Dear Canadians

You're wealthy and liberal, full of cosmopolitan splendour, big skies - and talent. So why do so many of your sons and daughters choose exile?

You've had your 10 minutes of fame, the disco ball of world media attention has cast its shimmering light over your vastness for a couple of days, and now it's over. We were promised, in the heady few days when Canada was promoted on Newsnight ahead of Bosnia, ahead of Rosemary West, ahead of John Major discussing economic monetary union with Jacques Chirac, that there would be cataclysm, financial disaster, an end to the Commonwealth as we know it. But, typically of you and your slow, steady, dependable country, nothing has changed. Quebec remains attached; its uppity citizens have been silenced (at least for 15 years until the next referendum). You can go back to sleep now.

That is not to say that we have not enjoyed learning about you recently. For a start, many of us here in Britain used to confuse Quebec with the national airline of Australia. Now we discover Quebec is a vast region full of people speaking such bad French that even the Queen could get by in it. We have also learnt the name of your Prime Minister. It might have taken a prank by a DJ to do it, but it is a bit of knowledge that might come in useful when doing those quizzes of the year in the Boxing Day papers. That was a prank, incidentally, which disproved the old theory that Canadians lack a sense of fun. It's a shame, though, that having actually pulled off the subterfuge and got the Queen on the line, the DJ in question didn't manage to say anything funny. But still, he gained enough prominence by his pluck to guarantee him the thing Canadians seem to value above everything else: a job south of the border.

For this is the thing we have really learnt about you. Unlike the old gag about Belgians, it is very easy to name 10 famous Canadians. How about: Pamela Anderson, JK Galbraith, Mordecai Richler, Joni Mitchell, Michael J Fox, kd lang, Conrad Black, Leonard Cohen, Donald Sutherland and Margaret Atwood. Not to mention Linda Evangelista, Dan Aykroyd, Robertson Davies, David Cronenberg, the late John Candy, Leslie Nielsen, Mike McShane and that bloke with the funny name who plays for Stoke City and is married to Karren Brady, managing director of Birmingham City. In short, for a sparsely populated nation, the number of your famous sons and daughters is disproportionate. But what do all these Canuck talents have in common? None of them - give or take the odd ice-hockey player - has found fame in Canada.

You are the country of the institutionalised brain-drain, the nation whose biggest export is talent. Such is the diaspora that when Radio 4's Today programme sought an opinion on the referendum on the Quebec issue yesterday morning, it did not have far to look to find a sharp Canadian: Michael Ignatieff was on hand. Slightly spoilt the effect, though, when he prefaced his analysis with the warning that he might not be the best person to pass judgement on the present Canadian political climate since he left the country 20 years ago.

Why is it that to get on in life your clever folk appear to have to leave? Why don't the young of your nation dream of one day making it in Montreal? After all, you are wealthy, liberal, kind to strangers, welcoming to refugees, full of cosmopolitan splendour and big skies. Maybe you don't try hard enough to sell yourselves. Perhaps a worldwide campaign to attract back famous exiles would be appropriate. Why not start by trumpeting the piece of information that would encourage a few Brit-based Canucks westwards? At your last general election, the Conservative Party was not so much trounced as voted into oblivion. How much more good news does one country need?

JIM WHITE

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