Canadian Perception of America –”Why Canada is Able to Do Things Better”

The Atlantic magazine recently published an article Why Canada is Able to Do Things Better, by the Canadian journalist Jonathan Kay. In his article, Kay attempts to show that Canada has better governance than the US. Canadians have always had some kind of inferiority complex in their relationship with the US. That is understandable because being neighbor to the most powerful country in the world eclipses Canada’s status on the world stage.

When I was a student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario in the early 70s, one of my professors made the comment that “We have a love hate relationship with our rich cousin to the South.” As I recall he was referring to the fact that Canada gets more TV news coverage on America while American TV coverage of Canada is virtually non-existent. After completing my studies and taking up residency in the US, I would come to realize that my professor was correct.

Because of the lack of TV news about Canada most Americans know very little about the socio-economic political affairs of their neighbor Canada. By contrast, they know more about their Southern neighbor Mexico albeit for negative reasons. Ask any American who is the Prime Minister of Canada, and if you give them a clue that his first name is Justin, they would probably say Justin Bieber instead of Justin Trudeau.

While the dominant white Canadians and Americans share the same Anglo-Saxon heritage, the commonality ends there. For one thing, Canada still has links to its British heritage – the country remains a member of the British Commonwealth. The US, on the other hand, severed that umbilical cord on July 4, 1776. Despite this difference and others, both countries have a positive relationship.

The comparison between Canada and America is one that has been made in various literary works. Differences abound between the two countries in almost every aspect of their affairs. These differences provide fertile ground for scholars, journalists, and others to write about. Several books including the following cover both countries:

  • Canada and the United States: Differences that Count (edited by David Martin Thomas, David Biette)
  • Partisanship and Party Ideology: Comparing Canada and the United States of America (Julian Warczinski)
  • Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada (Robert Bothwell)

No doubt because American politics have taken on historical and mind boggling appearances with the election of a black president Barack Obama and now Donald Trump there has been renewed interest in comparing both countries as Kay has shown in this extract from his article,

Since the election of Donald Trump, there’s been no shortage of theories as to why America’s social contract no longer seems to work—why the United States feels so divided and dysfunctional. Some have focused on how hyper-partisanship has dismantled traditional checks and balances on public decision-making, how Barack Obama’s rise to power exacerbated the racist tendencies of embittered reactionaries, and how former churchgoers have embraced the secular politics of race and nationalism.

Canada is basically a passive country especially when it comes to its role on the world stage. It does not have its tentacles in the political affairs of other countries like the US. Perhaps the significant differences between Canada and America are to be found in health care, gun control, immigration, and social problems. Canada has universal health care while the US still struggles with its health care system. Kay’s Atlantic magazine article points one difference in the health care system as follows,

Canada’s universal health-care system was often described as a plus. Because Canadian entrepreneurs can quit their day jobs without their spouse losing access to dialysis, or their children losing access to pediatricians, such a system allows business-builders more professional freedom. (Under this system, Canadians tend to live longer than Americans, though they also spend more time, on average, waiting for treatment.)

We all know that gun violence in America is a major problem that Canada doesn’t have. Immigration is also not an issue for Canada probably because the country is too cold (which is one of the reasons I decided to live in the US) and doesn’t share borders with a poor country.

I was surprised that Jonathon Kay barely said anything about racism and only made a veiled reference to the negative treatment of President Obama in this extracted paragraph,

…focused on how hyper-partisanship has dismantled traditional checks and balances on public decision-making, how Barack Obama’s rise to power exacerbated the racist tendencies of embittered reactionaries, and how former churchgoers have embraced the secular politics of race and nationalism.

The saying “A prophet gets no honor in his own country” is true for President Obama. While Americans have not wholly embraced him, Canadians adore him. Macleans noted this in Canada’s love affair with President Obama, February 12, 2009.  And NBC News online reported this, Obama Given Rapturous Welcome in Canada’s House of Commons, June 29, 2016.

Racism in America is not a trivial problem as it has plagued the country from the very beginning of slavery. Somehow America has not been able to reconcile its long history of racism, and as a consequence, many of its racial problems manifest itself in not just social life but also the political and economic spheres. Canada, although it doesn’t have the same history from which racism emerged, is not entirely free of racism. They have their white supremacist group, The Western Guard which is akin to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in America. Unlike the KKK, the Western Guard is not that strong or poses a significant threat to non-white people in Canada.

Talking about racism in America (which is the title of a book I wrote), I remember another of my professor at Queen’s University who was my student advisor making this comment when I told him I was making plans to live in the US after my graduation,

America is not a hospitable country for black people. My daughter lives and works there but she is white so she is treated differently.

Being from Jamaica and at the time not expecting a white man saying this I was a little surprised. After residing in the US for 37 years, I understand what he was trying to tell me through my personal experiences and observations.

Unless America at some point in the distant future invades and take over Canada, both countries will continue to have significant differences. Americans like to do things on a grand scale, and they tout themselves as being exceptional with a tendency to look down on other countries as banana republics – you don’t hear that so much from Canadians. It is not surprising then that Trump with his nationalism mantras has found a base in the electorate as Kay points out here,

Canadians tend not to talk about making their country great again. Canada never was particularly great—at least not in the sense that Trump uses the word. Unlike Americans, Canadians haven’t been conditioned to see history in epic, revolutionary terms. For them, it’s more transactional: You pay your taxes, you get your government. That might not be chanted at any political rallies or printed on any baseball hats. But it works for Canada. And it’d work for America too.