Can it be that a country of polar bears and caribou might become one with its southern neighbor? After a 3-month journey through four provinces of Canada – British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba , Ontario – and Vancouver Island, here’s what I observed.
They aren’t shooting each other with too many guns. They actually talk about issues in government. They still publish newspapers and people read them. They take vacations when the weather permits. They follow their football and hockey teams but eschew basketball. Conservation is always on their mind and citizenship is up – people are actually moving to Canada to become citizens.
Growth is evident in the west while farming and ranching keep rural communities afloat. Tourism is central to their economy. Canadian politeness feels like the 1950s did in America. Technology is becoming a stronger element of their economy. People have cell phones but they also still talk with each other in restaurants and on the street.
What strikes me is that Canada works. What can we learn from them?
In many ways, Canada is so like the US I had to convince myself that I was actually visiting a foreign country. The people all speak English, work during the week and use the weekends to catch up with home responsibilities and vacations. Canadians eat a Western diet, drive American cars, use currency they call dollars, and engage in the same sports we do – hockey, football, soccer, baseball and the Olympics.
They do some things we don’t – eat foods that are bland in taste and texture, participate with their government in protecting the environment and growing their economy, use the metric system for distance, speed and weight measurements, carefully mark roads and highways with signs about construction and detours, track whales and Polar Bears in the far north, use ferries to get from island to mainland, connect their businesses with one system for credit and debit transactions and honor their country with a melodious National Anthem.
With a population 1/10th the size of the US, Canadians are more capable of dealing with some of the exigencies of life – education, retirement, healthcare and oversite of recreational land. Outdoor activities respect natural beauty without restricting access. Provincial capitals are growing in population and diversity without the strains of immigration and ethnic adversity experienced in the states. Entertainment options proliferate including first run movies, comedy clubs, open-air concerts and holiday events. Recreational opportunities abound including boating, hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, sailing, skiing, whale watching and more. There’s plenty of room for everyone and in some places it’s almost empty.
What strikes me is how unnecessary our border boundaries have become. We are not at war or will ever need to protect our common boundaries with arms and armies. We coordinate on every level of government and private enterprise almost seamlessly. Could we ever become one with Canada? Other than negotiating with the Brits to remove the Queen’s image from their currency, I see no reason not to and there are numerous reasons to do it: greater efficiency of utilities and government, land conservation, border openness and media collaboration. It isn’t out of the question.
Geography alone makes me think the US and Canada are one country already. The Rockies extend from Jasper to Yellowstone and are not affected by the artificial border between our two countries. Similarly, the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba look the same as eastern Montana and the Dakotas.
And then there’s the lake country of Eastern Manitoba and Western Ontario that seems like you’re driving through Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Culturally, we have a common heritage. In Canada, they are known as First Nation. In the US, we call them Native Americans. Before Canada and the US were “discovered” by white settlers, each land mass was covered with tribes of indigenous people who survived for thousands of years living off the land.
The US dollar is about 25% more valuable than the Canadian dollar. So, a traveler familiar with US prices gets a 25% break on everything they buy. If a hotel costs $100 CDN, he pays about $75 USD for the stay. It’s great for those who are looking to vacation and save some money. Still it’s important to shop carefully and make sure the denomination you are paying is CDN and not USD.
So why do we remain separate? Historically mergers are rare. But we have seen that in business, when two companies combine there can be incredible efficiencies if the cultures can learn to live peacefully with each other. Difficult transition to be sure but not impossible.
O Canada can we both become O North America? I wonder.