I went to a Wilco concert in Ottawa recently and a hockey game broke out. Well, almost. Wilco’s introspective front man Jeff Tweedy was having none of the attempts at “go, Canada, go” that periodically erupted from zealous Canadian hockey fans during the quiet time between songs. “We don’t have time for that,” Tweedy finally chided from on-stage before busting into the final piece of the evening.
The day after Canada’s gold-medal victory over the United States in men’s Olympic hockey in Vancouver and the nation is still intent on celebrating. Sidney Crosby’s overtime goal not only sank American gold medal hopes but also, it is widely reported, created a cathartic moment for the nation. I heard on CBC radio that this victory shows that Canadians are not afraid to tell people we are the best. Hear that everybody! Canada is the best! We Owned the Podium, now we own the world! The leaders from all of Canada’s major political parties were sure to get face time celebrating our being the best. Jack Layton mugged it up at Wayne Gretzky’s bar in downtown Toronto, while Steven Harper, wrapped in a Canada jacket, boisterously sang O’Canada from his box at Canada Hockey Place, the site of the gold medal game.
Will this moment of cathartic nationalism continue? I hope not. This Olympics featured many frightening moments. The pointless death of a Georgian luger during training, fortress Vancouver which saw civil liberties essentially erased, the theft of Indigenous land in the years leading up to games and the constant equation of Canadian athletic dedication to Canada’s war in Afghanistan, are just a few of the obvious examples. Yet no moment made me shiver with terror more than the discourse of hyper nationalism flowing from our mouths following Canada’s two Olympic hockey victories. From having a friend be told in a bar to stand for O’Canada after Canadian women won hockey gold to the constant interruptions of my beloved Wilco, this form of nationalism immediately took on a life of violence and aggressiveness.
A reported 80 percent of people in Canada watched at least a portion of the men’s game last Sunday. Less than two years ago 59 percent of Canadians voted in our federal election, a record low. More than just a head-spinning statistic, this disparity gets to the heart of darkness that shrouds our post Olympics glee. Weeks before the Olympics, Prime Minister Harper prorogued Parliament. This act shut down government, sent politicians home and essentially stifled the increasing controversy around Canadian complicity in the torture of Afghani prisoners of war. Though there is precedence for this type of action, it is widely conceded, even by the right in Canada, that this was one more example of Harper’s desire to centralize power in the Prime Minister’s Office. In the weeks that followed in January a small, but growing, movement from many sides of the political spectrum protested the bare attempts to stifle democratic debate. When the Winter Olympics opened, the discourse of putting politics on hold to celebrate the nation for two weeks essentially ended this push back against Harper. When parliament re-opened the day after men’s hockey gold ostensibly ended the Olympics, Harper’s Conservative Party were enjoying a three-point bump in popularity.
At the Wilco concert, faced with a smattering of Canadian hockey jerseys in front of him, Tweedy remarked to the crowd, “You all look so happy, congratulations,” the crowd roared in appreciation; “I’ve never seen such an open expression of nationalism in Canada.” Again his fans roared. What Tweedy, a Chicago resident, said next did not bring cheers but instead just confused silence. “You’re reminding [me] of Americans…just a warning.” An apt comparison some might say. Others might argue that what Tweedy didn’t know is that we’ve been like this for a long time. It just took a hockey game for the rest of world to find out.
Scott Rutherford is a Ph.D. Candidate and Teaching Fellow and Queens University in Kingston, Ontario.