Crude Observations

Happy Bidet Canada

Today is one of those glorious historical anomalies for the Crude Observations blog that some people might call a coincidence but that I consider to be a Gregorian twist of fate. As wen enter the summer months, I have many traditions for the blog including the birthday blog, the review of my terrible forecast blog, the Canada Day blog and the Stampede blog. Then it’s the vacation blog. If I feel like it.


It is rare for the blog to fall on the actual day for one of these traditions yet this year, it has kinda sorta fallen on the day for all of them so I am presented with a dilemma.


Do I mail it in in true long weekend fashion and take the easy way out with my annual homage to all things Canada or do I take it on the chin and do a review of my Fearless ForecastTM, wherein I assess the damage I have done to my credibility at this halfway point of the year and then celebrate Canada later?


How far in the hole is my forecast that I would avoid admitting my weakness kick that can down the road for another week (or two!) to defer the embarrassment.


Finally, should I avoid the elephant in the room lack of hockey glory for the Edmonton (Canada) Oilers who oh so recently got their hearts ripped out by the hockey powerhouse Florida Panthers? Or should I just acknowledge that after 30 years, maybe the new Canadian tradition is to be the best at the game but the worst at winning it?


Which is ironic, because as any maple syrup blooded Canadian will tell you, July 1, 1867 is the day that hockey was invented on a frozen sheet of permafrost on Hants Island on a cloudy frozen day, when soon to be Canadian settlers faced off against menacing Danish intruders by whacking each other with bent sticks and shooting frozen “you know whats” at each other.


OK, that’s not ever remotely true but it’s a good story, right? Better than how Canada was actually formed, the dreary 1867 July day when Rene Levesque Trudeau, the current emperor of Canada’s great-great-great-great grandfather decreed the Liberal Party into existence and claimed the continent for his family. Or something like that.


In all seriousness, it is Canada Day, the day we celebrate this weird patchwork of a country.


What is it and what does it mean?


Canada Day is the day we celebrate our appropriation of the practice developed by first nations of tapping into the sweet spring sap of maple trees and making a syrup out of it, and then, stripped of our clothing we drink tree blood in a pagan ceremony held under a full moon.


What? No?!?!? Egads. OK. One last try.


Canada Day, the day our nation was founded, when 24 men with varying degrees of hipsterish facial hair got together in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to sign the contract that made this weird mishmash of a country possible. A committee. Of mostly Easterners (hey I’m one, I can make fun), deciding how the second largest country in the world could be stitched together.


How very Canadian, n’est ce pas?


And, in the spirit of Canada Day, I am going to reproduce yet again, in updated and modified form my annual Ode to Canada. It is my sincerest hope that this blog will allow you to pass the time in the security line at the airport, lined up for your soon to be cancelled WestJet flight a little easier, or at the very least a little more informed and amused.


This will also be of great utility to my many American readers who may be contemplating a US dollar-financed escape for some forest fire tourism or just want to know what makes us tick or international readers who may have just recently heard of Canada and are wondering what all the fuss is about and why we were for so long really bad at soccer (hey – we just scored our first goal at the Copa America – ever!). It can also serve as a handy domestic reminder to all of us to take a step back, think about what makes this country unique and special and appreciate that no matter how much partisan nonsense we create for ourselves, we’ve really got a sweet gig going, as long as we can collectively figure out a way to acknowledge that our past isn’t as shiny and noble as we like to think and actually do something about it.


Okeleydokeley, back to the true north strong and free.


As Canadians, we often describe ourselves as boring, polite, followers of the rule of law and respectful of authority. Of course, we weren’t always like that since we did after all BURN DOWN THE WHITE HOUSE in 1814 except of course that wasn’t us, it was the “British” nod nod wink wink. And it wasn’t the White House, it was the presidential residence. But really, why split hairs – we did it and it’s pretty badass if you ask me. Pretty sure Donald Trump tried to shove this in Trudeau’s face during the last round of NAFTA negotiations – part of how Trudeau treated him very badly. And now we have Biden – the only US citizen who was actually in that residence when it was burned down.


