So admittedly Canada doesn’t get much press in the world. On the scale of countries with news to report, the Great White North ranks somewhere around Guam and Togo. That’s not to say there aren’t important stories unfolding in Canada—the tar sands, the northwest passage, Aboriginal issues, to name a few—but when it comes to the international news sections of the world’s press, Canada barely registers a blip (one exception being Al Jazeera’s in-depth coverage of the education crisis among First Nations).
That’s probably a good thing. Deep down, most Canadians (myself included) secretly relish the cliché pegging us as nice, unobtrusive, if somewhat passive aggressive yokels. Hey, we’re the guys at the party everyone likes but the next day no one remembers, and that’s okay.
That used to be true. Until Rob Ford.
Now, all is Ford Nation, and not in the sense Torontonians understand it. Canada is Ford Nation. We party, hard. We’re pink-faced, rotund, and sniffing or smoking or guzzling one drug or another. We stumble through the streets and say all the wrong things at all the wrong times. We’re the guy at the party everyone wishes would just leave and no one ever invites back.
Maybe this is just what Canada needs to shatter the nice-guy cliché. Canadian forces were lambasted in Afghanistan for being too soft on the Taliban in Kandahar. I argued instead that the soft approach was working, that winning over the local population was the only way to make the Taliban irrelevant over the long term. Our American and British allies saw things differently.
If only Rob Ford had been around then. Maybe he could have smoked enough hash and opium with Taliban fighters to lull them into submission, or ranted enough to at least make it look like Canadians are not so nice after all.
Too late for that, sadly. But the image of naïve innocence Canadians have inspired internationally for so many years is fraying. We are badass now, though not so much in the Clint Eastwood sense; more Chris Farley, minus the witty repartee.
And we’re making headlines, finally. I was in Islamabad a couple of weeks ago. My Pakistani friends thanked me, as a Canadian, for giving them some welcome distraction from all the domestic troubles they have to read about every day. “That Ford character,” one of them said over dinner, “paint him brown and he could be a Pakistani superstar.”
I’m in Kabul now. Afghans, thankfully, are less in touch with scandals in Canada than their Pakistani neighbours. But the Ford fiasco has made its mark here as well. Over dinner last week I told some international aid worker friends that I’d brought a bottle of maple syrup with me and suggested a pancake brunch to celebrate.
“Pure, 100% Canadian,” I said.
One of them looked at me and jibed, “Fantastic! Is the crack included?”
Thank you, Mr. Ford, for putting Canada on the map.