Frank Zappa once laid out his list of what things were needed for a place to be able to call itself a country thus: “You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team, or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.”
However, he left one thing off the list – a travel guide about you on Road Junky. Despite being the world’s second-biggest country by area, a card carrying G8 member, and a place largely held to be the most desirable place to live on the American continent, Canada doesn’t have that last one just yet.
So does Canada actually exist as a country of its own, or is it merely an extension of the only country with which it shares a border – the United States of America? Road Junky decided to investigate, using Zappa’s criteria as a starting point – first up: beer.
The country’s biggest-selling lager – Labatt – is, allegedly, a beer, although it might only class as one to someone from other beer deserts such as Kuwait or Australia who is quite honestly unlikely to know any better. It is now owned by Belgian brewing behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev, kind of apt as Canada is in effect a giant Belgium – for the most part flat, indescribably boring, and with a political scene in an artificial capital dominated by an uppity French-speaking minority with a single-issue agenda.
The Maple Leaf State’s second biggest-seller is even more representative of Canada – Molson is a weak, gaseous lager, offending as much in its blandness as its being little more than an attempt to pass off a near identical weak lager (Coors) from America for the Canadian market. Molson is, incidentally, owned by Americans and outsold by Coors, and its major brand, Canadian, is sold in red, white, and blue cans.
Zappa score: 2/10, U.S. score 9/10
However, Canada most certainly does have its own airline. Air Canada is, like Labatt, very representative of its country. In this case that it is outrageously overpriced, unnecessarily protectionist, and has nearly been officially subservient to U.S. Vice Presidents in very recent memory. The face of Air Canada is Celine Dion, who you would think as likely a choice for cultural promotion for Canada as BP is for promotion of the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico.
Air Canada’s hub – Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson – is, despite being little more than a provincial U.S. international airport, the owner of the world’s most expensive landing fees, dwarfing even those of Narita in Japan, and meaning a number of countries have severed air ties with the Great American North. The latest being the UAE, after Air Canada proved its not only the U.S. who can unnecessarily piss off the Arab world without good reason, by refusing equality in bilateral flight agreements, meaning Dubai has been so angered it has slapped visa requirements on all Canadians wishing to visit the desert hellhole to the tune of $1,000 a go.
It is not only at a political level where Canadian airport policy is likely to upset foreigners though, try landing at a Canadian port of entry in anything other than a barely seaworthy boat along with half the Tamil Tigers’ military hierarchy and be prepared for a questioning session which will make the recitation of pi seem the beat of a humming bird’s wing, as seen here.
Zappa score 9/10, U.S. score 9/10
Next up, football. Here there’s little doubt that Canada fails abysmally, as even the Faroe Islands and Wales qualify on Zappa’s criteria. Although the national team is currently ranked in the top 100 teams in the world by FIFA, it sits well below footballing powerhouses Cape Verde Islands, Uganda, and Cuba, and would no doubt rank far lower if its regional opponents included teams any stronger than Aruba, Belize, or Montserrat. To be fair, Canada’s “women” rank far better, placing ninth, in yet another world where the U.S. is undisputed number one and North Korea is one of their biggest headaches. Despite a territory of nearly 10 million square kilometres and 35 municipalities with a population of over 100,000, Canada’s national football league boasts a whole three teams – for comparison San Marino’s has seven. However, Canada does have one side playing Major League Soccer in America – Toronto FC.
As this is North America, it would be unfair not to include what passes as football on that continent. American football is the only one of the four major professional sports leagues without Canadian representation. Toronto has recently adopted the Bills, yet despite Buffalo being at best an uninspiring Great Lake town with few exports other than crippling economic depression and gun crime, the Bills fans still see one week in the Ontario capital each year as more than enough, thank you very much. Canada does has up its own Canadian Football League (CFL), which like everything Canadians love most, ice hockey and poutine for instance, are only actually really famous in Canada itself and nowhere else.
In fact, when Canada faced the U.S. at ice hockey at the recent Junior World Championship in New York State, so little did anyone else care that Canadians fans filled out the arena with one leading Canadian broadcaster dubbing the host city “Buffalo, Ontario”. The rabid flag-waving, jingoistic nationalism, and dewy-eyed chest-thumping anthem-singing left no doubt to the viewer that this was the U.S., however. Although this time all the flags had maple leaves on them, the little red emblem Canadians stick on absolutely everything to try and convince the world they are an inherently different people to their identical and politically, culturally and sportingly far more important neighbours. In other words, it is Big Wales.
(To be honest, if we were to base our entire personal identity on not being American, we hope we would be able to come up with something a little more convincing than talking so loudly when travelling that even the drunk Irishmen in the next bar can’t hear the conversation between themselves, ensuring every other word is either “like” or “awesome”, and in general behaving and sounding like an American in every conceivable way, but using British spelling norms.)
Zappa score 3/10, U.S. score 10/10
Canada doesn’t have nuclear weapons any more (it did until 1984 under sharing agreements), but it does have shiploads of nuclear waste floating across transboundary waterways at The Great Lakes. By Zappa’s rating this means it is less of a country than Pakistan, France, and, allegedly, Israel. Canada is rightly proud of its non-nuclear weapon status, although it does generate around 15% of its energy at nuclear facilities and is the number one destination for ex-Soviet nuclear specialists seeking to immigrate and never leave, ever. On the subject of weapons of mass destruction, Canada is also proud not to be involved in Iraq, (although it is heavily involved in operations in Afghanistan) the war being one of its major gripes with the U.S.. Its biggest one though is that the election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency in 2008 and the fact that the Canadian Prime Minister is Stephen Harper means that the national motto – “our right wing is their left “ – is no longer true. Harper himself is famous on the international stage solely for missing a G8 leaders’ photo op because he was on the toilet.
Zappa score 2/10, U.S. 7/10
We have a clear winner!