Right in the Centre - True Canadian


By Ken Waddell

The Neepawa Banner

This past week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed his true Canadian colours. He called out Russian President Putin by saying, “I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you and that’s ‘get out of Ukraine’.”

That’s the Canadian way. At least it should be the Canadian way. We are usually polite but we are also forthright when the occasion demands it. Maybe it’s our long winters and the need for energy just to survive, but we Canadians have a reputation of saving words and saying it how it is. Harper certainly did that. It would be hard to imagine Justin Trudeau finding that much courage or even finding that few words. Trudeau is drama teacher and it seems that the more words the better. He talks like a darts player. If you throw out enough words, surely something will hit the target. As for NDP leader, Tom Mulcair, he would still be figuring out what to say.

Harper did it perfectly. Putin knows full well that while our Canadian military may have their equipment in better shape (maybe) than the Russians, we couldn’t possibly stand up to them in a straight up military battle. By the same token, when it’s one-on-one, in a verbal battle, few can stand up to a withering short blast of Canadian forthrightness.

Former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, tried the multi-word, low action approach and all it got her was a lot of years older and numerous dead Americans.

Canadians, in general, state it how they see it. Sometimes it can be couched in the mastery of the understatement as on a very cold day, we will say, “There’s no mosquitos.” Or, we will say, in the midst of rainstorm, “That’s keeping the dust down.” Regardless, Canadians are known for bluntness and even irreverence.

My favourite WWII story goes like this. In a Canadian camp in England, there were troops from several countries stationed there. And they were “there” for months, and even years, as troops trained and built up strength of supplies and equipment to invade Europe in 1944. One night, as was his usual duty, an elderly Home Guard Englishman was on guard duty. There was a village down the road from the camp and, of course, in the village there was at least one pub. The camp also had a 10 o’clock curfew. At close to 10, there was a slight noise of men moving up the road to the camp. Dutifully, the guard shouts out, “Halt, who goes there?” The answer comes back, “Aussies, mate!” The guard asks for the password and upon hearing the correct reply, says, “Go on in mates, get to bed, there’s a big day tomorrow.” A few minutes after curfew, again there’s more slight noises down the pathway. Again the old guard shouts out, “Halt, who goes there?” The reply comes back, “Just us Yanks.” The guard repeats his request for the password and his admonition for the men to get to bed. A full two hours after curfew, there comes a huge commotion of men scuffling in the gravel as they plod along, there’s loud voices and singing. The guard is obviously upset and demands, “Halt, who goes there?” A loud voice answers, “Who the Hell wants to know?’” The guard, somewhat despondent, doesn’t even ask for the password but simply says,. “Oh, alright Canadians, get in here and get to bed.”

A funny story, maybe even somewhat mythical, but it does depict one of Canada’s best characteristics. We demand to know who we are dealing with and we won’t  be dealt with lightly. Canada is a very large country. It’s the only country that anywhere near matches Russia for size. We will likely be in a sovereignty dispute with Russia over the arctic. If Russia sees an opportunity for oil or even for one-upmanship, they will face off against Canada over the North Pole as well as on the hockey ice.

But we have to understand, that relatively speaking, Canada is a success story and has, for the most part, been a success story since 1608. Russia, not so much. In the last 100 years, it has been pretty much  a disaster for human rights, for resource development and failed socialism. Canada has always punched above its weight and continues to do so.

May we never lose sight of that and may we always be able to state our case when faced with a bully. Harper did it in one very brief conversation. Other leaders would do well to be encouraged to follow his example. It’s the Canadian way.