It's the Weather, Stupid

New York Times article about pessimistic Canadian historians and pundits:

[A] growing number of historians, foreign policy thinkers and columnists from some of the nation’s top newspapers … see themselves as part of an informal school that has no name or single mentor … [All] are writing the same assessment: Canada is in decline, or at the very least, has fallen short of their aspirations. For these thinkers, Canada is adrift at home and wilting as a player on the world stage. It is dogged by not only uninspired leaders but also by a lack of national purpose, stunted imagination and befuddled priorities even as its economy prospers.

Here we have the conjunction of two very common phenomena. One: Canadians who think Canada is a great country that would be much better off if Canadians, and Canadian leaders in particular, weren’t so lame. Two: A Times article that identifies a long-standing situation and declares it a novel trend. (Canadians are pessimists! Brides go crazy about weddings! Parents love their children!) Still, it’s always nice to see CanCon in the NYT.

“I’m in almost total despair,” Michael Bliss, a University of Toronto historian, said in an interview. “You have a country, but what is it for and what is it doing?”

… “A logjam developed in the river of Canadian political history,” he wrote. “Where are the visionaries?”

But here’s a funny coincidence: I was just reading a history of Canadian business by the same Michael Bliss. And in that book, published nearly twenty years ago, Bliss took the opposite position to the one he voices today. There’s nothing wrong with Canada’s leaders, he said then. It’s just that the country’s potential really isn’t that great:

Many observers of Canadian business have been inclined to share what I call the Martin Frobisher view of Canada as a rich land whose people would have been much wealthier if only its businessmen had been more enterprising. My studies … lead me to the opposite view. There has been no shortage of enterprise in Canadian history, one important reason being the openness of the country to immigrants and foreign entrepreneurs. But it has been a harsh land, difficult to extract wealth from, and gravely handicapped by its small population and its peoples’ and governments’ great expectations.

So in 1986, it’s Canada’s climate that’s to blame, not the people. In 2004, it’s the opposite. I wonder what accounts for the change. Global warming, maybe?