Canada’s latest conquest

Canada’s latest conquest

In a story that has generated much delight among the weary Canadian masses, the tiny nation of Iceland is said to be considering adopting the Canadian dollar as their official currency.

The logic seems pretty straightforward. Iceland is one of the most infamous victims of the 2008 financial meltdown (for a thoroughly lurid summary of their epic decline, I highly recommend Michael Lewis’ fantastic book Boomerang), and today one Icelandic Krona is worth barely more than half a US penny as a result. As a nominally European nation, switching to the Euro would be a rational decision in normal circumstances, but of course the last thing the EU bosses want right now is another basket case economy on their hands. And the good old greenback faces long-term uncertainty problems of its own. In such a shaky monetary climate, Canada’s currency appears to be a safe compromise. Tried, tested, and reliably stable with a high international value to boot, the Loonie could prove to be a very useful tool indeed in the long process of rebuilding the decrepit Icelandic economy.

It remains quite unclear just how seriously this idea is being considered, however, and the degree of over-reporting this story has received in Canada is probably revealing of issues bigger than a mere currency swap.

On Saturday, the Canadian ambassador to Iceland was scheduled to formally declare Canada ready to begin discussions about sharing its currency, but he was quickly muzzled by an embarrassed Canadian foreign ministry after the plans were leaked. The Icelandic government, for its part, remains officially in favor of joining the Euro. At best, the Canadian currency idea seems to be something Iceland’s opposition parties have nonchalantly suggested in passing, in the idle and not always-completely-grounded-in-reality way we know opposition parties have a tendency to voice a lot of their ideas.

In other words, the evidence suggests Iceland can really only be said to be “contemplating” the currency change in the loosest possible sense, but that didn’t stop the rumor from becoming among the most shared and tweeted stories of the weekend, with big, splashy headlines in every major media outlet spawning lengthy discussions on blogs and forums across the land.

The whole phenomenon reminded me very much of a similarly over-hyped non-story from 2004, when the government of the Turks and Caicos Islands made some vague noises that were interpreted as a show of interest in being annexed by Canada, or something. To this day, it’s not uncommon to meet Canadians who will speak excitedly about the Turks as if their annexation is a project that’s significantly underway, even though there’s absolutely zero evidence that it’s ever even been seriously contemplated by anyone that matters. The idea that a bit of foreign land will be forever Canada seems to be an idea too enticing to be compromised by mere facts.

Canada is often identified as a country with a so-called “colonial complex” — as in, a fundamental insecurity and deference towards foreigners born by years of foreign rule — but sometimes I wonder if we don’t have a bit of an imperial complex, too. As early as the aftermath of World War I, Canadians were clamoring that their country should have overseas colonies, and the government of Prime Minister Robert Borden actually complained to Britain of unfair treatment after Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa all got former German colonies to run, while Canada got nothin’. Since then, the idea that a little nation might one day fall under Canadian dominion has proven a perennial source of patriotic gossip and what-if dream scenarios. Loathe as I am to admit it, Wikipedia even has a nice little chart of all the various overseas territories Canada has dreamed of owning or ruling at one time or another — and the fact that such a chart has even been created is quite revealing unto itself. Controlling a foreign nation’s currency isn’t quite the same as controlling it outright, of course, but one still wonders how long it will be until Iceland joins the list.

There are countries in this world that lack ambition and have happily resigned themselves to an inconspicuous, quiet existence in the global community; unknown, unpowerful, and happy with that state of affairs. Canada, in contrast, I would argue is a vivid example of the opposite

From foreign policy doctrines that endlessly emphasize our country’s need to “punch above its weight” in international affairs, to myths of revisionist history that overemphasize Canada’s military power (the idea that we single-handedly liberated the Netherlands during World War II, for instance), to cocksure assertions of how Canada is the next “resource superpower” of water, energy, or oil, to ongoing displays of diplomatic swagger over control of the arctic and oceans, Canada is a nation whose global ambitions have always greatly exceeded the “meek and modest” stereotype. Growing up as the child of imperial Britain and the neighbor of imperial America has clearly rubbed off more than we often care to admit, and seems to have infused Canadians with a sense that their nation has a sort of manifest destiny all its own. I’m always reminded of a big patriotic sign at the Chapters’ bookstore near my house. THE WORLD NEEDS MORE CANADA, it declares. We take it for granted that this is true.

