Historically speaking, an integral part of the Canadian national identity is that we are not Americans. Among other factors, this is a fundamental value that led to the Confederation and, by extension, the Canadian state. The topic of anti-Americanism has largely been limited to the history books, so understanding if this sentiment continues in the modern day is worth looking into.
Anti-American sentiment has largely evolved from an economic resentment that was seen within the first 100 years after Confederation. Today, it is a matter of moral superiority.
A majority of Canadians will look at the United States and quite passionately defend their businesses, celebrities, culture, music, food, and way of life. But the moment the opportunity to elevate themselves to a higher moral ground, Canadians will jump on the chance to stroke their egos. It becomes an opportunity for individuals to praise themselves for being better than the ‘the greatest nation on earth.’ Canadians will defend their universal healthcare and make sure to note that healthcare is lacking in the United States. Canadians will cite violent crimes and mass shootings as evidence that Americans have a perverted obsession with guns and violence—something that is lacking in Canada. And Canadians will praise the fact that in Canada we have a man dawning a turban as the leader of a major federal party.
This of course comes with its own problems. This anti-American sentiment is something that inhibits complacency within Canadians. Logically speaking, if Canadians are superior to Americans at X,Y, or Z(ED) and Americans claim to be the best at everything, then there is not much improving to be done. Even though Canadians may have universal health care (and Americans don’t) our system suffers from chronically long wait times, and not all Canadians receive the same treatment.
In 2008, an Indigenous man was essentially ignored until he died waiting for medical attention. Even though Canadians don’t have the same number of mass shootings as in the U.S., we are not immune to mass killings. And as much as people would like to think that Jagmeet Singh’s leadership signifies the ability for Canadians to accept multiculturalism and diversity, Quebec, the second most populated province in Canada, has introduced a Bill that supports institutionalized racism. But, of course, we’re not the United States. We’re very different.
So why discuss this? Why and how is this relevant? By formulating an identity based on things that we are not, we lack the ability to define what we are. By saying that we are not better than the United States in any particular way, it implies that we have already accomplished its inverse. But this isn’t true. This rhetoric is one that does not challenge individuals to refine and expand their own identities because we’ve come to believe we’re already so great.
We must define and refine. We must define what it is that we ought to be, not what we should be avoiding, and refine ourselves until we’ve accomplished that.
When America sneezes, Canada catches a cold. We’re always a step behind. We haven’t carved out our own space. We must stop comparing ourselves to what we aren’t to make ourselves feel better. Let’s define what we want to become and strive towards it.