Stranger in a Strange Land
Canada and America: Two countries separated by a common language.
This article is, of necessity, a confession of ignorance. I’ve been a resident of North America almost my entire life. I have been in and out of Canada as a visitor several times over the past twenty years. I have friends who reside in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario. This week I realized that for decades I have fooled myself by thinking that I am familiar with Canada and that I do not treat it, as so many Americans do, merely an extension of the United States. Oh how wrong I have been!
I am in Toronto for business this week. As I rode toward the city centre from the airport I watched familiar names roll past me: Wal-Mart, Costco, Linens n’ Things, Best Buy, Sysco, TD Waterhouse, Deloitte, FedEX, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Chevrolet, Chrysler, and Hummer. All of this is a veneer. Underneath the familiar retail signs lurks the heart of a very different country.
In between client meetings and product trainings I’ve spent a lot of time in my hotel room watching CBC Newsworld. The news is filled with contentious politicians in the Canadian Parliment. Besides a bus strike in Ottowa and a strike at the University, forcing students out of classes for weeks at a time, there is also news of the Liberals and the Tories in Parliment who are at odds on how to address the current economic climate. Canada seems to have been shielded from the first waves of economic downturn which have rocked the U.S. market. Now, the slow down has caught up and Parliment is scurrying to address the challenges. Jobs are being lost, the GDP is falling, consumer confidence is low, banks are slowing down their lending. Sound familiar? I thought so!
The Tories are the conservative party in Canada. I find this a bit of a chuckle, really. The most conservative Tory in Canada seems more liberal than America’s most centrist/left-leaning democrat. The Canada Liberal party makes Berkeley, California look like a Republican stronghold! Tory Prime Minister Harper announced this week a stimulus package for Canada that will basically erase the current government surplus and put Canada into a defict mode for the next 5-7 years. It is a package that combines government spending in key areas and a healthy chunk of tax cuts to the middle class, to home owners, and to parents with kids in higher education.
I watch the news and think to myself, “this sounds like a great package!” America bails out big business first and main street last–if at all. Even as I write this I am reminded that the House Republicans did not record a single “yes” vote on Obama’s stimulus package this week. It passed the House without their support but we cannot be so cavalier in the Senate where key Republican votes are needed to put this bill on the President’s desk. Republicans clamoured for Paulson’s bailout package to Banks and Big Business, but this idea of spending money on homes, on families, on education, on infrastructure, this idea of TAX CUTS–oh no, no, no! The American system of rewarding corporate greed sticks in my throat and because of this I think Harper’s idea for a first stroke of stimulus for Canada helping the middle class sounds great.
Well, what do I know?
The Canadian Liberal party is up in arms over Harper’s proposed stimulus package. They are declaring an end to coalition governing in Ottowa. They are demanding detailed spending updates every five weeks or they will declare a no confidence vote and bring down the government of the entire country forcing elections by March or April. This sort of reaction got my attention. I suddenly stepped through a glass darkly. Bring down an entire government? This seems a foreign concept to me. The closest we’ve ever gotten to that was in the days of Newt Gingrich. He could bring the government to a halt, but not negate the houses of congress and force all elected politicans INCLUDING the President out to be relected in a special election. They avoided this with a few key concessions late on Wednesday, but whew! So close!
I can see advantages to that sort of power and I can see a huge potential of abuse. Canada is not unique in this sort form of government. No confidence votes have brought down governments in Europe and in Israel, forcing a change in the ruling party and an abrupt shift in policy through a swift special election. I follow this in the news but I do not have enough wisdom or experience to say whether or not this is a good form of governement, or a better form, or worse form than what we have here in the United States.
I do ponder what either the Democratic or Republican Party would do if they had the power to dissolve congress and if by doing so, they could recall the President. We have enough bi-partisan BS in washington as it is. If that grudge match could truly bring down the government how would that benefit we, the American people? How can government function properly and carry on the business of the country if it’s constantly being busted into pieces and re formed?
I’ll state for the record, I am not willing to change our constitution to allow for this. I hope we never find out. We have enough problems in Washington as it is.
On a side note, Canada is quite chuffed that on February 19, American President Obama will make his first official foreign visit to Canada. There is confusion as to who he will see while he’s there, as apparently the Canadian Parliment is not in session during his visit.