ANYWAY, Canada right? Pretty dull, yet nonetheless a complex and puzzling place. It shouldn’t actually work, yet strangely it does…


First, some basic history…


As a country and nation, we are not forged in the fever swamp of bloody revolution and trial by fire experienced by our much larger southern neighbour or the result of some geographic accident of tribal movements across a continent like much of the rest of the world, but Canada is nevertheless unique.


Canada as a nation is a meticulously assembled patchwork of distinct geographic areas and populations, brought together through polite and deferential negotiation. The articles of Confederation that came to being in 1867 were motivated as much through a desire to form a cohesive nation as to establish a more robust bulwark against the emerging industrial powerhouse that was the United States after the end of the US Civil War. A “thanks but no thanks” economic and political union.


The initial members of this union were of course the Maritime provinces, Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) soon to be followed by British Columbia and the “middle” – Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and finally Newfoundland on April Fool’s Day in 1949. Ironically, it was the promise of a massive infrastructure project to the coast (railroad) that was required to bribe BC to come on board, much as pipelines are part of what is needed to keep those pesky Albertans playing ball.


This spirit of plunder and exploitation for the benefit of the East is a Canadian rite of passage. Imagine Canada is a cow. The West feeds the cow, the centre milks the cow and the east? You tell me. This might actually help make sense of why the dairy industry is so protected.


One of the defining features of Canada is the spirit of compromise that allowed it to be formed in the first place. I can think of no other place in the world where a fiery and proud Francophone culture like Quebec coexists with the stiff upper lip blandness of the British/Anglo Saxon heritage of Ontario and the Maritimes while continually getting poked in the eye by brash upstarts from the frontier in the West. It’s a goofy marriage of convenience that should never have worked yet somehow does.


Where does it come from? It comes from the people and the origin story. It comes from a bunch of guys in a room saying hey, I bet if we tie all these things together, it’ll be funny.


And from these humble beginnings we get this thing that is Canada today.


So, what is Canada today? I bet a lot of you would like to know. Heck, I’d like to know!


Well, if Canada were a person, we would say that Canada is compassionate. Canada is polite. Canada is firm. Canada is inventive. Canada is welcoming. Canada is pragmatic. Canada has a wickedly sarcastic sense of humour. A lot of Canada plays hockey. A lot of Canada doesn’t. Canada is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and is proud of it. Canada has snow. And yes, Canada has some nasty baggage it is dealing with.


Chief among this, and let’s be realistic – almost exclusively – is Canada’s legacy of colonialism and mistreatment of its indigenous populations, whom I didn’t mention above in the Canada formation story because really, they weren‘t part of it. At least not the myths that we used to get taught in school. That omission in my narrative was deliberate to show how easy it is to gloss over an entire race of people because the story you’re trying to tell is inconvenienced by their mere presence. The reality is that the First Nations were shunted aside, had their land expropriated, peoples forced onto reserves and generally treated as lesser beings who needed to be assimilated into the greater blob which is Canada by a paternalistic, faceless and uncaring government. This shameful history that we share in many ways with our southern neighbours is one which we are incrementally but painfully trying to deal with as a nation.


Recent news and horrifying discoveries of the remains of hundreds of children in unmarked graves at the sites of Indian Residential Schools are a grisly and stark reminder of the racism (covert, overt) that defined the settler/colonist “era”, an era which continues in many ways today with the ongoing legacy of First Nations poverty and income and lifestyle inequality, substance abuse and addiction, poor health outcomes, high rates of suicide and incarceration, lack of clean water and a historic inability of governments at all levels, no matter how well-intentioned, to adequately address a problem we created that is a cancer on our national psyche.


It is a massive undertaking and has been studied and overstudied for too long. Action is required and a large part of our future will be defined by how we deal with these ongoing issues, but in this, as in many things Canadian, I have confidence in resolution. Why? Because it’s what we need to do. And things are happening. They aren’t headline grabbers or feel-good stories. They are more fundamental and secular changes that can and will have massive and long-lasting impact. And they are hard to celebrate when the tragic legacy of residential schools is so immediate and raw.


But what are these changes? Well from the perspective of an investment and finance professional, there is a massive rewriting of the economic relationship between First Nations and the rest of Canada as First Nations come to the realization of the massive economic influence they actually wield whether it is terms of resource wealth, land holdings or water rights.


