Martin’s balanced policies emerged organically out of Canadian culture, which is fair-minded and rule-following to a fault. The Canadian obsession with order can make for strange politics, at least in an American context. For example, of all the world’s societies, Canada’s is one of the most open to immigrants, as anyone who has been to Toronto or Vancouver will have seen. Yet Canada also imposes a mandatory one-year prison sentence on illegal immigrants, and the majority of Canadians favor deportation. Canadians insist that their compassion be orderly, too.
This immigration policy is neither “liberal” nor “conservative” in the American political sense. It just works. You could say exactly the same thing about Canada’s economic policies.
Canada has been, and always will be, overshadowed by its neighbor, by America’s vastness and its incredible versatility and capacity for reinvention. But occasionally, at key moments, the northern wasteland can surprise. Two hundred years ago last month, the War of 1812 began. Thomas Jefferson declared, “The acquisition of Canada, this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching.” The United States was comparatively enormous — with almost eight million people, compared with Canada’s 300,000. The Canadians nonetheless turned back the assault.
Through good luck, excellent policy and even some heroism, Canada survived the war. But it has taken 200 years for Canada to become winners.
Stephen Marche is a novelist and columnist for Esquire Magazine. His most recent book is “How Shakespeare Changed Everything.”