7 Things You Can’t Say in Canada
Influential columnist Margaret Wente shares her controversial opinion on seven sacred Canadian cows most dare not criticize.
7 CANADIAN “TRUTHS” WORTH QUESTIONING
Every culture has its unacknowledged taboos-the things you are forbidden to say or do in polite company, the accepted truths you are not allowed to doubt. You might think that a liberal, open-minded country like Canada would be free of such taboos, but you’d be wrong. In spite of our belief in our own enlightened tolerance, some things are simply not open to debate. If you try, you’re bound to shock the neighbours.
It’s risky to question the wisdom of the tribe. You might get stoned. On the other hand, some people might sneak up to you afterwards and confess that they secretly agree.
So here’s a challenge to a few of our nation’s most widely held beliefs. You say these things in public at your own peril. I will be elaborating on these points over the months to come. Feel free to stone me or secretly agree-or, even better, add to the list. At the very least, they’re sure to start a good dinner-party fight.
1. Margaret Atwood Writes Some Awful Books
The queen of CanLit bestrides the literary world like a colossus. Nobody has won more awards than she has, and nobody is more feared. There is no such thing as a bad review of a Margaret Atwood book in Canada. That’s too bad, because many of her books are tedious and unreadable, full of tortuous plots and unpleasant characters. Why will no one say so? Because we’re grateful that she’s put us on the global map. And because if they do, they’ll never work in this country again.
2. Recycling is a Waste of Time and Money
Once upon a time it was easy to put out the trash. Today, the Garbage Gestapo rule our lives. Every household has become a mini version of the village dump, and every one of us has become a garbage picker, carefully separating our organics from our bottles and papers, and worrying about where our dryer lint is supposed to go.
Don’t try to sneak a wine bottle into the wrong bag! The trash police will punish you. The truth about recycling is that it’s a giant waste of dollars and doesn’t help the environment. But don’t tell your kids. They won’t believe you. They’ve been brainwashed.
3. Only Private Enterprise Can Save Health Care
Tommy Douglas, the CBC’s Greatest Canadian, brought us universal health care. But even his plan didn’t originally pay for everybody’s ingrown toenails. His primary goal was to make sure nobody faced financial ruin if they got sick.
Today we have a system where controlling costs is more important than treating patients, and where ideology is crippling us. In some places, including Toronto, people go blind waiting for cataract surgery. The government could restore their sight tomorrow simply by sending them to a private clinic instead of to a hospital. The cost to the government would be exactly the same. But in Canada, private is a dirty word, and so the government would rather you go blind. Poor Tommy would be spinning in his grave.
4. David Suzuki is Bad for the Environment
From global warming to farmed salmon and genetically modified crops, David Suzuki has just one message: The End is Nigh.
He is our homegrown prophet of doom who preaches the essential wickedness of the human race. Like a modern Savonarola, he warns that unless we cast our material possessions into the bonfire, we’re all going to hell.
The trouble with this apocalyptic vision is that people are starting to tune out. And our hugely expensive investment in the unworkable Kyoto treaty, which Mr. Suzuki tells us doesn’t go nearly far enough, will crowd out more practical measures to cut smog and clean up our waste sites.
5. A National Daycare Program Won’t Do a Thing To Help Poor Kids
Cheap national daycare! Who could be against it? It’s supposed to give kids a better start in life, and nobody can object to that. But in Quebec, where the program started, universal daycare has turned out to be nothing more than a giant (and extremely costly) subsidy for relatively well-heeled middle-class parents. Few poor parents use the system.
No doubt convenient daycare is a godsend for many. But so far there is no definitive evidence that kids who go to daycare go on to do better in school or in life. So if we want to invest billions in helping kids, why are we spending it on the kids who need help the least?
6. Group of Seven are Overexposed Genre Painters
I like A.Y. Jackson as much as you do. His paintings remind me of when I went to summer camp. I grew up with a reproduction of The West Wind hanging in our living room. (That was by Tom Thomson, who wasn’t really a member of Group of Seven, but never mind.) Group of Seven were the first artists to depict the wild Canadian landscape, and they were bold young rebels in their time.
But that time was 80 years ago. Today their work is the quintessence of bourgeois picture-postcard art-the kind of art it’s safe to take your mother to see. Enough, already. Maybe it’s time we moved on.
7. The United States is the World’s Greatest Force for Good
Of all the shocking things you can say around the dinner table, this is the most shocking one. After all, America-bashing is part of our national identity.
At best, we see our neighbour as a well-intentioned but arrogant and blundering bully that throws its weight around too much. At worst, we see our neighbour as one of the most evil nations in the world. And yet, right now, hundreds of millions of people in India and China and other desperately poor parts of the world are being liberated from millennia of suffering and serfdom. Why? Because of the United States, which has spread its idea of economic freedom-and its purchasing power-around the world.
Check out 10 More Things You Can’t Say in Canada!