Ready for some good humoUred Canada bashing?
From The weekly Standard, Matt Labash writes about(aboot?) out northern neighboUr.
Vancouver, British Columbia
WHENEVER I THINK OF CANADA . . . strike that. I'm an American, therefore I tend not to think of Canada. On the rare occasion when I have considered the country that Fleet Streeters call "The Great White Waste of Time," I've regarded it, as most Americans do, as North America's attic, a mildewy recess that adds little value to the house, but serves as an excellent dead space for stashing Nazi war criminals, drawing-room socialists, and hockey goons.
Henry David Thoreau nicely summed up Americans' indifference toward our country's little buddy when he wrote, "I fear that I have not got much to say about Canada. . . . What I got by going to Canada was a cold." For the most part, Canadians occupy little disk space on our collective hard drive. Not for nothing did MTV have a game show that made contestants identify washed-up celebrities under the category "Dead or Canadian?
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Equal outrage was caused when Conan O'Brien showed up to help boost tourism after the SARS crisis. Along for the ride came a Conan staple, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, who in dog-on-the-street interviews relentlessly mocked French Canadians. When one pudgy Quebecer admitted he was a separatist, Triumph suggested he might want to "separate himself from doughnuts for a while."
Canadians seethed--though polls show they pride themselves on being much funnier than Americans (don't ask me why, when they're responsible for Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, and Alan Thicke). One MP from the socialist New Democratic party called the show "vile and vicious," and said it was tantamount to hatemongering. Historians believe this to be the first time a member of parliament has so categorically denounced a hand puppet.
WITH THE REELECTION OF BUSH, however, this poor man's Cold War may be swinging Canada's way. Trend-spotters on both sides of the 49th Parallel have taken note of "the Bush refugee," the American progressive who has decided to flee to Canada after growing heartsick at the soul-crushing death knell of liberalism that pundits declared after the president's two-point victory.
A cottage industry was born. Anti-American/pro-Canadian blogs proliferated, as blogs unfortunately do. Websites like canadianalternative.com are open for business, trying to entice emotionally vulnerable Americans to turn their backs on family, friends, and country with boasts that Canada has signed the Kyoto protocol, legalized gay marriage in six provinces, and seen its Senate recommend legalizing marijuana. Vancouver immigration lawyer Rudi Kischer took a whole team, complete with realtors
and money-managers, to recruit in American cities, helping potential defectors overcome immigration concerns, such as how to pass Canada's elitist skilled-worker test for entry (Give us your affluent, your overeducated, your Unitarian masses yearning for socialized medicine).
Dejected Americans, most of whom already live in progressive enclaves, began sounding off to reporters, vowing to check out of the Red-American wasteland before true misfortune befell them. In footage of a Kischer seminar in San Francisco that I obtained from a Canadian documentary film crew (working title of the piece: "Escaping America"), one attendee who looked like a lost Gabor sister but with more plastic surgery said, "I really can't stand George Bush. I can't stand this culture, which is very selfish, aggressive, and mean, violent I think." After going to Canada for just a half an hour from Buffalo, she concluded, "It was like a completely different country. . . . The people seemed more internationally aware, not so isolated and unilateral. There was less evidence of commercialism and corporations. People were friendly."
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To see Canadian progressivism in action, though, I trekked down to the East Side, Vancouver's Compton, where the storefront Supervised Injection Site caters to junkies on the government teat. With the surrounding streets hosting an open-air drug market, the Site was conceived as a way to rid the neighborhood of discarded drug paraphernalia and promote "safe" drug-taking practices. In typical Canadian fashion, it's a long way around the barn to get rid of litter.
If the Site has in fact encouraged addicts to do their drugs off the streets, they still buy them right outside. To reach the place, I have to pass through a herd of about 100 junkies over a four-block radius. They offer to sell me all manner of substances my company won't let me expense. When I make it inside the Site, along with several itchy, twitchy customers in search of free cookers and needles and a clean booth to shoot themselves silly, an attendant tells me that unless I'm there to take drugs, I can't stay without a media relations escort. "What we do here is important, so we try to keep a low profile," he says, perhaps oblivious to the hypodermic needle that's embossed on the door.
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RUDI KISCHER, the immigration lawyer who went trolling for clients south of the border, has probably done more than any single person besides George Bush to induce Americans to become former Americans. At the top of a high-rise building overlooking Coal Harbor, where seaplanes land in steady succession, Kischer invites me into his office. He is tall, with the bland good looks of a soap-opera extra. By way of an ice-breaker, I tell him I flunked the skilled-worker test, and so became a journalist. He says not to worry. Up until a few years ago, lawyers were completely banned from immigrating, the first fact I've heard that recommends his country.
While numbers are hard to come by, it is generally thought that some thousands of Americans are poised to change countries, making them the largest influx Canada has seen since our draft dodgers came this way during Vietnam--much less since Brit-loving Loyalists were shown the door to what was then New France by American revolutionaries. Whether or not this is true, Kischer has plenty of horror stories from interested clients: concerned parents who are moving so their children won't be drafted into Bush's war machine, the rich guy who lives on a yacht and would rather pay exorbitant Canadian taxes than bear the shame of flashing his imperialist American passport when sailing into foreign ports.
