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