More Canada is probably better for the world than a lot of alternatives, and I’d be curious to know if you guys find stories like the Iceland currency thing or proposals to annex Caribbean islands exciting or inspiring. If there’s an advantage to be gained from gimmicky foreign adventures I’m all for it, but at the same time I do sometimes worry ours is a country prone to what British historian David Cannadine famously described as “ornamentalism” — a dull country’s desire to adorn itself with foreign baubles simply out of a vain effort to make itself appear more interesting.


  1. Mike W

    One word, Newfoundland.

  2. Anon

    Back when Iceland wasn't a basket case, the Wal-Marts in St. John's were subject to periodic floods of Icelanders on weekend excursions to the land of (relatively) cheap consumer goods. I imagine that many Icelanders believe that adopting the Dollar will allow this ritual to resume once more.

    A question to JJ: why did you draw Iceland as a smurf?

  3. ThePsudo

    He draws Islanders as blue. 'Cause ice is cold, and cold people turn blue. It's a visual pun.

  4. Chris

    "There are countries in this world that lack ambition and have happily resigned themselves to an inconspicuous, quiet existence in the global community; unknown, unpowerful, and happy with that state of affairs"

    Which countries? Where? Surely none of them are of comparable population or economic power to Canada. I mean even little old New Zealand clamours to "punch above our weight" internationally and to be influential in our region. We have several colonies, including the aforementioned old German colonies, and some the Brits got tired of, a large(ly useless) tract of Antarctica, and we once aspired to add Fiji to them. In school we are taught that NZ had a significant role in the founding of the UN and the minor 1915 campaign at Gallipoli is spun into the major action of WWI.

  5. Yannick

    Not much different from how we learn how we showed the whole world at Vimy Ridge and Paschendale. Bet you the french and germans would say "Paschenwhat?"

  6. Anon

    I wouldn't mind subjecting a tiny spit of land in the Caribbean to oppressive Canadian colonial rule if it meant that I could go on cruises without ever having to leave the country.

  7. OldsVistaCruiser

    We here down in the States have that same thing, but we actually have two of them. They're called Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. No passport required, but PR may require you to know some Spanish. No French required, though!

    I just learned that Turks & Caicos also has a large Haitienne Creole-speaking community as well as its official English language as a British Overseas Territory, so you do have a place for your Francophone Québeçois to feel at home! Tabernac!

  8. taylor

    Canada is a country. All countries want to "punch above their weight." All countries have their own culture, and all countries, its part of existing.

    And I think you really tend to exaggerate what "Canadians feel" out of stupid media stories that try to have a "me too" attitude about everything.

  9. taylor

    Again, that list you post are all the actions of either one or two bureaucrats either in Canada or without.

    The person who brought it together as Wikipedia syndrome for Canada, that's for sure. But you can say that for any topic.

  10. Eric Stimson

    What about St. Pierre & Miquelon? That's not Canadian territory and it's like RIGHT THERE.

  11. Jon Bennett

    Could be awkward if there is ever another Cod War between the UK and Iceland, since Canada is still part of their Commonwealth of Nations. Putting their monetary policy in the hands of a potential antagonost.

  12. Jon Bennett

    antagonist, rather.

  13. POGG

    Hey, it's not THEIR Commonwealth! It's all of our Commonwealth!

  14. Jon Bennett

    Apologies. Should've said THE Commonwealth of Nations.

  15. Yannick

    Yours maybe, I feel no particular attachement to Britain or the remnants of it's empire.

  16. JonasB

    I think the Iceland thing is a better example of media over-hype (like the gay rights fiasco a month or so back) than any sign of broad Canadian identity or widespread feelings.

