Why I Hate Canadians

220 pages,
ISBN: 1550546007

Post Your Opinion
More Hate, Please
by Ian Coutts

Will Ferguson claims he hates Canadians. Can you blame him? Just look at them. Go on, look at them. Look at Pierre Berton with that bow tie and bad comb-over. Or Kim Campbell, prime minister for fifteen minutes and possessor of the quintessential gormless Canuck face. Or Elvis Stojko. Or David Suzuki. Or Céline Dion. There's just so much to hate. We need a book outlining just how detestable they all are.
Alas, Will Ferguson's Why I Hate Canadians isn't it. The title seems to promise a homegrown P. J. O'Rourke, ready to burst balloons, topple shibboleths, and do whatever the hell it is you do to white elephants. The book's attractive cover seems to back that up. Featuring a stock shot from some long-forgotten film, it depicts a mountie in his canoe, with his sweetheart at the other end of the canoe. In pride of place beside him is his dog. You read the title and you look at the book and you think, clichés are going to be skewered here.
How wrong you are. The spark for Why I Hate Canadians was Will Ferguson's return to Canada after several years in Japan. The constant statement that he must be glad to be back started to prey on him, especially when combined with the assertion that "Canadians are so nice." Suffering from intense culture shock, Ferguson started to wonder:
"1. Are Canadians really as nice as they think they are?
2. If so, when exactly did this happen? When did we become so darn nice?
3. And is nice necessarily a good thing?"
These are the points Ferguson sets out to investigate, taking time out, he says, to "tip over as many sleeping cows as possible."
Now, when you're planning a job like this, there are two ways to go about it. One is the purely logical approach. You sit down with your razor-sharp mind and begin slicing away, carefully dissecting the clichés and contradictions. The other approach might be called the emotional method. You appeal to people's feelings and sentiments and work on those to win them around to your point of view.
Ferguson uses neither. Why I Hate Canadians is probably meant to convince us through funny examples and the writerly exploitation of this great Dominion's basic absurdity that Canadians aren't all that nice and, hey, niceness isn't much of a virtue anyway. But it doesn't work. Most of the time, it's difficult to guess what he's trying to do. Following the rules for first year university essays, he does say what he is going to do at the beginning of the book-the lines I quoted above-and he restates his goals at the end, but in between he somehow forgets all about them. Again and again, I found myself re-reading sections of the book trying to get their point. Odd parts are interesting in their own right, but they don't go anywhere. As an example, three early chapters recount Ferguson's experiences with various Canadian youth do-gooder projects. He's funny in places, and good at puncturing his own pretensions, but it's never clear what these chapters are supposed to do. It's as if someone had told him you should write from your own experiences, without adding that these experiences should also be relevant.
Ferguson doesn't do much better when he takes out time to attack cherished Canadian myths. To be fair, sometimes he gets it right. In the chapter on Canadian anti-Americanism, for instance, he accurately sums up our love-hate relationship with the United States in one simple image:
"Canada's intense preoccupation with America reminds me of nothing so much as those old black-and-white 1940s flicks where the heroine beats her fists on the man's chest, sobbing, `I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,' only to collapse into his embrace."
Mostly, however, the targets he attacks aren't all that tough-the monarchy, for example. It's there, and people either lukewarmly accept it or mildly disparage it, but writing as if large numbers of people felt really strongly about it, and as if taking potshots at it were daring, is disingenuous. You want to go after some sacred cows? How about medicare? Or L. M. Montgomery? Or figure skating.
In the end, Will Ferguson really probably isn't cut out to do a national hatchet job. That takes a truly angry man or woman, somebody who's willing to get into the great henhouse of received opinion and start stomping on other people's fluffy little beliefs and ideals. Ferguson's more the ahh-shucks, just-joshing-yah type. That's what he's been doing in his reports for CBC radio's This Morning recently, and that's what he should stick to. He's just too darn nice to write a book called Why I Hate Canadians.

 Ian Coutts is an editor at Madison Press.


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