Welcome to the Age of Canada, in which the peaceable kingdom abandons modesty, finds smugness, talks loudly and carries a new self-importance.
Our shift in character didn't begin with the lecture Stephen Harper delivered at the World Economic Forum in Davos, but it suggested a new-found aggressiveness on one hand and a familiar sanctimony on the other.
Harper didn't have to unveil his legislative agenda in Switzerland; the purpose, allowed his advisers, was to accentuate Canada's need to avoid Europe's "stark choices." Hence, his subtle contrast between the profligate, spendthrift Europeans and the frugal, prudent Canadians. Listen closely and you hear Harper's disdain for soft social democracy.
His warning: if we don't act now to shrink the size of government, reduce debt and rethink pensions and other social benefits, we'll end up like them. And we don't want that, do we?
Given the venue, forgive the Prime Minister a little boasting. Surely Jim Flaherty "is the best finance minister on the planet," and our net debt-to-GDP ratio is "the lowest in the G-7." Of course we're the best place to do business "on the planet" and our banks are the "soundest in the world."
It's good here - terrific, really - because the Conservatives have implemented some of "the most extensive and targeted economic stimulus measures of the G-20." It goes on, this little flight of narcissism, but we get the point: My, aren't we wonderful!
This is what leaders do among the plutocrats of Davos: you sell yourself, relentlessly and shamelessly. For a country that has long hidden its light under a barn, a little selfcongratulation isn't a sin - even if many of Harper's claims are false, as columnist Stephen Maher has astutely noted in these pages.
Leaving the salesmanship aside, what's striking is the sense of superiority. Having celebrated Canada, Harper asked his interlocutors what they're doing, doubting that economic growth and jobs are their priority.
"Or is it the case," he asked, "that in the developed world, too many of us have, in fact, become complacent about our prosperity, taking our wealth as a given, assuming it is somehow the natural order of things, leaving us instead to focus primarily on our services and entitlements?"
Of course, the "too many of us" doesn't mean lil' ole Canada, home of the world's best finance minister. It means the Greeks, Irish, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese and those other indolent continentals.
In finger-wagging, Canada is particularly adept; self-righteousness has long been a part of our genetic code. Our penchant for moralizing was mocked in 1966 by former U.S. secretary of state Dean Acheson, who called Canada "Stern Daughter of the Voice of God."
We lived up to his billing in 2005 when prime minister Paul Martin criticized the Americans for their record on climate change. The trouble was that our record was worse than theirs. The hypocrisy so angered David Wilkins, then U.S. ambassador, that he blasted Martin and set the record straight.
In a speech in Philadelphia in 1965, Lester Pearson differed with Lyndon Johnson over Vietnam. Pearson made the right argument in the wrong place. LBJ summoned him to Camp David, grabbed him by the lapels and told him not to "piss on my rug."
We get this way when we feel superior about ourselves, as we do now. The cover of The Walrus in March, for example, has a picture of Uncle Sam with a black eye over the triumphant headline: "That Time We Beat the Americans."
Maclean's, which loves the big statement, declares on a recent cover of its own: "On Top of the World. America is despondent. Europe is crumbling. Not us. Why Canadians have never been more confident about their future."
From Davos, Scott Gilmore sees foreigners wrapped in Canada Goose coats and declares that "Canada is back." Yet Canada needs to swagger, he says in a recent commentary in the Citizen, advising "less modesty, more brashness and a cocky stride."
Gilmore, whose intelligence and enterprise in international philanthropy give him ample reason to swagger, need not worry. As Harper shows, given the opportunity, Canadians can be insufferably immodest.
Beware, though, the sententious Canadian. As a European ambassador said after hearing Harper, it's easy to crow and criticize when you have oil and gas.
Canada deserves credit for making sound choices, but it's easy to be a moral superpower when you sit on riches. We can drill, mine and log, yes, but we are less good at manufacturing. Isn't it startling how we patronize IKEA without considering why a northern people with the same natural and human gifts as the Swedes can't do the same thing?
Our household debt to personal disposable income ratio is 151 per cent and climbing. Income disparity is reaching perilous levels. A mortgage crisis threatens. Our cities lack infrastructure and riots do happen there. Our universities are credentialing more than educating. Aboriginal Canada is restive.
Canada is a blessed country with much to celebrate. Canada is also a complacent country of comforting self-delusion.
Smugness doesn't look good on Canada (external - login to view)