Thursday, 10 January 2008

Want to be a Canadian?

This article in Salon is aimed at Americans. It is also old - 2004 - which is why I am surprised it popped up in my stumbling.

And since Salon does not allow for posting of comments below its articles, and no one had responded - in four years! - I thought I had better.

First of all be warned that Canadian bureaucracy is just as painful as US bureaucracy. Only ours is also bilingual. Which means that there is a very good chance the bureaucrat you have to deal with got the job simply because they speak French. Which gives us the odd experience of being run by people from a "nation" that wants to leave Canada - Quebec. Now in general this does not cause too many problems, but if M'sier or Madame Officier is feeling a bit ticked, your lack of fluency in joual (the name used for the antiquated, rural French spoken in Quebec) may not help you. It is much more likely that someone whose first language is French is bilingual than the other way around. That just tells you something about the relative strength of English in the world as a whole, and also that French is not widely spoken outside of Quebec except in New Brunswick - which is the only bilingual province. In many cities other languages are now more widely spoken - here in Richmond it is Cantonese, but Manadarin and Punjabi are also significant. Canada is the only place in the world where my schoolboy French is unacceptable: elsewhere, it is met by smiles - at least I am trying. In Canada it means something else.

That three year residency rule about citizenship is strictly interpreted. Pop back over the border to fill up with gas, and you will have a day added to your requirement. This also applies if your Canadian employer sends you abroad to bring back revenue to Canada - residency means just that. Take a holiday abroad, same thing.

The best thing is that you will get "free at the point of delivery" health care. BUT you will have to pay for it through higher taxes and a compulsory "medical services premium" (though some employers will pay that for you). You will still need private health insurance to cover medications, dental and eye care. The employed tend to get most of that paid for through group health - which is relatively cheap. If you do have to pay for prescriptions they will be cheaper here. And the downside of public health is waiting - and sometimes that can be a really significant issue.

Despite anti-Americanism being a cheap way of winning over Canadians used by people like radio show hosts, most Canadians are indeed polite and friendly, if a little less demonstrative. While Canada has lower crime rates than much of the US, there is still a need to be wary. Possession of small amounts of pot will get you a ticket rather than a long jail sentence, but it is still a crime. So is drinking in public places. We got rid of prohibition before you guys even started but the traditions of the Scots Presbyterians still linger in our liquor laws. US immigrants have always been very important to Canada - for one thing they tend to have a higher propensity for activism. Not a few of our political and intellectual leaders came from the US to avoid the Vietnam war.

The bad news is that at present we have a minority Conservative government which is dominated by rural, western, born again Christians. It is not as extreme as the Republican party but it admires them. It recently delivered a prisoner back to the US who stands a good chance of being executed - something Canada does not do and up until now, has not supported in the US either. Generally speaking Canadians are more "liberal" than Americans, but there are plenty of rednecks here too. They are just a bit quieter, that's all.

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