Forgettable Monarchy

By Jason Menard,

For many, yesterday’s announcement of an engagement between Prince William and his girlfriend Kate Middleton was an unforgettable moment; for me, it was a reminder of just how forgettable the monarchy is in our modern Canadian lives.

You see, Canada’s a part of the Commonwealth, a group of independent member states (54 in all), most of whom were part of the British Empire. Queen Elizabeth is head of that organization and is also Canada’s Head of State. So the monarchy is a pretty big deal for many Canucks – and royal watching is a spectator sport.
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The Fall of the USSR, the Fall of a Rivalry

By Jason Menard

For one day, on an ice rink outside Red Square, the embers of a faded rivalry will be stoked again, and memories of that passionate time will be rekindled.

As a hockey-loving Canadian youth, few things were more intense and more passionate than the Cold War-era U.S.S.R.-Canada hockey rivalry. One could argue that while the world in general may be a better and safer place since the fall of the Soviet Union, hockey itself is poorer for the loss of that rivalry.

So that’s why it is with fond appreciation that I look forward to the Dec. 9 th showdown between Russian hockey greats and retired NHLers. It will be a contest that features the reunification of the KLM line, Vladislav Tretiak in net, and Slava Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov patrolling the blueline once again.

In general, I avoid old timer’s games like the plague, preferring to remember these greats as they were in their prime, not the lumbering, diminished versions that lace up the skates now. This event may be different. Of course, the memories of that time are different.

Growing up in the latter part of the Cold War, when nuclear proliferation was at its peak, the Soviet Union was an enigmatic country arousing both fear and interest. I was born a few months late for the Canada-Russia Summit Series in 1972, but its ramifications resonated in our family. In fact, to this day I possess an audio cassette recording of that final game, made for me by an uncle (and featuring a great-grandfather – unfamiliar with the concept of replays – getting extremely excited at the 7-0 blowout to start the game, instead of realizing it was just highlights from previous game action.)

I grew up knowing about names like Tretiak and learning about the greatness of Valery Kharlamov. When I was old enough to have memories of my own, the next wave of Soviet greats was dominating international competition: Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov.

It was a different time. Now, the NHL is a veritable melting pot featuring the best from around the world. For my own children, the existence of Russians, Czechs, and Slovaks in the league is the norm. And, as such, international competitions, while exciting, aren’t infused with the same level of passion that those earlier series were.

In the 80s, it was different. We didn’t know the Russians. We weren’t allowed to see them as real people. To us – especially the youth – they were cold, calculating, perfect hockey-playing machines. We knew our own Canadian boys, faults and all. And we bought into the mystique that Canadian grit, heart, determination, and passion could conquer precision, deft passing, and discipline.

Often it did. And when it did, it wasn’t just a victory for a team. It was a victory for a way of life.

As youth, we were convinced that nuclear warheads were pointed at our cities. We engaged in now-bizarre drills that involved us sitting under our tables with our heads between our legs. We read about people who had created fallout shelters. We watched The Day After and Red Dawn (did I just voluntarily admit watching a Patrick Swayze film???). For us, “the button” was very real, and we grew up knowing that the end of the world was an event with the potential of happening in our lifetimes.

Our ignorance and fear of another group of people – fuelled by the fact that we were kids and didn’t take the time to learn any better – added to the mystique of our Soviet counterparts. We suspected them of conducting nefarious scientific experiments to improve performance in their athletes (à la Ivan Drago in Rocky IV). We watched in anger as Soviet Bloc referees showed blatant preferential treatment to the other guys. And we bought into the whole us versus them concept of sporting competitions (also fuelled by various Olympic boycotts.)

In the end, the games were far better simply because of the passion surrounding the game. When was the last time we were truly invested in the outcome of a hockey game like that? Sure, the recent Olympic and World Junior Championship victories have been fun, but they’re hardly memorable. Instead of a celebration of a defeat of an ideological opposite, it’s just a victory of our jocks against their jocks – who we now realize aren’t all that different.

