This is a special post to say, Happy Birthday Canada! It’s our 147th birthday and if I do say so myself, I don’t think we look a day over 146.
Since about 85% of you, Dear Readers, are in the United States, I thought I would write this post for you to give you a crash course on Canada.
My American friends and relatives are dear to my heart and there are a couple of US cities that I love as much as I love Paris, London and Rome (and that’s saying a LOT), but one thing you do have to admit, many of you don’t know as much about us as you probably should, given that you can spit and practically hit us in the eye!
Now keep in mind, much of what I’m going to tell you is from my humble (or not) perspective and may not be (and probably isn’t) shared by at least 50% of the population. But since Canada is my “Home and Native Land” (words from our national anthem), I feel it is my right to publish facts about Canada as I see them. And I’m eternally grateful we live in a country where I am free to do so without fear of persecution.
And listen up my fellow Canucks, you might learn something, too.
And one other thing to note: since this post is about O Canada (the title of our National Anthem), by a Canadian, I will revert to the Queen’s English, AKA the correct spelling of words such as colour, honour, flavour, but I will try to keep the Canadian slang to a minimum, eh?
(However, as a nation loyal to the Queen’s English, why we forgot how to spell “OH” as the first word of our National Anthem remains a mystery. It’s not like we were limited to 140 characters.)
1. Who are we, really?
We now have a population of more than 35 million, and 81% of our population lives in urban areas. We have the world’s second largest land mass next to Russia. USA is fourth. If I were the gloating type, I might. But I’m not. So I won’t.
Canada was once a Dominion of Great Britain, and although we have had our own government since 1867, which is the Parliamentary system, the British Monarch was, and still is, our Head of State, represented by a Governor General. All bills that are to be passed into law must be approved by Royal Ascent. So Queen Elizabeth II is officially Queen of Canada as well as other Commonwealth countries and Great Britain.
Until 1965, our flag was called the Red Ensign on which the British Union Jack was dominant.
In 1964, in anticipation of Canada’s Centennial celebration in 1967, Lester B. Pearson, our Prime Minister at the time, said,
“Hey Dudes. It’s about time we had our own freakin’ flag.”
Ok, he said it prettier than that, but that was the gist. Before he put his foot down, we had a couple of decades of contests to come up with a design, but no one was ever able to make a decision (most Canadians don’t like to offend anyone).
So finally, after 50 years of haggling, it was decided to recommend the single-leaf design, which was based on a design that Canadian Olympic athletes had been using since since 1904.
It was approved by resolution of the House of Commons on December 15, 1964, followed by the Senate on December 17, 1964, and proclaimed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, to take effect on February 15, 1965.
We’re your best friends, but we don’t do things fast.
2. Our Provinces and Territories
On most maps of the United States, Canada is a blank blob at the top. I truly hope this is not a commentary on our collective personality. Here’s what’s actually on that blob that you need to know: Canada has 10 Provinces and 3 Territories.
The image above lists the flags of the Provinces and Territories in alphabetical order, lest we offend any Province by listing another one first.
But the way it really goes, from West to East (just like we read. Unless you’re reading Chinese. Or Hebrew. Or Arabic.) is:
Prince Edward Island
Newfoundland and Labrador
and the Territories in the North are:
The main difference between Provinces and Territories apart from the fact that all the Territories are way North, is that a province is a creation of the Constitution Act (17 April 1982), while a territory is created by federal law. So the federal government has more direct control over the territories, while provincial governments have many more competences and rights.
Provinces are governed by Premiers, similar to American Governors. Where it gets confusing is that in French, they are called “Premier Ministre”, which is also the direct translation of Prime Minister. Which is maybe why some of the Provincial Premiers throw their weight around and demand special treatment in national Ministers’ meetings like they’re a bit big for their britches.
3. Our Language
So now I come to the part that really confuses a lot of my friends south of the border (that is, south of the CANADIAN border, which is YOU, USA. I’m not talkin’ about Mexico here. Stay with me.)
What the heck is our official language anyway?? Is it French or English??
As in, yes, it’s both.
