Sorry Canada, you’re boring

By Joe Joseph, February 19, 2009

Let me say one word to you: Canada. Ring any bells? It’s coming back to you. But it takes a while, doesn’t it? It’s so easy to forget Canada exists. It’s never in the news. It’s the country equivalent of the friend you always forget to invite to your party because it slips your mind he’s actually still alive. Canada’s low profile explains a lot about the country, including its motto (“Yoo-hoo! We’re over here!”).

Then, bam, out of the blue, it turns up in the latest edition of Newsweek. “Guess which country, alone in the industrialised world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors,” asks Fareed Zakaria. “It’s Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system the healthiest in the world.”

Yeah, and we all know why Canada escaped the financial chaos: the bankers simply forgot Canada existed. Those Wall Street brokers who were looking for suckers to buy their toxic CDOs and their Ponzi schemes? It slipped their mind that they’d forgotten to catch a few Canadians in their web.

One adventurous broker did travel there to try to do some deals, but he gave up after spending 40 minutes trying to pitch his portfolio to a man wearing a fur-lined hood to keep out the cold — rendering his target effectively deaf, and thereby making conversation impossible. This is why so few people visit Canada: it’s so cold you use up half your baggage allowance on thermal underwear. Bankers probably also reckoned that a country with such an inhospitable climate probably only had a population of 600 or so. Maybe 700, maximum.

But it turns out that Canada’s population runs to about 32 million. Yes, really. Can you believe it? What’s more, it has plenty of Jews; possibly as many as 385,000. In fact, Canada has the fourth largest Jewish population in the world.

Who knew? We probably failed to register this fact because so many of the Canadian Jews who do make the headlines don’t make them in Canada. People like Leonard Cohen, Saul Bellow, William Shatner, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker and Hollywood mogul Louis B Mayer. (Of course, many non-Jews also leave: Celine Dion, for instance, who may have risen to fame in her native Canada because audiences couldn’t actually hear her singing on account of those fur-lined hoods they wear to stop their ears freezing — so solid you can snap them off like sesame brittle.)

So, once the Cohens and Shatners have left, once the people who give a country its spice have gone, what’s left is a soya decaff latte of a country. It might look like coffee. But, in truth, it’s had all the buzz sucked out of it. So Canada “has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention”. Well, bully for Canada.

Britain may be in a mess. But it’s vibrant, stimulating and politically hilarious; even though you need a second mortgage to buy a train ticket and the currency has become as internationally valuable as gravel. One day we will wake up and find we have recovered from this mess. But Canada will always wake up and be Canada. Did you hear that Ottowa and Winnipeg? I said, did you hear… oh, never mind.

Joe Joseph is a writer for The Times

Last updated: 10:40am, February 19 2009