For some, it is the way Paul Henderson’s winning goal in 1972 became a national touchstone. For others, it is a fondness for Tim Hortons coffee or a national tendency to apologize when someone bumps into us.
Are these defining Canadian traits? Maybe. Many would include hockey somewhere in a definition of national traits.
The federal government even made a link between Canadian identity and hockey when it tossed in cheaper hockey equipment (through lower import tariffs) as a potential crowd-pleaser in an otherwise bleak budget.
But when I think of what sets Canadians apart, I think of just-retired parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page and former Statistics Canada head Munir Sheikh, and maybe less-known names like Britt Hall, associate professor in the department of biology at the University of Regina and director of a campaign to save the Experimental Lakes, where research is about to be shut down by the federal government.
It might seem odd in a country that loves hockey, but Canada is also a nation of research geeks. We get passionate about numbers and data, and that passion can extend to the sometimes bespectacled, soft-spoken scientists, dataticians and bureaucrats behind the research. Canadian sex symbols, of a sort.
England has Robin Hood, Australia has outlaw Ned Kelly, Canada has Kevin Page.
Citizens of other countries might also revere their bureaucrats, but there is something endearingly Canadian about a national outcry over the elimination of the long-form census, for example, or threats to a freshwater-research station or to obstacles put in the way of Page doing his job.
That Page who, in his own words, adds and subtracts numbers for a living, has become somewhat of a folk hero in Canada — and not just among the wonkerati — speaks volumes about Canadian values, in a good way.
The concern many Canadians show about research and data collection and transparency of information is much more than a quaint trait; it underlies a real understanding, even reverence, for the institutions around which a democracy is built. That is patriotism.
Page retired March 25 as the country’s first parliamentary budget officer after five years in office, much of it spent butting heads with the Conservative government that created the position.
As some pundits have written, it was a good idea the Tories wish they never had. That would likely be the case no matter which government was in power, which is why the office must be given more independence and continued support.
Page is, of course, not the only Canadian researcher, scientist or bureaucrat who has stirred Canadian patriotism in recent years.
Munir Sheikh, the country’s former chief statistician, resigned in 2010 after the federal government eliminated the mandatory long-form census, replacing it with a voluntary survey, arguing that the intrusiveness of the mandatory census was not justified. Sheikh was adamant that a voluntary survey cannot substitute for a mandatory census.
Other researchers and bureaucrats have also connected with Canadians — including scientists who badly want to be able to continue research at the Experimental Lakes site, soon to be closed after the federal government announced it would no longer fund it.
Then there are librarians who are concerned about access to documents and information as a result of cuts and changes at Library and Archives Canada.
Page might have expressed best the essence of the bureaucrat as mild-mannered superhero in a recent interview he did with CBC Radio.
He talked about how he was warned he could never go back to the public service after taking on the job, but said the death of his 20-year-old son in an accident had changed his view of life and even of job security.
“I was given an opportunity to do something for my country … something that I believe was badly needed in the spirit of the Accountability Act. … I felt like the higher purpose was just too much.”