Thursday, May 07, 2009

Canadian Feistiness is Nothing New

We just might be finding a new venue for it

A new poll conducted by the Association of Canadian Studies suggests that Canadians may be shifting their attitudes in regard to international issues.

According to the poll, a majority of Canadians are willing to risk conflict with other countries in the pursuit of Canada's goals on the international stage. By contrast, in 2003 a bare minority -- 49% as compared to 67% -- had agreed that Canada should pursue its goals even at risk of international friction.

The study notes that Canadians have "grown feistier when it comes to defending their interests on the international front."

While this may be true, the feistiness itself is actually nothing new.

Canadians have always been particularly feisty about the things they care about. While Canadians have historically tended to care little about the things that go on in the international community -- although the wars Canada have fought provide momentary exceptions to this general rule -- Canadians have always cared about hockey.

Incidents such as the famed Punch-Out in Piestany -- a bench-clearing brawl between Team Canada and the Soviet Union at the 1987 World Junior Hockey Championships -- demonstrate just how seriously Canadians have always taken hockey. When Team Canada decided they didn't like the way the Soviets were playing in a poorly-refereed game -- a surplus of stickwork by the Russian team continually ratcheted up tensions in the contest -- a line brawl on the ice quickly escalated into an all-out donnybrook between both teams.

The brawl wound up with both teams being disqualified from that year's tournament. But that same feistiness had previously emerged on numerous occasions, rarely more famously than in the 1972 Summit Series.

Canadian diplomatic officials in Moscow helped negotiate the Summit Series as part of their "hockey diplomacy" program. This unofficial diplomatic policy had, until that point, mostly entailed teams of Canadian diplomats -- sometimes with their rosters rounded out by American and European diplomats -- playing against their Russian counterparts. This team would eventually become known (although not well known) as the Moscow Maple Leafs.

These officials' plans to use the Summit Series as a goodwill-building exercise between Canada and the Soviet Union didn't go as well as they had hoped. On-ice tensions often spilled off the ice, including one incident in which Alan Eagleson was nearly arrested by a Soviet guard who didn't know who he was.

Phil Esposito would pose a particular problem for Canadian diplomats. Esposito, perhaps more than any other player, took the politically ideological undertones of the series to heart. His fierce on-ice play was matched by his confrontational attitude toward Soviet officials -- at one point even blowing Soviet Premier Aleksei Kosygin a kiss.

The behaviour of Canadian hockey fans particularly vexed diplomats. The Canadian cheering section made it difficult for Soviet officials to make use of the series for propaganda purposes. Soviet officials even attempted to spread Canadian fans out across the arena, believing isolating them from one another would temper their enthusiasm and boisterousness.

Instead, the invidual Canadians only cheered louder. In game seven, when Soviet officiating seemed to threaten the series, Canadian fans filled the arena with a chant of "let's go home".

One Canadian fan even managed to be arrested by Soviet guards and wound up having his foot tattooed with the markings usually used to identify Soviet prisoners. Quick work by Canadian diplomats secured his release, and he wound up expelled from the country will little more than his new tattoo.

This "hockey diplomacy" program was certainly less than a rousing success with Soviet officials. But in many other Soviet-bloc countries the matter was very different.

Canadian teams were immensely popular at tournaments played in other countries behind the Iron Curtain. Canada was viewed as the one country that could defeat the Soviet team, and as such enjoyed tremendous goodwill in countries where Soviet oppression had been especially harsh -- countries like Czechoslovakia and Hungary.

When Team Canada locked horns with the Soviets in Piestany, the Czech fans whistled raucously in support of the Canadian squad.

Canadian feistiness toward hockey has certainly has its dark side in the past as well. It's hard to forget what Bobby Clarke was willing to do to Valeri Kharlamov in order to win the '72 Summit Series.

Canadian disinterest in foreign affairs certainly has yet to completely dissipate -- Romeo Dallaire noted this much during the 2008 election, but there have been signs that more and more Canadians are becoming interested in foreign affairs, as more and more Canadians support intervention in the Sudan, or demand intervention in Sri Lanka.

Once Canadians become interested in foreign policy it's likely only natural that they would become feisty about it. Doing anything less than whole-heartedly simply isn't in the Canadian character.


  1. Hey Patrick,

    Excellent e'ffn post. In terms of our "national interests" I believe it is important to show resolve on the international stage. I only hopes this resolve never gets co-opted for narrow purposes (either right or left).

    Now (a la Python), on a completely different tangent, two things:

    1. - have you ever thought of moving comment box to bottom of your your posts? Sure would make life easier on some of us with short-term memories when we try to blather on about the specifics of the topic du jour.

    2.- Any thoughts on this development and what it portends for the the PMO this summer? see:

    Just thought I'd ask.


  2. Actually, the comment box should be appearing at the bottom of each post. It does on my computer.

    As for this other story, I'm going to take a look at it fairly soon, I think.

  3. Umm, Patrick,

    Gues I was less than clear re: comment box. What I meant to say is that when a reader wishes to post we get the comment box on a separate screen (full page) rather than "embedded". Believe what I am asking you to change is this part from Bloggers 'Settings" see 'Comment" parameters that give following options:

    Full page
    Pop-up window
    Embedded below post

    Anyway- just a thought.

  4. Well, I have no opinion of my own on this topic, so I'll defer to yours.

    I'll make that change later today.


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