A zen history of Canada

“Why is Canada beating America?” Jason Clemens asks this week in The Wall Street Journal.

Ten years ago Canada was on the skids. The Bloc Quebecois was on the rise, the IMF was glaring and Canadians were self-effacing and avidly in between, not sure if they were real unto themselves or a kind of cold-country America. At that time the Canadian dollar was converting to 75 cents American. Today it is worth $1.04 U.S and rising. What happened? How did Canada get strong?

The answer: It overcame two existential and psychological challenges, the United States and Quebec.

Over long periods history can be looked at as a chemistry experiment. England’s fate can be seen going back to only two days in particular: The day Elizabeth I removed one of the chemical elements by chopping off the head of Mary, Queen of Scots is the first. It changed the chemical makeup of England. It ended a long thousand-year irritant — longer — from those pesky Picts who came from Ireland to the space now Scotland and just wouldn’t go away. It is the kind of irritant that makes you strong and keeps you on your guard. Trafalgar again changed the chemistry. Tiny England soared to world conquest and remained in the game until Sean Connery was knighted.

Canada faced a similar situation with Quebec, natural enemies united from the first in confederation as protection against colonization by the Unites States in the 1800s. Today Canada and Quebec have come to terms. In the recent election the Bloc Quebecois, which seeks secession from Canada, received only three seats. The movement has effectively ended. I have felt that the Quebecois movement was a conspiracy to make Canada stronger and more independent from the United States and when that happened the two would find common ground.

And that moment happened after 9/11 when George W. Bush invaded Iraq.

Canada, under the leadership of Jean Chrétien, the “little guy from Shawinigan” who spoke English with a hilarious accent, directly told the U.S. he would not support the effort. Quebec vehemently opposed the American invasion. Bernard Landry, leader of the Bloc, openly expressed his support for Chrétien and the Bloc and Canada were one.

But Canada and the U.S. no longer were. There was no chopping-off of heads, but the beating America took from Hayley Wickenheiser and the Canadian women’s hockey team at the 2002 Winter Olympics might be considered Canada’s Trafalgar moment. Canada would no longer be a footnote to American efforts. Canada broke free at that moment. Since, with the reelection of conservative Stephen Harper in the age of Obama and the weakening of the Liberal party and demise of the Bloc, Canada has gone its own way.

“While the U.S. remains mired in debt and slogs through a subpar economic recovery, Canada is moving ahead steadily,” writes Clemens. “Its unemployment rate peaked at a little over 8.5 percent and is now 7.4 percent, and there were no bank bailouts. Real GDP growth is expected to be roughly 3 percent this year.”

Canada might now be seen as leading the way if Rick Perry makes progress into 2012, as Perry and Harper share characteristics in culture, politics and outlook. And a Perry presidency will accommodate the Tea Party, much as Harper was able to accommodate Quebec.

The Canadians might have gotten it right first. It is easy to imagine the Loonie worth $1.30 one day soon, given the situation in America today.