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The new Canadian passport is unveiled at an event at the Ottawa International Airport in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Jen Gerson is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.

It’s actually pretty rare for something to come along that manages to transform the nation from perfect indifference to utter pique in the course of one day, but somehow this government has managed it. I am talking, of course, about the most important news to emerge from this week – our passport redesign.

Ottawa has managed to produce something so ugly, juvenile, and banal that I’m actually personally offended. The new documents are so ugly that they feel like an insult to Canadian identity and people. They reveal the inner psychology of a government that is so pathologically self-hating, it may risk dooming the very concept of nation itself.

“Oh, come now, it could not be that bad!” I hear you objecting.

Couldn’t it?

Let’s divide our critique into two categories: the first, an examination of the internal visa pages, and the second of the cover itself. I take it for granted that a redesign is necessary, and that the passport’s new security features are all very fine and well and cool.

So let’s look at the internal pages, in which all traces of history, all heroes, and all national monuments have been replaced with a bland cartoon of Canadiana that looks better suited to my toddler’s placemat.

This style of graphic design resembles a school known as Corporate Memphis, which Wikipedia reliably tells me is “a flat, geometric art style, widely associated with Big Tech illustrations in the late 2010s.” For most of us, it looks like the inoffensive yet dystopian clip art that adorns uninspired PowerPoint presentations.

By removing the gritty images of Vimy Ridge and Terry Fox, this government has managed, incredibly, to piss off both the Royal Canadian Legion and the mayor of Terry Fox’s hometown in the same day. They should have strangled a beaver in maple syrup and gone for the trifecta.

Anyway, like a lot of people, I’m tempted to read too much into this. We are told that there is no political motivation behind erasing images of Canadian history from the passport: that this isn’t reflective of a government that sees itself leading a corporatist, post-national state; nor one that regards all expressions of nationalism as an embarrassing anachronism.

There’s no deeper symbolic meaning to the fact that they have chosen to remove the rough edges, blood, sacrifice, and failure of the past and replace it with a two-dimensional cartoon version of the country.

Of course, I’m tempted to say that these are the kinds of changes that demonstrate that Ottawa sees itself not as the living embodiment of a nation, but rather as nothing more than an administrative fiction, overseeing the transfer of funds between a bland and homogenized population.

Konrad Yakabuski: Trudeau’s culture war on Canada’s symbols erases history

But then, I’ve also been around long enough to remember when the money mostly featured birds, and our fragile sense of national identity managed to survive.

I’m just saying that bureaucrats in Ottawa could have spared me hours of hellish introspection about the nature of the modern state, and the role of Microsoft Word’s Clippy if they had chosen a passport that featured each province and territory’s official bird or flower or something.

However, I can rise above this. I can forgive the inside pages.

What I refuse to accept is the passport’s new cover. It’s an atrocity of design by committee. It’s as if the designers wanted to finally rid us of the colonial overtones implied by our noble heraldry, but lacked the courage of their convictions. Instead, our coat of arms has been sidelined to the left-hand corner, superimposed with a lazy, cartoonish maple leaf.

The whole thing comes off as incoherent, juvenile, and uninspired. It’s the visual equivalent of watching King Charles trying to hold a coronation in a third-rate suburban Apple store.

The redesign offends whatever lingering national pride and aesthetic sense I possess. Symbols matter. A shared sense of history and narrative matters. And if we’re going to live in a third-rate, rich-world country, at the very least we can get the design right.

We deserve better than this passport. We, as a nation, cannot fix all that ails us, but we don’t have to be complacent about every single thing. We can do better than the forgotten archives of clip art lingering in Microsoft Word. We can aspire, at the very least, to be as good as the stuff on Etsy.

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