For the U.S. Open women’s tennis final, I was the only Canadian at a bar in D.C.'s Georgetown district. The Americans were in jaunty spirits as the match began, expecting a Serena Williams rout. A couple next to me were having fun trying to pronounce Bianca Andreescu’s name.
When she unleashed some blazing forehand winners, the patrons showed little concern. They shot dismissive glances in my direction when I pounded the table. They thought, not realizing the tenacity and sangfroid of the Canadian, that she would wither.
When she increased her lead, Ms. Williams went into quasi-sulk mode, and the patrons’ looks turned to gloom. She got them hooting and hollering with some strong play later in the second set, but the Canadian dug in to seal the outcome.
A graveyard silence came over the place at match’s end. I hammered the table again and, in a patriotic halo, floated out onto M Street.
The Andreescu triumph, nearly three months after the Toronto Raptors won the NBA championship, makes this arguably Canada’s greatest sporting year in its 152-year history. There was a World Series win in Toronto and a Stanley Cup in Montreal in 1993, but those accomplishments had been achieved before. There have, of course, been some stellar Olympic performances along the way, too, but they don’t truly compare.
For a country’s self-esteem, there’s nothing quite like big-time sports conquests. They do wonders for image-building. In the United States, Canada is now less – a bit less – of an afterthought. The victories gained it some swagger.
Through its history, the country’s been burdened, perhaps understandably given the gaping power imbalance, by a sense of subordination to the big Yankee banner. Americans themselves have noted it. During the Obama administration, diplomatic cables sent from the American embassy in Ottawa to Washington, obtained by Wikileaks, said that “Canada has an inferiority complex” in dealing with the U.S..
Sports alone doesn’t wash away that kind of condition. But there’s more than landmark sports triumphs going on. There’s the Donald Trump gong show. There are other status-draining American afflictions that accumulate. By comparison, Canada’s stature is enhanced, rendering any notion of an inferiority complex obtuse.
Rarely have the contrasts been so stark. In how many ways is Canada eclipsing the U.S.? Compare the quality of the democracies, the dysfunction and chaos in Washington that far outstrips Ottawa’s infirmities. Compare Canada’s multicultural progress to the xenophobia and nativism now rampant south of the border.
Contrast Canadian unity to the fractured state of the U.S., with its tribal-like polarization. Regard how right-wing populism has gripped and torn that country, while in Canada it has been resisted. Contrast We-the-North’s immigration system to the nightmare at the Mexican border.
Canada’s Supreme Court is not poisoned by political allegiances. There are sane gun laws, not an epidemic of mass shootings. By contrast with our neighbour, there’s a commitment to free trade, respect for international institutions, universal health care and a serious approach to the climate crisis. Ottawa has its scandals, but they are small by comparison.
Anyone north of the border feeling small or inferior needs to see a good shrink.
After her match, it was instructive to hear the 19-year-old Ms. Andreescu talk of how comfortable it was growing up in Canada as part of a Romanian family. Canada is “so multicultural,” she said. “That’s why I love my country so, so much.”
On the unity question, Canada is no stranger to crises, having experienced the Quebec threat for decades. But that has passed now, and it is the fabric of America that is in peril given the lack of consensus, the hardening ideological gulf.
Such are the antagonisms of politics that there is much partisan bellowing in Ottawa. But compared with Washington, the differences are minor. Canada’s major parties are not far apart on trade, immigration, multiculturalism, deficit financing, relations with the U.S., China, health care and more.
The Republican Party in the U.S. has been mauled by right-wing populism, as has the Conservative party in Britain. Andrew Scheer has rightly steered Canadian Conservatives clear of that contagion. Compared with the U.S. election, the Canadian campaign promises to be a snooze. Given the degree of consensus in the country, it’s a small-stakes election.
While there is no cause for Canadian complacency and while there is no need for any talk of moral superiority, it’s been a long time since Canada has looked so good by comparison to its neighbouring leviathan. The American embassy can revise its cables. The Canadian inferiority complex is dead and buried.
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