Becoming Canadian won’t be that big a change

theprovince.com – news
July 14, 2010.   By Ethan Baron, The Province

I’m finally doing it. Twenty years after moving to this country from the U.S., I’m becoming a Canadian citizen: took my citizenship test Tuesday, and I’m pretty sure I aced it.

But the Canada that welcomed me two decades ago is a much different nation than the Canada that surrounds me now. It was so refreshing to find myself in a country where looking after the well being of your fellow citizens — in your town, in your country, around the world — was intrinsic to the national culture, a far cry from the dog-eat-dog individualism and self-serving patriotism of my country to the south.

And after growing up in a nation that was constantly at war or fighting through proxy armies, I was living among a people who took pride in using its military to keep the peace in troubled places. Canadians looked different, too, healthy and hale, generally unlike the soft-and-squishy folks across the border.

Nature, here, provided me a never-ending series of wonders, coming as I did from a state that had a grizzly on the flag but none left alive, and where PE was sometimes cancelled in school because of smog. Most remarkably, I had moved to a land of relative economic equality, from a country built on shocking extremes of wealth and poverty.

These differences, during the time I’ve lived in Canada, have been largely erased. As I begin my last few months as an American landed immigrant in Canada, I say this to you Canadians: Guzzle all the maple syrup you want, watch hockey until your eyeballs burst, but the fact is, aside from the socialized-medicine thing, y’all have become just like us.

On the financial front, Canada started to take an American shape in the mid-’90s.

“Inequality and poverty rates have increased rapidly in the past 10 years,” says a 2008 report from the 31-nation Organization for Co-operation and Economic Development.

“The rich have been getting richer, leaving both middle- and poorer-income classes behind.

“Canada spends less on cash benefits such as unemployment benefits and family benefits than most OECD countries.

“Partly as a result, taxes and transfers do not reduce inequality by as much as in many other countries.”

In military affairs, Canada has traded its famed tradition of peacekeeping for active war, getting hung out to dry in two of the most violent districts of Afghanistan so the U.S. could focus its war-making on Iraq.

“Until 1990, Canada participated in every single United Nations peacekeeping mission. Today, Canada ranks just 56th among contributing nations, with 170 peacekeepers spread over 13 missions,” says the just-released Open Canada report from the Canadian International Council.

Physical fitness here in Canada, apparently, had been sliding a bit by the time I got here, then plunged.

“Between 1981 and 2009, fitness levels of Canadian children and youth, as well as those of adults, declined significantly,” Statistics Canada reported in January.

The Canadian Institute for Health Information reported in 2004 that “dramatic increases in overweight and obesity among Canadians over the past 20 years have been deemed to constitute an epidemic . . . the impact of the obesity epidemic on non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer threatens to overwhelm health systems.”

The past decade has been particularly unkind for young people, according to a new study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, where researchers believe their teen-health findings apply across Canada.

The number of students in Grades 7 to 12 reporting poor health has more than doubled to 14 per cent since 1991, the study found.

On environmental issues, Canadians are slipping down toward parity with the country of my birth. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, this country has become an international pariah for its selfish unwillingness to take meaningful action on global warming.

“While Harper did not succeed in keeping climate change off the agenda,” the World Wildlife Fund’s Zoe Caron wrote from last month’s G8 and G20 summits, “it’s clear Canada’s position was a barrier to moving forward on any energy or climate-change commitments.”

As for grizzlies, Gordon Campbell’s government here in B.C. reopened the hunt immediately after taking office, and now several hundred of the bears are shot for sport every year. Maybe we should get this bear onto the provincial flag before it’s gone.

The longer I live in Canada, the more I feel at home.

Baron is a columnist for The Province. He can be reached at

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