Maple leaf rag: Does Canada matter?

Author:Lott, Jeremy
Position:'The Friendly Dictatorship'

The Friendly Dictatorship, by Jeffrey Simpson, Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 238 pages, $25.9;

By NOW, YOU may have forgotten about Joe, the flannel-clad twenty-something whose 30-Second stump speech on behalf of all things Canadian delighted viewers in his native country. Joe's speech, delivered in an ad for Molson beer with a maple leaf flag in the background, was almost unavoidable in the spring of 2000:

"Hey, I am not a lumberjack or fur trader, and I don't live in an igloo or eat blubber or own a dog sled and I don't know Jimmy, Sally, or Suzie from Canada, although I am certain they're really, really nice. I have a prime minister, not a president; I speak English and French, not American; and I pronounce it 'about,' not 'aboot.' I can proudly sew my country's flag on my backpack. I believe in peacekeeping, not policing; diversity, not assimilation; and that the beaver is a truly proud and noble animal. A toque is a hat, a chesterfield is a couch, and it's pronounced zed, not zee, zed! Canada is the second largest landmass, and the first nation of hockey, and the best part of North America. My name is Joe, and I am Canadian! Thank you."

Audiences loved it. Beer sales shot up, Molson was besieged with requests for copies of the video short, and the National Post declared that Jeff Douglas, the Nova Scotian who played Joe, was a "national treasure." Having been on the ground at the time--in British Columbia--I can attest to the visceral impact of what I at first thought was a joke. Joe quickly become an icon of that quirky thing known as Canadian nationalism. Heritage Minister Sheila Copps even aired his rant at the Congress for International Press Institute in Boston.

Interviewed in the Canadian edition of Time, Douglas maintained that, while he was paid to deliver the rant, he believed every word of it. The follow-up was priceless:

Time: "So you really believe the beaver is 'proud and noble' ?"

Douglas: "There is a type of nobility about the animal...."

And then market forces set in. Hollywood took notice of Douglas and began to send the appropriate signals. Because of lower tax rates, a warmer climate, and more opportunities, many Canadians--especially young Canadians--with skills, money, or ambition tend to flow south at the drop of a hat. The brain drain has become so pervasive that the newsmagazine Maclean's recently ran a cover story featuring "fifty people who chose Canada."

Jeff Douglas was not among them. Over the objections of his fellow countrymen, many of whom--I am not making this up--petitioned the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review...

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