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Why I Hate Canadians

by Will Ferguson

The old and often-repeated joke is that when a U.S. magazine held a contest for the world’s most boring headline, the easy winner was “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.” Boring? Of course. But what are we in this country if not a constant collective search for worthwhile initiatives? In his often-humorous book, Why I Hate Canadians, Will Ferguson explains how his own sense of nationalism was shaped by participating in three of these worthwhile initiatives (or “misguided projects” as he describes them): Katimavik, Project Metropole, and Canada World Youth.

These descriptions are the best part of the book. Ferguson lampoons (most effectively the theatre-by-committee aspect of Project Metropole) the earnestness and naiveté of the federally funded projects that nearly always fail in their goal of bridging the supposed differences of people, or young people at least, from across the country.

The book begins with Ferguson returning to Canada just before the 1995 referendum, after five years in Japan. That time abroad gave him some perspective on this country’s obsession with all things constitutional, on the belief that we are nice people, and on how we think Canada, self-defined as a “middle power,” actually has some power on the world stage. Calling the Canadian dream “success without risk,” Ferguson is adept at poking fun at the smugness that hides our insecurity.

It’s clear, though, that the title is meant to be provocative instead of accurate. Ferguson really loves Canadians – self-loathing is not a part of our national psyche. As a result, once he runs out of jokes about our character, the book also runs out of steam. It then becomes a somewhat unfocused recounting of our history, from our treatment of native people to the latest scandals involving our peacekeepers. At times, Ferguson’s attempt at satire breaks down, in his stereotypical views on cities like Sudbury, and descriptions of people (usually right-wing politicians), which are often just juvenile. The problem, though, may be not in the writer but in the material. The Canadian character isn’t that complex. It may be deserving of an hour on CBC radio, or endless essays in our daily newspapers, but as a book, there isn’t enough material to make it worthwhile.