Herewith, a partly serious, partly humorous, entirely personal tribute to our fine neighbors in Great White North:
10) Rush, Barenaked Ladies, The Guess Who, and Gordon Lightfoot. I have no idea if one could make a cultural argument that there is anything particularly Canadian that all of them share, but anyway, my life would be worse without them.
9) Red Tories. A historical label which not only reflected pretty much exactly the sort of democratic political ideology (economically agrarian and egalitarian, politically communitarian, culturally traditionalist, religiously Christian) that I like, but which also describes a variety of relatively successful real-world political movements and politicians that--had I been a Canadian voter 50 years ago--would have had very close to my complete support, maybe even more than America's own Populists from a century or more ago would have gotten from me. (Forget about Harper's Conservatives and the New Democratic Party, everyone: let's bring the old Progressive Conservatives and the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation!)
8) Point Peele National Park. A small peninsula jutting southward from the Canadian mainland into Lake Erie, it's a beautiful stretch of forest and beach where my wife's family--she grew up in Michigan--used to spend their July 4th holidays (a smart way to avoid the crowds and get some good swimming in).
7) Relative avoidance of sugar processed from high fructose corn syrup. Once when we were visiting the Ontario Science Centre, we saw a display--in some sort of health exhibit--on the manufacturing of sugar and the relative amounts consumed by residents of the U.S. and residents of Canada. Our sugar consumption towered over theirs...primarily because most of our sugar intake comes from corn syrup, which we put into everything. It was an early part of our determination to change what we eat.
6) Speaking of food...Shreddies. Enough said.
5) Toronto. Yes, it's too big, and too expensive, and it dominates English-speaking Canada's economic, cultural, political and intellectual life to an unjustifiable degree. But a cleaner, more multicultural, more fun big city you're not likely ever to find.
4) Socialized medicine. Of course, it's not really socialized medicine; various levels of government only cover a little over two-thirds of all heath care costs in the country, and the providers are a patchwork of government-run, for-profit, and non-profit organizations. But it's universal care, and your basic medical needs don't cost you an arm and a leg (sometimes literally), and besides, my oldest friend from graduate school, James Meloche, helps run one of the Local Health Integration Networks in Ontario. That's good enough for me.
3) The intellectual problem of Canada. Why do I find Canada's perpetual crises over language rights, sovereignty, religious freedom and more, as embodied in questions about constitutionality, Quebec's unique cultural and political status, and the future of the Canadian federation itself--and reflected in documents from the Constitution Act to the Meech Lake Accord to today's Commission on Accommodation--so engaging and admirable? Because they actually exist: it's political theory made real. Unlike other nations that ponder in the abstract about nationality and identity, in Canada you find all these issues, which are usually just fodder for pretentious intellectuals like myself, being treated with great seriousness by actual politicians and parties and voters. The fact that our divided neighbors to the north have been able to survive intact--as a distinct nation with the smaller nation of Quebec still a part of it, despite all the conflicts and all the talk of separation for so long--is due to the hard work and aspirations of millions of ordinary Canadians who have taken the time to think and talk about sort of difficult matters which most citizens in most democratic societies would prefer to leave alone, so all credit to them. (Though, to give pretentious intellectuals a nod, it's probably not a coincidence that Canada has produced some of truly profound political thinkers, none more so than Charles Taylor, the--in my opinion--greatest political and moral philosopher of the 20th century.)
2) SCTV. Better than Monty Python? Um...no, not really. But better than any of the many incarnations of Saturday Night Live over the years? Oh yes, definitely.
1) The loonie. Why have a one-dollar coin? For luck, of course.