My wife and I just enjoyed vacation in and around Victoria, British Columbia. Located north of Seattle on Vancouver Island off the western coast of Canada, it’s a beautiful, historic and charming community. Our visit was both delightful and a vivid reminder for me of the many differences between Canada and our country.
Soon after I moved to Toronto in 1978, I had an engaging conversation with a law professor who best described our two cultures. The essence of America, he said, is the individual right to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence. The Canadian Constitution of 1867 enshrined the commitment of “Peace, Order and Good Government.” The American mandate is individual freedom; the Canadian guiding principle is the collective good.
The Canadian political spectrum reflects a more liberal orientation than does that of the United States. The Canadian right is more toward the American center, and the center is the far left in our country. The New Democratic Party, founded during the Great Depression, was avowedly socialistic until moving toward social democracy in recent decades.
The parliamentary system in Canada is far more accountable to popular will than is the division of powers structure in the United States. Gridlock essentially is unknown, as a new election can be called any time by the party in power or by a simple vote of no confidence in that party’s leadership.
Canada’s progressive culture finds expression in such programs as government-provided universal health care. Everyone in Canada is covered. When I lived in Toronto as a “landed immigrant,” my wife and I were entitled to the same medical care as a Canadian citizen. Even tourists enjoy health benefits. Call it socialistic if you wish, but the delivery system worked beautifully; I do not remember having a single complaint about any medical service.
There are no “Second Amendment” rights in the Canadian constitution. Importantly, there is no culture of gun ownership. An editorial in The Globe and Mail (7/25/14), published in Toronto and commonly referred to as Canada’s national newspaper, cited a study that found only 44 of Toronto’s more than 5,000 uniformed police fired their guns in 2013. Of those, only in 11 cases were they shooting at individuals; the rest involved dangerous or injured animals. The explanation was simply Toronto is a place of low crime rates, especially violent crimes. A goal of the study’s recommendations is there be zero fatalities resulting from police actions.
Many Canadians admire, even envy, the American spirit of individual initiative and boldness. What is written here suggests there is much in the Canadian culture for us, citizens of the United States, to admire: A functioning, representative government that nurtures its people.
And, by the way, Victoria is a wonderful place to vacation. Its people are friendly and gracious and the climate temperate, with sunshine, clear skies and temperatures seldom below 40 degrees or above 80. Victoria Harbor, affording quick access to the Pacific Ocean, sparkles with activity. Beautiful flowers everywhere complement the world-famous Butchart Gardens. And there are history and the arts to enjoy. It’s worth a visit.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives In Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org