Now 33 years old with a little more worldly knowledge, I know that people are people – and they always have been. I know that, in general, people everywhere want the same things out of life and that they shouldn’t be tainted by the colour of their political system. But back then – back when I was a gullible youth willing to believe what the world around me was telling me – I believed that the Soviets were different, mysterious, and dangerous.

That’s why watching this game will be so enjoyable. It’s a different time. The players will probably laugh and joke, embracing each other and the game they share. And it will be all the more poignant considering how different things were just two decades ago when many of these players were in their prime.

The on-ice camaraderie will show how much better and more tolerant the world is – at least as it relates to Canadian-former Soviet relations. And while we will celebrate a better world, I’ll also pause to remember how much greater the rivalry used to be.

After all, in the case of world relations as they relate to on-ice conflict, ignorance truly was bliss.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Ignorance Not Just an American Trait

By Jason Menard

Har-dee-har! A recent survey reported on by the Associated Press shows that Americans are geographically challenged. And while it’s certainly tempting to sit on our high horse and chuckle over our dunderheaded friends to the south, in many ways, we’re no better.

The survey of 510 people interviewed in December 2005 and January 2006 showed that one-third of the respondents couldn’t find Louisiana on a map – despite the recent blanket coverage of Hurricane Katrina. On top of that, only 14 per cent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill, 60 per cent couldn’t find Iraq on a map of the Middle East, and almost half couldn’t find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.

Time to guffaw right? Hey, what about that episode of Oprah recently that cast its supercilious eye on the education system in the U.S. and juxtaposed American students and their counterparts in the Far East reciting the first five American Presidents. Guess which group fared well.

But, as President Bush once so aptly put, “Fool me once, shame on, shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again.”

Are we truly any better? We like to think that we are, but is it really true. While we love to show how enlightened we are by displaying our understanding and knowledge of American history and politics, how well do we know our own country?

Quick, name the first five Canadian Prime Ministers. Can you do it? Chances are you could name off Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe before you could ever nail Canada’s first five. OK, Sir. John A. is a given. And you’ll get double points for noting that he served twice. But really, did you honestly get Mackenzie, Abbott, Thompson, and Bowell? If you did you’re a better Canadian than I, because I had to look them up. Hell, I’m proud that I know who Charles Tupper is, but don’t ask me when he served.

We grow up learning an overview of Canadian history. We go over the three Cs of Canadiana: Cabot, Cartier, and Champlain. We cruise through the War of 1812, we learn about the British North America Act and Confederation. But does the average Canadian know any more about his or her own country than our neighbours to the south?

As Canadians, we often mock Americans as being almost xenophobic in their analysis of history. If it ain’t red, white, and blue, it doesn’t matter to you appears to be the model. But in a classic example of what it is to be a Canadian, we focus more on the history south of the 49 th than we ever do our own history. We complain when we’re ignored on the global stage, but we ignore the stories we’ve penned in our own back yard.

We externalize. We validate ourselves by what others think about us, as opposed to how we feel. That’s why we take such an active interest in the world around us – we’re desperate to make sure we’re a player on the global stage. Our ability to find other countries on the map reeks more of desperation than a commitment to intellectual pursuits.

Whether it’s Canadian TV, music, film, history, or even — to an extent – politics, we need outsiders to validate our experience. Say what you want about what the Americans don’t know about the world. There’s certainly a lot we can learn from them about appreciating what you have on your own.

That’s not to say the American model is ideal. There should be a balance between national pride and global awareness. Ignorance in any form should not be tolerated. We should strive to learn more – more about the people around us, their languages, their cultures, and their history, in addition to all the things that have made our country great.

