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Not Truly Canadian, but Truly Canada
by Scott Hutchinson

In future history texts, 1995 will be presented as a very significant year in Canadian history.

Quebec separatists came within a percentage point of breaking up the country. Paul Martin introduced a federal budget widely considered as the most drastic in history. Brian Tobin galvanized national pride by commandeering the forced seizure of an over-fishing Spanish trawler in the Grand Banks (to divert attention from Martin's budget).

For me, however, 1995 will stand out as the year I attended my first CFL game.

On a calm September night, I ventured to Landsdowne Park, home of the now defunct Ottawa Rough Riders (God rest their pathetic, losing souls) and watched the Roughies take a 35-21 half-time lead over the Birmingham Barracudas. When the final buzzer wailed, Birmingham's star QB Matt Dunigan had rallied his troops to a 45-35 win. The Roughies lost again. But that was their raison d'etre.

This summer, I got a chance to go to another CFL game in Ottawa and watched the mighty Montreal Alouettes crush Ottawa's new team, the Renegades on a hot June night.

Since that night, I've come to realize that the CFL is not, as its sponsors like to say, truly Canadian.

In fact, I'll go further than that: the CFL is Canada. What follow are reasons why.

Both the country and the league are time and time again portrayed as on the verge of collapse

Every few years, it's announced that the CFL is near bankrupt or to be morphed into the NFL as a developmental league. Throughout history, Canada has been doomed to manifest destiny and/or breaking up via separatists from, at varying times, Nova Scotia, British Columbia, Alberta and, of course, Quebec.

It takes a big event for citizens and fans to demonstrate pride en masse

Many CFL "fans" watch only one game a year on TV: the Grey Cup. Meanwhile, Canadians only seem to produce widespread outpourings of national pride for various Expos ('67, and, to a lesser extent, '86), Olympics ('76 and '88) and referenda ('80 and '95 remember Sheila Copps' big flag?).

Atlantic Canadians are shut-out
The region is the only one lacking a CFL franchise. Also, it has been viewed by many as economically impotent and lacking in any influence to determine Canada's political agenda since the late 1800's.

Quebec's in for a few years and then gone for a few more
For years, the Montreal Alouettes represented Quebec in the CFL. Then, the team folded. Years later, they were replaced by the Montreal Concorde. Then that team folded. A few years went by and then another Alouettes franchise was launched in Montreal.
This pattern is similar to Quebec politics. In came Levesque's separatist PQ team to the National Assembly in 1976. Out they went in 1985. After 13 years, Jacques Parizeau led the PQ squad back onto the field. Lucien Bouchard kept them in the end zone into this new millennium. Now it looks as though Jean Charest or Mario Dumont is getting set to sack Bernard Landry in the next election and bring Quebec back to the table.

Ottawa is not in when it counts
The Rough Riders lost for the last time in 1996. Since then, the CFL has had no presence in, or representation from, the Nation's Capital until the Renegades came about this year and predictably missed the play-offs.
Comparatively, many Canadians feel they're not well represented in Parliament. Doubly, many Canadians don't feel Ottawa has much of a bearing on their lives except during tax time.

Lost dice rolls and experiments
In the early to mid 90's, the CFL came up with the brilliant idea of placing franchises in such southern climes as Sacramento, Orlando, Birmingham, San Antonio and Shreveport. Unlike 1812, no capitals were burned in this Canadian invasion of the US. Rather, every franchise folded, throwing the CFL's survival into doubt yet again.
As far as Canada goes, grand scale failures include the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords, the Canadian Alliance and Stockwell Day (the latter two can be itemized as attempts to unite the right).

Canadian content rules apply - but achieve paltry objectives
The CFL mandates that each of its franchises carries a requisite percentage of Canadian players on their rosters. The CRTC requires Canada's media broadcasters to devote a certain amount of air-time to Canadian produced songs or shows. Despite the rules, the bulk of gridiron stars, ratings-grabbers and chart-toppers in the CFL and Canada originate from south of the border. Hence, the CFL's "Canadian Player of the Year" award, the Junos and the Geminis.

Talent goes south
Joe Theisman, Warren Moon, Dieter Brock, Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia and Dave Dickenson: all CFL quarterbacks who, upon shining brightly as northern stars, migrated to take NFL snaps. Similarly, news anchors Peter Jennings and Keith Morrison moved south for big bucks, just like much of the nation's emerging high-tech and medical talent (for more on this, check out the National Post).

Draft dodgers
During the Vietnam War, thousands of Americans fled north to avoid the draft and subsequent exposure to Agent Orange. In 1989, Raghib "Rocket" Ismail flew northward to the Toronto Argonauts, thereby dodging the NFL draft and subsequent enclosure within the bright orange uniforms of the then hapless and hopeless Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ottawa has stolen Saskatchewan's thunder, nickname- and policy-wise
Admit it. "Roughriders" is a really cool nickname. Poor Saskatchewan, however, was forced to share it with Ottawa for years. Similarly, Saskatchewan introduced universal health care, a concept later adopted by the federal government, which later took the credit. Today, Ottawa's still a non-factor in the CFL and many claim the federal government's out of universal health care as its contributions have dipped from over 50% to less than 20%. Ironically, Ottawa has called upon former Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow to lead the huddle in rebuilding Canada's health care system.

The CFL is different, but not that different than the NFL; just as Canada is to the United States
The CFL has a longer and wider playing field, 12 players per side to the NFL's 11, three downs per possession to the NFL's four, and a rule allowing punters to score.

But, the CFL and NFL games basically revolve around helmeted, padded men throwing a leather ellipsoid, catching it, running it for a touchdown while defenders tackle whomever catches it before he reaches the end zone.

Canada, like the CFL field, is bigger in area than the US. Handguns are outlawed in Canada and considered a privileged birthright in the US. Healthcare is a birthright in Canada, and a privilege to be earned in the US. Canada is bilingual. Basically, though, both nations are filled with and run by majorities of white people whose descendants immigrated from Europe, killed off the native populations on both sides of the border, and claimed the land as their own.

If the CFL really wanted to set itself apart from the NFL, it would measure its field in metres rather than yards. Similarly, if we Canadians truly wished to set ourselves apart from the US, considerably less than 90 percent of us would live within 100 km of the border.

Scott Hutchinson is from Windsor, ON, and he has never been to the West Coast--though not for lack of invitation.




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