Animal crackers

Russell Wangersky
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You can dismiss it if you like, but there may be more to the sneak attack on the beaver’s role as a national symbol than you think.

Trial balloons — like the way getting rid of the gun registry was first floated in the House of Commons by a Tory backbencher as a private member’s bill — seem to be a tried-and-true method of testing the water with a legislative toe before taking the plunge.

So maybe we should be paying attention to Senator Nicole Eaton, a former Conservative party insider and patronage pick stuffed into the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, when she talks about dropping the beaver as Canada’s national symbol.

“Many accuse the dentally defective rat of being a nuisance that wreaks havoc on farmlands, roads, lakes, streams and tree plantations, including my dock every summer. Nevertheless, the toothy tyrant received the highest honour ever bestowed on a rodent. On March 24, 1975, the beaver became an official emblem of Canada. While I would never speak ill of our furry friend, I stand here today suggesting that perhaps it is time for a change. Yes, honourable senators, I believe that it is high time that the beaver step aside as a Canadian emblem or at least share the honour with the stately polar bear,” she said in a statement in the Senate.

“A country’s symbols are not constant and can change over time, as long as they reflect the ethos of the people and the spirit of the nation. The polar bear, with its strength, courage, resourcefulness and dignity is perfect for the part. Please join me in promoting the polar bear as Canada’s symbol for the 21st century.”


Grin and bear it

Ah, yes, the polar bear. A majestic beast that, amongst other things, lives far enough away from Ottawa that it conveniently doesn’t mess with the senator’s dock.

(Leave aside for a moment that the senator doesn’t seem to understand how a beaver works: it’s not dentally defective, it’s dentally effective. Dentally defective beavers, well, starve.)

Back to the plan to change symbols in midstream.

It’s funny how the, ummm, bearish among us seem to need rough, tough symbols to prove their own value. How many times have you heard lately from our government that “Canada is punching above its own weight” when it comes to our military? Beavers don’t punch: they just chew. A polar bear — now that thing’s got punching power.

But Eaton’s pick of the polar bear is almost an irony in itself: “The polar bear survives in the harshest climate and terrain in the world. Our polar bear has to find food in a remote, barren, frozen land and water; find shelter in the harshest of weather; and live alone in an inhospitable setting,” she told the Senate.

This, from a politician safely ensconced in the cushiest job in the entire nation, complete with bloated salary, limited tasks and a standard of living, pensions and benefits higher than that of the vast majority of Canadians — and she didn’t even run for the job. It was handed to her. (Maybe she’s one of the polar bears that finds its food eating at northern dumps.) A beaver has to cut down trees for itself.

But since Eaton has opened the debate, maybe we could look at other potential national critters.

How about the honey bee? Bees work hard, travel extensively, are team players — and are assigned to produce copious amounts of a special food called royal jelly to feed to a bloat-arsed executive branch that does nothing but lie on its backside and reproduce itself.

Sounds like Ottawa to me.


Hello, sucker

How about the remora? Given our government’s recent slavish following of the United States, it’s a shame that their national symbol isn’t the great white shark. If it was, we could pick the remora, a fish that attaches itself to sharks using a sucker on the top of its head. The remora dines on the shark’s food scraps and, some scientists suggest, its feces. (“You don’t like UNESCO, Mr. Shark? Well, then, we don’t like UNESCO either. You like the multi-billion-dollar

F-35 stealth fighter, Mr. Shark? If a few of them fall off your table, we’ll buy ’em fer sure.”)

How about the wolf? It’s rough and tough and toothy and travels in packs, and in its political system, the alpha-male eats first and eats best, and everyone else dines on leftover scraps.

The grizzly bear? Big, bad and rugged — and it gets fat and satisfied enough to sleep all winter, just like the House of Assembly.

What a hoot. The options are almost endless. Haven’t even gotten to the carrion-eaters yet.

I happen to like the beaver. Unlike many politicians, it works extremely hard, deliberately stays out of the limelight, builds something out of nothing and doesn’t use force to take things it isn’t entitled to. And anything that wreaks havoc with a senator or a senator’s dock is, well, a furry friend of mine.

There is, however, some fine irony in the Conservative senator’s choice: the polar bear, after all, is threatened by climate change, a climate change Eaton’s own party downplays and seems to be showing no interest in addressing in any practical way. A government on the one handpicking a national symbol, while, on the other, implicitly helping to wipe the beast out?

Strong, courageous, resourceful, dignified — and cruising towards extinction. Priceless.


Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor.

He can be reached by email at

Organizations: House of Commons, Eaton, UNESCO House of Assembly.What

Geographic location: Canada, Ottawa, United States

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Recent comments

  • Darren
    November 07, 2011 - 07:37

    Do I ever enjoy the value of the Senate. If we didn't have them we'd be stupidly going about our business making this country greater than yesterday. You know she may have a point, I can't see or hear it, but she may have one. I just wish that she would get off her puffy pillow and explain herself, maybe it would be a film or interpretative dance, but thta would be okay. If she is successfully doing Stevie's work by keeping the public from complaining about healthcare, the gun registry, billions on aircarft and doing nothing to protect the environment then I guess she is successful. I wonder, has she read the report of the Canadian scientists (the ones that should be getting her salary) about the eventual extinction of the polar bear from Canada?