Thursday, December 02, 2004

O Canada

So, Bush: Halifax, eh? Nova Scotia? It might surprise you to know that I lived there once. This was back in the early 1960s, the first time I had ever crossed the Atlantic. I took a teaching job there, at the Halifax Grammar School, at $5,000 a year. It seemed like undreamed of wealth to me at the time, coming over from Europe. I wonder if the school is still in operation? My older son, Matthew, was born there and proudly holds on to his Canadian nationality, forty years later.

I wonder, too, how you found Nova Scotia. When I was there, they had only recently completed the St. Lawrence Seaway--with the result that Halifax, having been the major port for all the shipping to the major Canadian cities, had become this little backwater (sorry, Haligonians!) where nothing much ever stopped.

But it was a beautiful little town in those days, Bush. Cold. Though they used to say it was tempered by the waters of the Gulf Stream, driving north. And the people there were great. I hear the reason you went there was to thank them for their hospitality to the 33,000 Americans whose flights were delayed for days after 9/11. (Anything to keep that memory fresh! That's your cachet...) I'm not surprised they acted as they did; that's the kind of people they are. Word was rife, amongst us giddy liberals during the 2004 election campaign, that we'd all be "moving to Canada" if you won. I don't know how many did. I haven't actually heard of any. But I recall the same kind of word being passed around in the days of the Viet Nam war--and not only amongst those who wanted to dodge the draft. There was a kind of shame involved, about the way our country was then acting, just as there is now.

So what is it about Canada? From down here--and from this shamelessly radical, left-wing point of view--it does look like a more humane, more rational, more civilized society. There's a national health care system. I'm sure it has its flaws, but it does take care of people in need! Everyone is covered. I'm sure there are racial problems, too; but when Ellie and I spent time in Montreal and Toronto a couple of years ago, we remarked on the noticeable lack of tension and anger between the races: it seemed to us like an easy and mutually agreeable mix. And the power struggle between French and English speakers seems almost quaint compared with our red state-blue state political divisiveness here, though I acknowledge that it must cause pain and anguish to a number of Canadians.

And then there's guns. Remember the scene in "Bowling for Columbine", Bush? Though you probably didn't see it. Where Michael Moore goes around knocking on doors in Toronto, and is surprised to find them open, unlocked, welcoming. He compares not only Canadian and American attitudes to gun possession, but also the different social consequences in each country. And no matter what you think about Michael Moore (I imagine you have certain reservations, right?) he makes some seriously good points. Statistics bear him out, that Canadians seem mysteriously less prone to shooting each other than Americans, and are consequently less fearful of being shot. And certainly, on a broader scale, the whole country seems less bellicose, doesn't it? It doesn't strut around the world brandishing its weaponry.

One more thing that I suspect may be a factor in all this: I understand that Canada is far less crowded, population-wise, than is this country. Oh, the cities are busy alright, and the citizens live, and commute, and work in shoulder-to-shoulder competition for the air space there. But from my admittedly limited and casual observation, there's a sense of air left over for everyone to breathe--a sense that is increasingly lacking over here, where communities everywhere are spilling over into each other, and people seem forced into contention with each other, battling continually for their "rights."

Is this all myth? It maybe so. In your speech in Halifax, you announced your intention to "reach out" in your second term to friends--without, of course, deviating in the slightest from your course, and in the context of what you deem "the nightmare world of danger." (Back here at home, meanwhile, one of your Republican senators was loudly calling for the resignation of the UN's Secretary General: how's that for currying international favor?) Oh, yes, you sprinkled your speech with a few timely witticisms, too. This was perhaps what the Canadian newspapers referred to as your "charm offensive." Sorry, Bush, but I tend to see it rather as "offensive charm."

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