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MY FIRST INTERVIEW with an American comes not in Canada, but in Bellingham, Washington, about 90 minutes from Vancouver. I drive south and clear the Peace Arch border faster than I could a McDonald's drive-thru line (note to Homeland Security), and meet up with Christopher Key in his middle-class rambler with a for-sale sign in the yard. Key is still a patriot, but he hopes to soon be an expatriate. He's descended from "Star Spangled Banner"-writer Francis Scott Key, who he admits "wasn't much of a poet."
He has become a minor celebrity of sorts, profiled by everyone from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to the New York Times (whose reporter flies in the day after me). The silver-haired Key looks like a Chamber of Commerce burgher. He likes to point out he's not some stereotypical longhair, having just left his editor's gig at a failing business magazine. He's had several other career incarnations too: everything from art gallery owner to charter-boat skipper.
But Key's weirdest job was in the military, when he served in Vietnam. "They called it 'press liaison,' I think, but I was a news censor," he says. As a wet-behind-the-ears 19-year-old, he was supposed to tell media bigshots like Ed Bradley what they could and could not cover. They all ignored him. "My take," he says, "is that while I had an odious job, I managed to do it very poorly."
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Where Canada fails is no big secret. Most of us know that its universal health care is a great thing, if you don't mind waiting, say, nine months for an MRI on your spinal cord injury. We all know Canadians are overregulated, to the point that Canadian rocker Bryan Adams was denied "Canadian content status" for cowriting an album with a British producer, limiting the play his songs could receive on the radio (a policy that's supposed to encourage Canadian talent, but that in Adams's words "encourage[s] mediocrity. People don't have to compete in the real world. . . . F--ing absurd").
We all know the Canadian military has become a shadow of itself. Things have gotten so dire that a Queen's University study (titled "Canada Without Armed Forces?") predicted the imminent extinction of the air force. This unpreparedness has become such a joke that Ferguson says their military ranks just above Tonga's, which consists of nothing more than "a tape-recorded message yelling 'I surrender!' in thirty-two languages."
What many don't consider is how much Canada has oversold itself in the areas where it purportedly does succeed. While it's true that the government has been much friendlier than ours to gay marriage, only 39 percent of Canadians decidedly support it. While Canada is supposedly more environment-friendly, it has been cited for producing more waste per person than any other country. While Canada is supposedly safer, a 1996 study showed its banks had the highest stick-up rate of any industrialized nation (one in every six was robbed). And while a great deal is made of Americans' passion for firearms, the Edmonton Sun, citing Statistics Canada, reported that Canada has a higher crime rate than we do.
Canadians are supposedly less greedy than Americans, yet they lead the world in telemarketing fraud, and most of their victims are Americans. Are they more generous? Not by a long shot. The Vancouver-based Fraser Institute publishes a Generosity Index, which shows that more Americans give to charity, and give more when they do.
Is the Canadian "mosaic" more successful than the American "melting pot," a distinction they constantly make? You be the judge. Imagine every decade or so America's Spanish-speaking southwesterners holding a referendum over whether to secede. It's happened twice since 1980 among the Francophones of Quebec, and some say it's going to happen again. While America has figurative language police on its college campuses, Quebec has literal ones--"tongue troopers," the locals call them--who ruthlessly enforce absurd language laws requiring, for example, that restaurant trash cans feature the word "push" on their lids in French instead of English.
Apart from the Anglo/Franco teeter-totter that Canada can't ever seem to get off, are Canadians less racist, as many of them claim? Well, like America, they saw both slavery and segregation. If Canadians today are less racist, someone ought to tell their aboriginal peoples, who've spent centuries getting their land annexed and being generally mistreated (as of 2000 in Nova Scotia, there was still a law on the books offering hunters a bounty for Indian scalps).
Recent polling shows 35 percent of Canada's "visible minorities" (such as blacks and Asians) have experienced discrimination in the last five years. Another poll showed 54 percent of Canadians believe anti-Semitism is a serious problem in Canadian society today. It certainly was yesterday. Around World War II, a few Jews did manage to squeak in--despite the policy summed up by Canada's director of immigration as "None is too many." Will Ferguson points out that more Nazi war criminals are thought to have found sanctuary in Canada than refugees fleeing the Holocaust.
I'll let you enjoy the rest, but leave you with a good potsmoking expat hippy quote-which is true!
"America is built on people leaving places. We're a country of people who've left. Constitutionally, the pursuit of happiness is something we not only honor, but something we legally protect. This ain't Russia. I don't have to stay. This ain't Cuba. I can leave.
"In fact, find me one American who would make me stay and fight. They'd say no, go, do what's right for you. I found happiness here. I'll be in BC the rest of my life. I pray to God that I don't die somewhere else, that I'm not vacationing somewhere when I die, because that would bum me out. . . .
"Pursue your happiness. We were the first country to do it. And we live for that, the fact that people have personal rights. Go where you want. Do what you want. The fact that I chose Canada is almost a bigger embodiment of the American dream. . . . I still love America."
"So you're saying being unpatriotic is an act of patriotism?" I counter, though my heart is no longer in it