About 32% of the population of the country are Francophones, the majority of whom live in Quebec where French is the sole official language. Don’t try to order pasta in Quebec or you might be hauled away by the language police. I’m not makin’ that up. It was a tempest in a pasta pot known as Pastagate.
The rest of the country is officially Anglophone (with a mélange of ethnic languages thrown in, as most countries have nowadays), with some of us being bilingual, but most of us not. Remember what I said about not wanting to offend anyone? I don’t suffer from that problem, although I do speak conversational French quite well, which has been incredibly useful when travelling and learning other Romance languages.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires all provinces to provide primary and secondary education to their official-language minorities at public expense. And all federal government documents must be offered in both official languages as must services. We spend about $2.4 billion a year on bilingualism.
And that is probably all I should say about this, or I might have to re-title this post as HAPPY BIRTHDAY RANT.
4. Our money
It’s also called the dollar or the buck, and fluctuates up and down in value compared to the American dollar, and you can easily distinguish the denominations in your wallet by its colour.
The one dollar coin features a familiar Loon on the face, so we call it the Loonie.
Since the two dollar coin has a polar bear on the face, you’d probably think we’d call it the Polie, but it seems we prefer rhymes to logic, so we call it the Toonie.
Because these denominations are only in coin form, the Tooth Fairy now requires a Brinks truck to distribute the loot in exchange for lost teeth.
5. Our Weather
Whenever I travel in the USA, I invariably meet at least one person who thinks that all of Canada is the frozen tundra 12 months of the year. That opinion is only reinforced when I tell them that in Toronto, our summer temperatures can regularly go above 30 degrees. Then I have to explain that’s 30 degrees Celsius. In fahrenheit, that’s about 86. We have bilingual weather.
But winter can get really cold. Colder in Winnepeg, Manitoba than Toronto, Ontario, but what’s 20 degrees between friends?
But if you think of the States that are right along the Canadian border, the Province north of it has similar weather until you start travelling to the North of each Province. And at the risk of belabouring a point, if you look at the map below, a big chunk of Ontario is further south than several States.
So British Columbia on the West Coast, and the Maritime Provinces on the East Coast get lots of rain. Just like Washington State and Maine.
To always be able to get a sense of what the temperature is in Canada, just recite this little poem that my father taught me:
Zero is freezin’
Ten is not.
Twenty is comfy,
And thirty is hot.
6. Our law enforcement
Canada has taken a lot of ribbing about our Mounties. I’m not sure why that is. Is it the hats? The smart red jackets with epaulets? Or the jodpuhrs? Maybe it’s the combo.
I’ll have you know that Mounties is our affectionate nick name for Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka RCMP. Go ahead, and laugh now. Make my day.
Born in the 19th Century out of a need for a national police force to implement the law in Canada’s newly acquired western territories, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were originally an equestrian regiment by necessity before the national railroad opened up the west, and has evolved into a world-renowned organization of more than 28,000 people. The organization’s priorities are youth, Aboriginal communities, national security, serious and organized crime and economic integrity. (RCMP history).
But who (among those who are of a “certain age”) can forget Dudley Do-Right, the cartoon that first appeared in 1960, which parodied those much maligned law enforcement officers?
But hereby be warned: do not make fun of a Mountie if you’re stopped by one. They be packin’ heat and they know how to use ’em. Which brings me to….
7. Gun Control
How’s that for a segue?
Remember how I said I’m not bothered by being offensive. However, I hope as friends we can have a civilized discussion without name-calling even though we may disagree.
Ok, here it goes:
Canada has gun control. It works. Not all of the time, because every country has it’s share of downright horrible people, and we’re no exception. Except that we do make it harder for those horrible people to get their paws on a gun. They can not walk into a big box store and pick out their favourite murder weapon. There are licenses, waiting periods, background checks all amounting to control over who and under what circumstance you can get a gun. It’s not fool proof. But it’s reasonable.
In the United States, when a person kills another, 60% is at the point of a gun. In 2009, USA had 10.2 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people. Canada had 2.5 per 100,000.