This is especially true in resource rich Western Canada but also in Norther Ontario and Quebec – if it’s not oil and gas or forestry, it’s mining for the critical minerals needed for the energy transition. And with this realization and realignment of the economic relationship comes ownership, investment, employment and, over the long term, sovereign wealth and self-sufficiency.


And all of this is being encouraged, supported and in some cases funded by the private sector and provincial and federal governments. Think eventual First Nations ownership of TransMountain and the economic participation in Coastal Gas Link are great initiatives? Take a look around – that’s just the tip of the iceberg. First Nations are investors in oil and gas, mining, services businesses, real estate and hospitality. Alberta even has an investment bank/fund dedicated to supporting First Nations projects. Sure, there are roadblocks along the way, there always will be. But there will always be a way around and/or through.


This fundamental rewrite of the economic relationship with First Nations peoples and the empowerment that comes with that wealth will do more to right the wrongs than any numbers of misguided, paternalistic government handouts and will define Canada for generations to come.


Even with this legacy, we have much to be proud of and (aside from the mostly lousy weather, who’s kidding who) Canada remains one of the best countries in the world in which to live and a land of innumerable and occasionally remarkable accomplishments, invention and natural bounty. Unless you8 want to buy a house. Sorry about that.


That said, I’m pretty sure there will be beer.


At any rate, as is common in most of these Canada-centric celebratory missives, in no particular order some of Canada’s most important contributions and inventions shared with the world at large include:


The zipper. Let that sink in you savage.


Not only that, how about peanut butter, insulin, the telephone, basketball (sorry USA), the pacemaker, bagged milk, POUTINE, the paint roller, the Wonderbra, the retractable beer carton handle, plexiglass, IMAX, standard time, snowmobiling, ham & pineapple pizza (Hawaiian! – yech), the lightbulb, the Bloody Caesar (try it), the caulking gun, lacrosse, Yahtzee, Trivial Pursuit and SUPERMAN!!!!!


Geographically and resource-wise, Canada is the second largest country in the world, has the 3rd largest reserves of oil and the 10th largest reserves of natural gas. At 348 million hectares, we have 9% of the world’s forest land or an area 4 times the size of Texas. Canada is the world’s second largest producer of uranium and has the largest reserves. Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of potash. Canada is the 5th largest producer of gold, in the top 5 in diamond production and in the top 10 for virtually any other metal you can think of or find in a high school textbook.


On the food and agriculture front, Canada is the 5th largest agricultural exporter in the world, and the agriculture and agri-food industry employs 2.2 million Canadians. We produce about 80% of the world’s maple syrup, we are the world’s largest exporter and among the largest producers of flaxseed, canola, pulses and durum wheat. We are the world’s largest producer of Poutine, which is grown in micro-farms in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. With Russia’s nonsense aggression in Ukraine, Canada’s breadbasket has never been more important.


On the cultural side, sure, we did produce Celine Dion, Nickelback, Justin Bieber, Samantha Bee, Drake and Jim Carrey and we have collectively apologized for that ages ago. However, we are also responsible for such cultural icons as Neil Young, Michael J. Fox, Ryan Reynolds, Leonard Cohen (RIP), Ryan Gosling, Rachel McAdam, Kiefer and Donald (RIP) Sutherland, Keanu Reeves, Mike Myers, that Buble guy, the Weeknd and Seth Rogen among others, not to mention media heavyweights like Morley Safer, David Frum and Peter Jennings. And who could forget the crown prince of Canadians hogging the spotlight south of the border – that’s right, James T. Kirk or as we know him, William “f-ing” Shatner or, sadly, the Shat. Do I even need to mention Tate McRae?


And, of course, there’s hockey. ‘nuff said. A third of the Panthers are Canadian. And Joey Votto. And Freddy Freeman. And Jamal Murray, SGA, Lugens Dort, Zac Edey, Kelly Olynik and the rest of the Canadian men’s basketball team that is pretty much an NBA All-Star team. And Ketchup chips. And Hickory Sticks. Original and Salt & Vinegar. I could go on for at least another paragraph!