However, the high horse that we’re sitting on rocks violently. Our glee in reveling in American ignorance only masks the lack of introspection we’ve undertaken in examining our own faults. We’re no better, no worse – in fact, we’re the same in a different way. If the Americans are the noisy neighbours who come and go as they please, party all night, and generally disrespect even the existence of those who live around them, we Canadians are no better in being the neighbour that runs around to everyone’s home, snootily making comments, while our own home and family is neglected.

As the old adage states, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – especially when we don’t even know who built the house we live in.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Activists Obscure Truth in Seal Hunt, Natural Order

By Jason Menard

I admire the tenacity of those PETA people, I truly do. But there comes a time and place where we need to learn to pick our battles. Nature’s a cruel mistress, and no amount of cajoling or grandstanding is going to make her change her mind – but in this new world, the key to survival isn’t related to brain-power, but how cute you look.

So Brigitte Bardot can grace us with her presence, she can stand before the horrifying image of a human baby lying dead on the ice, with a seal poised to deliver yet another blow with a club. Unfortunately, Bardot, Paul McCartney and a significant number of these well-meaning (I hope) animal-rights activist are being deliberately misleading in their commentary. And isn’t it interesting that a former bombshell and the one known as “the cute Beatle” are the ones lending their image to this fight.

In today’s world we’ve usurped natural Darwinism and replaced it with a more cosmetic version. And the images just obscure the issues.

Do a quick search on-line for anything relating to Canada’s annual seal hunt and you’ll be peppered with sites showing images of dewy-eyed baby seal pups, looking forlornly at the camera, with the implicit knowledge that some big, bad hunter is just waiting in the wings with a club ready to crush its little brains in.

Sorry, that’s just not the case. In fact, it’s illegal to hunt any seal that has yet to shed its newborn pelt. So that fluffy little cute seal we see is just fine.

Now, how about those ugly looking tuna? Nobody’s rushing to their rescue. We’ve accepted the fact that humans need to eat – although this logic doesn’t seem to matter to those opposing native seal-hunting rights, but I digress – and because tuna are big and ugly, we rarely see aging Brit-Poppers hanging out at the Star-Kist plant posing next to an image of an oppressed Charlie the Tuna.

But the dolphins that get caught in those nets that’s another story. We can’t kill the cute little dolphins – why, you may get Flipper! Yet, where’s the outrage over the loss of coral or pikas, both of which are on the World Wildlife Funds’ endangered species list? They don’t make for quite as appealing ad copy as baby snow leopards or orphaned pandas. Cows, pigs, and chickens are staples of our diet – but why do their lives deserve any less consideration than seals? Who is the final arbiter as to which animal gets to live and which is classified as livestock?

I really don’t know enough about seal hunting to know whether or not it’s something that should be supported. As someone who loves to tuck into a good steak, eats a heck of a lot of chicken, and enjoys the bounty of pork products that exist, I don’t feel I have the right to stand on a pulpit and pick and choose which animals are above becoming a meal or a jacket.

And, when statistics say that the seal population, despite the annual hunt, is flourishing, it’s hard for me to say that this practice is having a negative impact on the ecosystem. After all, it’s not like seals are in the predicament of African elephants, being killed simply for their tusks. These are animals that are, in many cases, being used as a significant source of the local economy and diet. This isn’t pleasure killing, this is nature at its base essence.

But the problem with this type of emotional advertising and grandstanding from activists like McCartney, Bardot – heck, even Pamela Anderson, is that the issue gets obscured by the image. While it’s effective in swaying those who only look at the surface of the issue, where is the open discussion for those willing to look at both sides of the story? Where are the facts, not just the emotions?

Baby seals photograph better than hunters (most of whom use guns, not clubs – but clubs make for more savage imagery), but where are the images of the native hunter bringing home food for the family. Or where’s the picture of the outpost fishing village whose very livelihood rests upon the continuance of the seal hunt?

The world has always been about predators and prey. Not to go all Lion King here, but there is a circle of life at play, wherein animals and nature work symbiotically to maintain a balance. Just as deforestation, global warming, and hunting for profit can irreparably damage nature’s precarious order, could not overprotecting animals have the same sort of effect?

