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Invisible Canada

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A funny thing happens when you visit Canada. Even as an American on vacation, you feel that you’ve become almost invisible the moment you cross the border. Americans somehow know that Canada exists; we just don’t contemplate it often, if at all.


Visiting Vancouver and Vancouver Island over the past two weeks, a tourist is confronted with the irrefutable fact that Vancouver is perhaps the most awe-inspiring urban location on earth. If its architecture doesn’t knock you flat, just stroll along the neighborhoods of Commercial Drive or Kitsilano. Granted, Vancouver struggles with sky-high property values few can afford, plus a large population of drug addicts and the scourge of crime against property. But this ethnically diverse city treats the problem as one to be managed, not conquered through a “war” on drugs. Frankly, few seem to mind since they live in a city this beautiful. And just try finding a littered beach.


During most of the 1990s, the United Nations rated our neighbors to the north as tops when it came to life expectancy, literacy, school enrollment and per capita GDP. Canada has since been knocked out of first place by Norway. Then the question hits you: How could one nation of 290 million people ignore a nation of 32.5 million? All too easily, it turns out.


Take television news. Canadians went to the polls late last month in a national election that gave them the first minority government, i.e., a bitterly divided Parliament, in years. But you wouldn’t know it at all after switching back and forth between CNN and CBC, Canada’s public television station. Then again, few Americans probably know of Canada’s contributions at Normandy, where 5,400 of its soldiers are buried. Sure, we might know that without Canada we wouldn’t have Neil Young or Joni Mitchell. But who knows that Canadian James Naismith invented basketball? We won’t even talk about how many of us could name all 10 provinces.


Americans have largely dismissed Canada as a perpetual underachiever, an economic and diplomatic lightweight. But take another look. Few would call the Canadian dollar worthless anymore, several provinces have legalized gay marriage and/or approved marijuana for medical use, no one argues about the virtues of handguns on university campuses, and our own seniors can’t get enough less-costly Canadian prescription drugs. Canadians may not have all of our “stuff,” but they generally have more relaxed lives, if only because they need not worry about health insurance.


And Canadians, these days it seems, would rather be left alone where the United States is concerned. After commenting to one Canadian aligned with the nation’s socialist-leaning NDP party that it must be nice to live in a country that more or less rides off America’s defense spending, she replied that she hoped the current Canadian government would, in fact, spend more on its national defense.


“We don’t want to be too strongly aligned with America,” she said. “That could really hurt us in the future.” No cost would be too great, it seems, when it comes to distancing Canada from our bellicose president. Fear of Americans manifests itself in other ways, too. The Canadian government recently warned its physicians not to treat American tourists unless the condition is life threatening. The risk of malpractice suits from litigious Yankees? It’s just too great.

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