Canada’s most exportable trait is the risk-averse approach to government that helped us fare better than most during the economic crisis.
The first immutable law of branding is that you can’t fool the public. An authentic brand is one where perception and reality are in complete harmony, where an organization’s identity – also known as its brand – is underwritten by honest adherence to the deep values and institutional practices embedded in that brand’s promise. That is a lesson that BP is learning in the harshest manner possible right now, as its “Beyond Petroleum” rebranding is revealed as a colossal joke.
For most of the past 40 years, Canada has been the BP of nation brands. We’ve wrapped ourselves in the cloak of a succession of threadbare identities, each one of which has been undermined by overreach, self-delusion, or outright bad faith. From the Swedish-style socialism and global peacekeeper conceits of the 1970s to the post-multicultural post-modern nation vacuity of the early 2000s, the images we’ve presented to the world have been marked by the triumph of wishful thinking over genuine self-knowledge.
But just as a busted clock is right twice a day, about twice a decade whatever brand Canada is wearing at the time manages to click with the global audience, and people start buying what we just happen to be selling. The last time was in 2003, when the Economist famously put a moose wearing shades on its cover, celebrating Jean Chrétien’s fin-de-régime conversion to sex, drugs, and pacifism.
Canada finds itself the centre of global attention once again, this time for the shipshape manner in which we’ve managed to weather the economic storm of the past few years. Most of the praise has been focused on our banking sector, which avoided the mortgage meltdown and subprime crisis that caught so many other countries’ banks with their pants down. But it isn’t just our banks that are looking good. Thanks to tough decisions made in the 1990s, our pensions are more secure and our public finances less debt-ridden than just about any other country in the world.
But all the credit for sound decision-making can’t be given to past Liberal governments. Given the way things are evolving in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s commitment to getting out of combat next summer might come to be seen as wise and clairvoyant as Chrétien’s refusal to join George W. Bush’s misguided war in Iraq.
This isn’t super-exciting stuff. More than anything, it is a reflection of our long-standing risk-aversion as a country, going back to our loyalist roots. But we need a name for this, and “risk-averse nation” isn’t going to get them dancing on the world stage. No, what we really need is a term or a slogan that perfectly captures this contemporary steady-as-she-goes approach to the affairs of state, but which also reflects strong and long-standing national traits of which we should be proud.
Happily we have just the slogan. What is Canada’s most exportable trait, one that goes right back to our very founding and which represents the very essence of Canada’s constitutional tradition? Let’s call it Canada: The Country of Responsible Government.