The argument about stopping bad guys can only happen if the good guys have a gun, backfires more than it doesn’t. Pun intended.
Although every study pro or con, can be deconstructed and manipulated to show the desired results, a study published in The Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection and Critical Care, in August 1998, by Dr. Arthur Kellerman of Emory University in Atlanta and four other authors show that there is one self-defense shooting for 22 accidental, suicidal or criminal shootings — hardly support for the notion that having a gun handy makes people safer. Of course every gun advocate will find fault with this study and the author, but it is interesting to note Kellerman’s personal background with firearms:
“I grew up around guns. My dad taught me how to shoot when I was eleven or twelve years old. Firearms are fascinating pieces of equipment. I enjoy the sport of shooting, although I rarely shoot anymore. However, as a clinician, as someone who is committed to emergency medicine, it is equally evident to me that firearm violence is wreaking havoc on public health.“
Hunting is another conversation altogether, which we can have out back.
8. Our Beer
This may or may not have a bearing on the of circumstances in #7.
It is important to know in the context of a conversation on beer, that I am not a fan. Unless it’s Guinness. Which you may have learned in my Ode to Irish Pubs and Writers which you can find here.
But if there is a national drink, I’d say beer comes close to being it. We call a case of 24 beer simply “a 2/4”. Canadians use any excuse to consume a case of 2/4. Thus, our first long weekend of the summer, which is Queen Victoria’s birthday on May 24th, is called the May 2/4 weekend, before which you must purchase many cases of 2/4 to properly celebrate. No doubt Her Majesty would not be amused.
Canadians can get a big smug about the strength of our beer compared to that of the US. However, according to Fermentarium, it seems that’s largely a myth. Allegedly, Budweiser actually has more alcohol than Carling Black Label, and the same as Molson Canadian. (I have my doubts though, since Bud sold in Canada is made in Canada, so the alcohol content may vary accordingly.) The bottom line is, and I know I will be accused of being a traitor to my country, but in my opinion, Canadian beer is pretty much as yucky as American beer, and both will make you drunk and fat if you drink enough of it.
A very important anthropoligical study, you can find the chart comparing alcohol content by brand here.
Many of my American friends have expressed shock at the price of a 2/4 in Canada vs the same case in the United States. This is caused by a number of factors, not least of which is…..
9. Health Care
While beer can make you drunk and fat and be otherwise hazardous to your health, our medical system is another topic that can raise your blood pressure, which might then require socialized health care. Otherwise known as universal health care. It’s a complex discussion, which, like gun control, seems to be labelled either good or bad by our neighbours to the south. Mind you, even Canadians who recognize the shortcomings of our system, are grateful that if they have a serious medial problem, they can have it taken care of regardless of their pay cheque (another example of the Queen’s spelling). It may take a very, very long time to be seen by a doctor, however, which is where the contentious part of the conversation comes in.
The biggest misconception however, is that our medical care is “free”.
You get nothin’ for nothin’.
In addition to health insurance premiums paid by both employees and employers, deducted from every paycheque, our medical system is also paid for in everything that we buy. Our goods are more expensive than south of the border and all our taxes from sales to income, are higher. This is the revenue that contributes greatly to covering the cost of our medical care. And even so, there are some procedures that are not covered, and lots of cases where we have to wait years to see a specialist, but the bottom line is that no one who comes to the emergency room of a hospital is turned away. Even those who may not have a real problem. Which, of course, takes resources away from those who really need it. But like every system which is conceived and used by human beings, nothing is perfect.
But all things being equal, in my view, paying for medical care incrementally with each purchase we make, is still less painful than paying a lump sum for insurance. In the end, those of us who purchase more subsidize those who purchase less, but isn’t that sort of what looking out for your neighbour is all about?
The only sure things in life are death and taxes. And ours are high. See # 9.
There are lots of boring statistics about taxes, but honestly, I think it’s long past time we get this birthday party started. So go grab your case of 2/4, crack a cold one and let’s make a toast. To Canada’s birthday, and to the freedom we enjoy along side our friends and neighbours to the south of the longest international border in the world!