The Montreal Gazette

(Original on-line article at The Gazette )
Thursday, October 10, 2002

Canadian cool not about weather

Bill Brownstein
Opinion on Identity

"It's about harmony.
...It's about helping neighbours in distress."

The rest of the world might take us for granted. Or, worse, mock us for, allegedly, being bland and boring. Can't catch an episode of the Simpsons without some zinger being directed our way. David Letterman has been using us for target practice for years - even if his bandleader buddy Paul Shaffer is one of us.

No matter. Philip McMaster thinks it's cool to be Canadian. Way cool. Evidently, others concur. McMaster's Cool to be Canadian organization, a volunteer non-profit group fostering community aid, marks its 10th anniversary this year and is picking up converts by the score.

McMaster is no one's notion of a nerdy nationalist.

McMaster might also be considered souche. His family's roots go back 200 years in Quebec. His grandfather was a Quebec finance minister back in the 1920s. And the community of McMasterville owes its name to another of his relatives.

The 30-something McMaster was born in Val-Morin and now resides in Outremont. Last year, he was president of the association of MBA students at Écoles des Hautes Études Commerciales. In fact, he is so integrated into the community, he could well have been a poster boy for Pierre Trudeau's Canadian dream of bilingualism and biculturalism.

It is McMaster's contention that you can't remove the Canadian identity from Quebec, or the Quebec identity from Canada. In his universe, Maple Leafs and Fleurs-de-Lis dot the skyline.

It is also his view that there is no better place to dwell in all the universe. He has traveled far and wide. He has toiled in the aerospace industry in Japan and climbed mountain peaks in some of the most remote parts of the planet. But nothing beats home.

"When you observe the way people live, whether rich or poor, in other parts of the world, you are immediately struck that we live in such a safe and civilized place," McMaster rhapsodizes.

"There is no need to artificially create divisions between the two founding peoples here. In fact, it's not two founding peoples. It's the two conquering peoples. The aboriginals were here before us and we have so much to learn from them."

McMaster actually eschews flags. "They are military symbols, and what annoys me most is seeing battles between flags, such as those between the Canadian and Quebec flags."

Cool to be Canadian is more stream of consciousness. It's about harmony, not a unity battle. It's about helping neighbours in distress. To that end, Cool to be Canadian volunteers joined flood-relief efforts in Manitoba in 1997 and ice-relief efforts here during the Ice Storm of '98.

Sure, it's cool that Nelly Furtado and Mike Myers and Marc Gagnon and Alfred Sung and Leonard Cohen and Norman Jewison and Margaret Atwood and Morley Safer and Catriona Le May Doan and Neil Young and Nickleback are Canucks. And let's not forget the Friendly Giant - an American creation, but a Canadian TV show.

But it's cooler still that we are peacekeepers and peace-lovers, especially in times of crisis. "It's not about Canadian stars," McMaster says. "It's about anything that instills community values. It's not about vacuous materialism. People from all backgrounds come to Canada to be free. What's cool is to have a measure of trust in your fellow citizens. Americans have to live with the fact they are being targeted from outside and inside by Unabombers and snipers."

"In the U.S., the constitution refers to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It's all about the individual. In Canada, though, it's about peace, order and good government. It's about the greater good."

What's not cool is belligerence or bad manners. McMaster cites our second in command in Ottawa, John Manley, as being particularly uncool. McMaster says Manley's remarks about the future of British royalty in Canada following the reign of Elizabeth - he's agin' it - were inappropriate, particularly while the monarch is among us.

"Politeness will always be the stuff of kings," McMaster sniffs.

But McMaster refuses to equate politeness with blandness. And he positively bristles at the accusation that Canadians are boring. "Just count the number of comedians in Los Angeles who are Canadian. We are a funny people, not a boring people."

"Look at Dave Broadfoot. He's 150 years old now and he's still funny." Now, that's Canadian.

For more information about Cool to be Canadian, visit the Web site at

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