But we’re not just food, natural resources, entertainers, stick swingers, ballers and creators of both remarkably and questionably useful inventions. Canada is much more than that.


We are a country with world-leading innovation across virtually all industries – from finance to biotech to engineering. We are a society and a nation built on immigration. We don’t actually care where you are from, we are more interested in what you bring.


We are inclusive and welcoming. We are in theory governed by a fundamental belief in human rights, social justice and progressive ideals. Equality of all people and equal access to rights and liberties is fundamental to who we are. And we will fight for it.


One thing Canada isn’t? We aren’t a pushover. We don’t like to be pushed around and no matter our internal differences, we can set them aside if we feel slighted. And if it’s about hockey it’s even worse. We don’t like our character questioned and if anyone is going to insult our political leaders, it’s going to be us dammit! I suppose that’s pretty much the story for most countries, but a bit less expected from prim and proper Canadians.


Along that vein, we are a peace-loving nation, but Canada has nonetheless participated in most of the major conflicts of modern history because it was the right thing to do, and our armed forces are recognized for their valour and skill. We don’t brag about it, we kinda just do it. But we appreciate the pat on the back we occasionally get.


Some people will say we are defined by our approach to health care. And notwithstanding that universal health care isn’t unique to Canada, it is hard to argue with that. While often maligned and mocked here and abroad for some of its widely known inefficiencies, our Canadian health care system is a fundamental projection of the Canadian progressive spirit, a fully funded single payer system that recognizes that universal access to affordable health care is a right. Can it be better? Sure. Can it be worse? I don’t know, is there a readily available example of a broken private health care system with runaway costs handy? The point is, as a country we decided that we would take care of each other’s health. And by and large it works. Nowhere has the utility of our health care system been brought home more starkly than in Canada’s largely provincially coordinated and federally funded response to the COVID-19 pandemic where despite our differences and a lot of consternation about vaccine supply, distribution, utility and timing we somehow managed to be among world leaders in vaccine uptake. Especially after all the anti-vaxxers were rounded up and put in camps. Was it ever really in doubt? Sure the system creaks and bends under its own weight, but prognostications about its imminent demise have been around for decades, yet still it survives and we have better health outcomes than most of our peer group.


As Canadians, I believe we are among the luckiest people in the world because we get to live in the best country in the world.


We elect governments that sit on either side of the ideological divide, but never so far in either direction as to really screw it up. Each party has its bozos, morons and stars and somehow we make it through. Our checks and balances work and no one is in a hurry to grab hold of all of it and be the ultimate boss – it just doesn’t pay that well and the house that comes with it should be condemned.


We are important enough in the world to be part of the G7 and unimportant enough to lose out on a rotating UN Security Council seat. We debate whether parody twitter accounts pose a national threat. Honestly, some of the stuff we argue about is patently ridiculous and childish. We may not throw people out of restaurants for being on one side of the aisle or the other but buy a $14 orange juice and watch the career suicide clock tick down to zero. How awesome is that? It’s downright liberating!


We are a society that can have its Prime Minister walk down the street participating in a Pride Parade or attending a rodeo in Alberta and have no visible security presence. Canada’s Finance Minster door knocked at my dad’s place this week and we talked about hockey. Like the leaders or not, this type of openness and safety and normalness towards our political leaders feels unique relative to pretty much anywhere in the world.


Looking to the future, it is hard not to believe that Canada has some of the greatest opportunities for economic and social advancement of any country in the world.


Trade and political wars with China? Random US tariffs? Pipeline delays and cancellations? These too shall pass. We know what we have and we know what people want. It’ll all work out. One party may pass a law that goes to the extreme in one direction, another may choose to reverse that direction. At the end of the day, it’ll be tested, the bad parts will be fixed or swept under the rug and we’ll move on. It’s the way we do things.


Where am I going with this? Not some “post-national” absurd navel gazing, instead some very practical  and very Canadian “this is the way things are” pragmatism. It’s hard to miss the Canadian opportunity.


We have oil and stuff. We are sophisticated with technology and capital. Our country generally rocks. We have serious issues that require serious people to solve. But we’ve been there before, we’ll be there again. Give it your worst. It’ll work out fine. Bob’s your uncle.


Happy Canada Day, eh?

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