  17. Kento

    JJ, this is a beautiful cartoon! It's a lot of fun to look at, I keep on scrolling up from the comments section just to look at it again.

  18. Anon

    Need help identifying the things Canada is holding:
    Marshmallow-on-a-stick, Can of Labatt? , Maple Syrup, Quatchi, HBC Blanket, Beaver Tail, Bird thing?, Aluminium foil?, Sweater, Curling Stone, Tim's Cup, Snowman, Bottle of Rye, goose, AB beef, Poutine, Salmon, Apple?, Bacon, Sausage, Other Breakfast items?, Pancakes, Canadian Bacon, KD, football, Canada Dry, Donut, Molson?, Canadian Tire money.

    Excellently illustrated by the way!

  19. Anon

    You forgot the bagged milk!

  20. J.J. McCullough

    I think you got it all, pretty much. The bird thing is an Ookpik, a now long-forgotten Canadian toy from the 1970s.

  21. Trevor Martens

    Don't know why we feel the need to own some carribean land, its a lot cheaper to go to an independent carribean nation then to go to Hawaii, that's for sure.

  22. Anon

    That's because getting a passport is -such- a hassle, as is exchanging money. Yeah, I know, most of those islands use the U.S. Dollar – doesn't matter. Still inconvenient.

    I'd also feel a lot more comfortable keeping my vacation inside Canadian jurisdiction, rather than entrust my personal security to some foreign government.

  23. Kento

    I'm inclined to chastise you, since it's safe and easy to travel much of the world so long as you don't act like a complete idiot, but I actually am having a very difficult time right now because of traveling in a foreign country. I was offered a job that I really want to accept (I'm unemployed and not eligible for unemployment benefits because I lived so long outside of the United States), but the company that offered me a job won't complete the hiring process until they can complete a background check, and one foreign government may end up being too slow in telling this company that I did not commit a crime in their country for me to get this job.

  24. Zulu

    No offense, but all this sounds petty. Tons of countries use the USD and Euro besides the US and the EU. And there are more important things to spend time and money on than purchasing an island solely for the purpose of vacations.

  25. ThePsudo

    Why do other countries use the Euro or US Dollar? Do those reasons apply to Iceland and Canada? You haven't provided a lot of substance, either.

    Me, either. Maybe pettiness is a universal trait.

  26. Zulu

    The politically savvy would connect the dots, but I'll break it down. Convenience and security are common reasons why Latin American and non-EU Euro countries use the USD and Euro respectively. These are valid reasons why Iceland may adopt Canada's currency, but that is not the point. The point is, Americans and Europeans aren't proud when El Salvador uses USD and Kosovo the Euro. The Indian Rupee is used in the region, as is the Renminbi. Even small countries like Thailand has its currency used unofficially throughout its region. It is common for countries to do that, so its petty Canadians would feel proud that a little country like Iceland would adopt their currency. Petty is universal but I don't see other countries being so petty about such a small issue.

  27. ThePsudo

    Oh, so you think the Canadian patriotic excitement about Iceland's vague speculative intent to use the Canadian dollar is petty? I thought you were calling the criticism of that Canadian patriotism petty.

    I'm more inclined to agree with you now. Still, the comparison of Canada to the US or Europe on this issue has an inherent flaw: the US and Europe aren't right next door to a much larger power with a much more internationally popular currency. Why would Iceland choose CAD over USD and Euro? Many Canadians reason that Canada must just be more awesome, that's why. I can empathize with that, even though I don't particularly agree.

  28. Zulu

    Oh no, every nation is entitled to patriotism. I was referring to just this issue, and the vacation island.

  29. Jeff

    That is a fantastically drawn comic, I can't stop laughing at it. Great Job!

  30. Zulu

    I agree. Eyes and the viking's expression are what get me.

  31. Alexq7

    JJ, this is a beautiful cartoon! It's a lot of fun to look at, I keep on scrolling up from the comments section just to look at it again.
    Good thought top-essays