Many were quick to dub 2013 Canada’s “year of the scandal” thanks to the two enormous political outrages that consumed the country’s headlines for more than eight unbroken months: the spectacular meltdown of Robert Ford, Toronto’s drunken, buffoonish, crack-smoking mayor, and the massive money-grubbing corruption of several members of Canada’s already absurd, unelected Senate. To this duo, I’d also add the chronic, embarrassing gaffes of new Liberal Party boss Justin Trudeau, whom, from sympathetically speculating about the motives of the Boston bombers to offering words of admiration for China’s Communist dictatorship to hosting a bizarrely tone-deaf ladies night” fundraiser, has rarely missed an opportunity to prove himself every bit the undisciplined intellectual lightweight many feared when he was first
installed “elected” back in April.
In a recent Huffington Post column, I speculated on what all this means for the future of Brand Canada:
While the damage done by Rob Ford — who I will remind the jury, is the democratically-elected mayor of Canada’s largest city — to our reputation as the Ned Flanders of nations can’t be understated, 2013 was also the year the Washington Post ran an editorial entitled “Think our Senate is horrible? Wait ’til you see Canada’s,” the New Yorker was sniggering about our “Trudeaux,” and the Economist declared us officially “uncool.”
It was a year Canada proved itself unable to unseat a municipal politician spectacularly unfit for office, spent eight months toiling under a scandal wrought by the predictable corruption of the First World’s worst-designed legislative body, and embraced the hereditary principle as a reasonable method for picking the country’s next ruler. And worst of all, everyone noticed.
2013 did produce at least one Canadian hero worth celebrating, Colonel Christopher Hadfield — the first Canadian to run the International Space Station, and an all-around decent guy — and the applause he received was rightly deserved. But what he personified in terms of the national psyche was ultimately not interesting or insightful enough to make him a celebrity with much staying power — despite an initial media blitz, his 15 minutes seem to have expired, and no outlet named him newsmaker of the year (the Canadian Press, Maclean’s magazine, and the Canadian edition of TIME, in contrast, all went with Mayor Ford).
Hadfield was a charming fellow, but his fame could not have arrived at a less opportune moment. 2013 was not a year in which Canada was destined to exceed the restraints of its smallness and prove itself a heroic nation capable of disproportionate greatness. It was instead one that exposed the sheer enormity of every mundane obstacle — political and cultural — we must overcome in pursuing that quest.