For the average person who just wants to do right by the world, the answers aren’t evident. And, unfortunately for us, the greatest thing that’s being obscured by this drama, hyperbole, imagery, and emotion, is the truth.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Oh Canada – So Many Reasons to Celebrate

By Jason Menard

Break out the flags, line up the fireworks, cue up Anne Murray – Canada Day is almost upon us and it’s time to celebrate. But, for many of us, the question is what exactly are we celebrating?

Canada Day is a day when we’re supposed to celebrate what it means to be Canadians (well, most of us will be. July 1 also happens to be “Moving Day” in Quebec, so thousands of Quebecers will eventually be celebrating – but first they have to set up their living room). But if you ask 100 people what it means to be Canadian, chances are you’ll get 100 different answers.

However, the one common thread that you’ll hear when asked what it means to be a Canadian is the refrain, “Well, we’re not American.” As if playing the game of negative association is definition enough. But instead of disregarding that statement completely, maybe juxtaposing ourselves with our neighbours south of the 49 th parallel isn’t such a bad exercise.

The most noticeable difference is that, while it’s somewhat more clear what it means to be an American, we’ve accepted that there is simply no one suitable definition of who or what a Canadian is. The U.S. is fond of using the melting pot analogy. No matter where you’re from, you’re mixed into the Great American Melting Pot and the resulting soup is whole-heartedly American. As Canadians, we’ve found that homogenous soup a little watery for our tastes – and we prefer to savour all the meats of our cultural stew.

Instead of working in the kitchen over the melting pot, we’ve chosen to sit in the living room weaving our cultural mosaic. People coming to Canada are, for the most part, encouraged to retain their cultural identity and add it to our national fabric. And while our commitment to diversity has resulted in a few frayed edges from time to time (Quebec and Western separatists spring to mind), we’ve understood that a patchwork quilt made up of many different threads, in the long run, is much stronger than one woven from the same fabric.

We are thinkers, not doers. Instead of knee-jerk reactions, we prefer pensive reflection. While our friends to the south are often swayed by passion to act, we find ourselves willing to let the first flames of passion subside to allow for a more controlled burn. The people of Canada refuse to let emotion drive their actions. Case in point, while we may be angered by the revelations that have come out of the sponsorship scandal, we have chosen to take a wait-and-see approach to the eventual results. The day of reckoning or absolution will eventually come and we have chosen to let nature take its course.

But we’re more than just the sum of our opposites. We are a nation that’s trying to do our best – even if we stumble along the way. And even our negatives turn into positives.

As a nation, we’re subject to a huge inferiority complex. Living next to a country 10 times your size will do that to you. Because of this, we have a deep-seeded need to be liked, and that has resulted in our desire to be a player on the international stage. And while we may not have the wherewithal to take a starring role, we relish the opportunity to be the facilitator and mediator of the story. Our historical role as moderators and peace-keepers is well-earned, and our consternation over our recent devaluation in this role in the eyes of the world spurs us to redouble our efforts.

We are a nation not given to extremism. In the long run, we govern ourselves with compassion and moderation. We choose not to get caught up in hyperbole and prefer to ground ourselves in humanity. Our national commitment to social programs, universal health care, and equal rights reflects that. And while certain issues may spark intense debate – and the gay marriage legislation is a prime example – in the end we choose the humane decision.

And, just as importantly, we have a sense of humour about ourselves. We’re so much more than the toque-wearing, eh-saying, uber-polite, hockey-watching hosers that we’re often portrayed as, but we have the ability to go along with the joke and play it up for our own benefit. We’re so confident in who we are intrinsically that we’re able to laugh at ourselves.

In the end, Canadians are defined not by the perceived cold of our climate, but rather the tangible warmth of our hearts. And that’s truly something to celebrate.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved