Who is “Joe the Canadian” today?

Remember Joe the Canadian? What a great symbol of Canada he was. Understated, yet proud. One who celebrated the diversity of Canada, and stood up for our uniqueness on the world stage. A proponent of peace keeping, multiculturalism, hockey, and chesterfields. While he didn’t say it in the famous commercial, back in 2000, one of the distinguishing features of being Canadian at the turn of the millennium was appreciating a nuanced and balanced perspective on domestic world affairs.

Ten years later, what do Canadians look like?

If you ask the current Conservative government – the people charged with representing us domestically and internationally, people that you might assume (and rightly so) would have a good answer to that question – here’s what you might hear back…

Michael Ignatieff – the Canadian – is unCanadian. Jack Layton – the Canadian – is part of the Taliban. Dalton McGuinty – the Canadian – is a small man of the Confederation. Richard Colvin – a man charged with representing Canadians – is an untrustworthy liar. And Irwin Cotler – the Canadian (and the Jew) – is an antisemite.

These “definitions” are too sharply defined; they cut Canada and Canadians into isolated segments and divide us into useless categories. Unsurprisingly, the Conservative paradigm is one of sharp dichotomies: Big people and small people. People who are trustworthy and people who are liars. Canadian and unCanadian. To be sure, this paradigm itself is pretty unCanadian. At least it would be according to Joe the Canadian.

But wait a minute – wasn’t Stephen Harper just speaking about “putt[ing] aside old quarrels and… embrac[ing] a common future?” Oh wait, he was talking about the Olympics.

The latest round of demagoguery (though can it be called a “round” if it’s just a continual pattern?) has centered on the Conservative’s defunding of the Human Rights organization, Rights and Democracy, over their alleged anti-Israel stance. Of course, this fits in nicely with the Tories’ hardline ‘you’re either wish Israel or against them’ stance.

It is rare that I find myself agreeing with Haroon Siddiqui, and even rarer that I would quote him to back up my argument, but I’m happy to do so today as he is bang on in his assertion that “Israelis thrive on democratic debate and dissent but Harper… want[s] to shut down debate in Canada.”

For those too afraid to side with Sidiqqui, Liberal MP Anita Neville, co-chair of Liberal Parliamentarians for Israel (and Jewish herself), has also argued that “by making [support of Israel] frequently into a black-and white-issue, [the Tories] are setting it up as a wedge… And it’s creating a backlash.”

This is an issue that has garnered international attention. And rightly so.

William Schabas, the Canadian director of the Irish Centre for Human Rights recently posited an opinion that resounded incredibly loudly with me, noting that the current goings on are “extremely partisan and highly divisive. It isn’t very Canadian. It’s the kind of thing that I, as a Canadian living abroad, am very conscious of.”

I’m left wondering what a Joe the Canadian commercial might look like today. Do we really want to accept the Tories’ definition of who and what is and isn’t Canadian?

Perhaps that job should be left to the beer companies…

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