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(Bill Sandford)
(Bill Sandford)

The birds and the beaver Add to ...

There are enough Liberals here to form a dictatorship, let alone a majority

Or at least would be, if the Opposition had only taken up leader Michael Ignatieff's suggestion that the puffin become the party's official symbol.

As he put it after a visit here in 2007, both puffins and Liberals "hide their excrement … they flap their wings very hard and they work like hell."

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The suggestion didn't fly - unlike the thousands of orange-beaked birds that swarm about this rolling boat like mechanical birds, their elastics wound as tight as a PMO spokesperson - and perhaps it's just as well, considering the amount of excrement that would have to have been stored around Parliament Hill these past few years.

Still, Ignatieff may have launched something unintentional back here in wonderfully named Witless Bay when he pronounced it time for new symbols.

Since that time, the search has gone manic.

How ironic that Queen Elizabeth II would praise Canada this past week for having "grown and matured while remaining true to its history, its distinctive character and its values."

Perhaps it was this comment that Ignatieff was referring to when, only hours later, he praised the Queen for her "magnificent sense of humour and a sense of the absurd."

You need both to understand how a country that turned 143 on Thursday could still be so obsessed with its complexion.

Perhaps it was all the international attention, most of it good, from the successful Winter Games that got people thinking that if Canada was truly coming into its own then there were a few symbolic matters that weren't quite up to scratch.

First it was the national anthem, which the Prime Minister himself suggested could be copy-edited and cleaned up a bit for future internal and international consumption. That, of course, went nowhere - no surprise, really, given that it had been sung, and mumbled, with such gusto a record 14 times in Vancouver and Whistler.

But then everyone seemed to want in on the act of improving "The New Canada" through its various symbols.

The Canadian Raptor Conservancy stepped forward with a request that Canada finally name a national bird. An online publication called The Mark joined in with a contest asking readers to vote on one of five birds: the crow, the red-tailed hawk, Canada goose, trumpeter swan and common loon.

Not surprisingly, the suggestions had some readers crowing. Where was the seagull, one asked, considering you can't find a fast food parking lot in the country that isn't full of them. Why not the turkey vulture, another wondered, given the way the HST is turning taxpayers into road kill. Another suggested the true national "bird," given the current state of traffic manners in the country, should be the middle finger.

By the time Canada Day rolled around, it seemed every imaginable symbol was now on the table.

The Globe and Mail even ran a survey - complete with celebrity pitches from the likes of Joseph Boyden and Hayley Wickenheiser - to have readers name a national team (1972 Team Canada won, a bit of a straight-arm to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, who have long been called "Canada's Team"), a national uniform (the tuque came in first, with no one even nominating Stanfield's long underwear), a national dish (poutine took it, as it should), a national plant (the sugar maple, not even found in the west, squashed the ubiquitous dandelion, which came a distant fourth), and a national animal (the beaver).

That the beaver held its own against such popular upstarts as the polar bear (world environmental concern) and the caribou (Boyden's choice) was a bit remarkable given the current passion for symbolic change that appears to have gripped the country from here in Witless Bay all the way to Stanley Park - or should we now say "Xwayxway"?

Change is welcome and needed in this country, but not everywhere. The beaver, for example, already holds office, thanks to Sean O'Sullivan's 1975 private member's bill: "An Act to provide for the recognition of the Beaver (Castor canadensis) as a symbol of the sovereignty of Canada."

The beaver has its plusses - country founded on trading its fur, graced the first stamp, on back of the nickel - but it also carries a bit of baggage, not the least of which is the fact that it's a rodent.

There is also this enduring myth out there that male beavers, under stress, will bite off their own testicles.

There is, on the other hand, scientific evidence that a great many male beaver have been found to have a uterus. Science also claims that beaver ponds are one of nature's biggest producers of greenhouse gases.

So bless Globe readers for sticking with flatulence, sexual confusion and possible self-mutilation when it could have gone with the celebrity bear from the Coca-Cola ads.

As for a national bird, there should be one - but let's go for one that captures the country as it is today.

Say the raven - wide-ranging, northern, the ultimate survivor.

And, as Mordecai Richler said at the end of Solomon Gursky Was Here, a bird "with an unquenchable itch to meddle and provoke things."

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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