Second Rate?

August 04, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

HAVRE DE GRACE — Havre de Grace. -- Common sense rejects as ludicrous the idea that Canada is a second-rate country, but that's not much help to those insecure Canadian intellectuals who are paralyzed to the point of psychosis by an overpowering sense of inferiority.

Their condition isn't just a sense of inferiority in general, either. It's a sense of inferiority specifically to the United States, and it's reinforced by a dark suspicion that just about anything coming up from the south -- especially if it's well-received by most Canadians -- is bad.

The Toronto Star's recent lamentations concerning the Canadian Football League, printed on this page two weeks ago today, were a wonderful example of northern-style egghead angst about American culture. If the Americans get their hands on Canadian football, the editorial bitterly predicted, first they'll dominate it and then they'll ruin it.

The tone of smug pessimism was reminiscent of old New York Times attacks on Reaganomics, and the resemblance probably wasn't coincidental. For it's a nice irony that the way the chattering classes north of the border view the world is largely determined by the published opinions of sophisticates to the south. In Toronto, even the anti-Americanism is imported.

The long open border between the United States and Canada is a source of pride to both countries and of enormous and immediate benefit to most of their citizens. But the language of some Canadian opinion-emitters leads directly to the conclusion that it really should be closed.

The general goal -- an independent and pristine Canada -- sounds benign and is broadly shared. It's in achieving it completely that certain problems are likely to arise. How in fact should Canadians, if they decide they want to, keep out the polluting and imperialistic Americans? How should they keep out American sports teams, fast-food franchises, oil-drilling companies and unapproved ideas?

It would be quite a challenge. The government would have to buy a lot of barbed wire. It would have to tighten up the borders, jam television broadcasts, and impose strict controls on what Canadians may buy, read, say and think. The only problem is that Canada, being a democracy, wouldn't stand for much of that.

Baltimore plainly likes Canadian football. It's faster, it's more wide open, and best of all it's here. Fans are buying tickets to see the Baltimore C--ts play, and describing themselves as delighted that they can enjoy good professional football without enriching the despised National Football League.

American enthusiasm and money can't help but benefit the Canadian Football League, just as the Canadian franchises in Montreal and Toronto have benefited major league baseball. But the Toronto Star sniffs that ''expansion to second-rate American cities such as Baltimore (and third-rate ones such as Shreveport and Sacramento) comes with a price: loss of Canadian identity.''

Fortunately, most Canadians are too busy getting on with their lives to worry about such nonsense. They may be eating at

McDonald's, driving to Florida for the winter or coming to Johns Hopkins for surgical procedures unavailable at home under the national health plan the Clintons so admire.

Whatever they're doing, their lack of concern about Canadian identity in itself suggests that the Star's fretting is misplaced. Only truly second-rate countries concern themselves with such things. But when someone proposes new restrictions on who or what can cross the border, it will get Canadians' attention in a hurry.

Canadians aren't the only ones occasionally inconvenienced by the freedom that an open border implies. American wheat farmers in Montana are currently furious that their local elevators are full of lower-cost Canadian grain, and they're pressuring their politicians to do something about it. But whatever's done to restrict the cross-border grain trade will benefit thousands (perhaps) while short-changing millions (without a doubt).

The Toronto Star should relax. Its country, and most of its countrymen, are secure. The summers are cool. There's plenty of food. The Blue Jays won't be in fourth place forever, nor the Yankees in first. And a football team in Baltimore won't destroy Canadian identity.

* * *

Department of Corrections and Humiliations. In a recent column I slid off into a digression about Polonius' oft-quoted remarks, in Act I, Scene III of Hamlet, to a college-bound youth. The old guy's advice was of course directed not at Hamlet, as I said, but at Laertes, who was heading for school in France.

Aaargh. But sincere thanks to Brodnax Cameron Jr., Sarah Lord, G. Howard Gillelan, who politely called my attention to a gross mistake, and to all the others who noted it but were either too kind or too appalled to say anything.

Errare malum est, as Marc Antony quipped to Iago in ''As You Like It.''

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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