I got outside today, for the first time several days, since for a long while I was too weak even to get much further than the bathroom. The air was mild, and despite a good deal of clouds, there were what they call here ‘Sunny Breaks’, which are those (sometimes brief) moments when the sunbeams break through and everything lights up. Today, they lit up the crocuses. Yes, March 1 and Spring has Sprung in the Lower Mainland. Despite some snow on the mountains (and I heard that some friends even went cross-country skiing on Cypress Mountain today), we are soon going to be back to ‘The Other Vancouver’, which is just fine by me. The good weather also was appreciated by the Realtors who were running a couple open houses on our street today.
We Were Lucky to Move Where and When We Did
When Pam and I moved to Canada, we said that it was because of Bush (who I often refer to as WPIUSH). I also wrote that it was because I looked ahead to a future that looked to be unpleasant, because of poor decisions by the US government in the near term having an effect on our situation as future retirees. While that dim future referred mainly to the US Federal budget deficit, it also was due to the greed and corruption that we saw, and I definitely could feel some sort of collapse coming. Mind you, I had predicted that a great economic disintegration would be coming (cue Sarah Connor looking at the coming storm at the end of the first Terminator movie), but my timing put it roughly around 2015, so I was off by a few years, but it looks like I got pretty close. I’m not that thrilled that the chickens have come home to roost a half a decade or so earlier than I thought.
While I feel that we were smart to leave when we did (as we could now probably not afford to), what I didn’t count on was the fact Canada was also the right place to go, in many ways.
This past week, Fareed Zakaria wrote a piece for Newsweek, called The Canadian Solution. Warning: I’m going to get dangerously close to smug here, but will try to hold back if I do.
According to Zakaria, our new home is in surprisingly good shape these days:
Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it’s Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system the healthiest in the world. America’s ranked 40th, Britain’s 44th.
Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn’t grown in size; the others have all shrunk.
So what accounts for the genius of the Canadians? Common sense. Over the past 15 years, as the United States and Europe loosened regulations on their financial industries, the Canadians refused to follow suit, seeing the old rules as useful shock absorbers. Canadian banks are typically leveraged at 18 to 1â€”compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and European banks at a frightening 61 to 1. Partly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse business culture, but it is also a product of old-fashioned rules on banking.
The article goes on to laud Canada’s better housing market (and it doesn’t even have to note that there was no ‘Sub-Prime’ mess here, either). The other day we learned that Obama’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” deals with Health Care, because the number 1 reason that an American goes bankrupt is because of a major medical problem. Not needed here, and as I found during my recent illness, the stories that some US politicians and others make that we have to wait forever to get to a doctor or get sub-standard health care are utterly false, in my experiences. Just this past week, I walked (slowly) 3 blocks to our local clinic, waited about 20 minutes to see a doctor the first time, and 15 minutes on my return visit. My blood tests were done in 3 days, and didn’t cost me a penny.
Zakaria goes on to notice the other good news for those of us in Canada:
The government has restructured the national pension system, placing it on a firm fiscal footing, unlike our own insolvent Social Security. Its health-care system is cheaper than America’s by far (accounting for 9.7 percent of GDP, versus 15.2 percent here), and yet does better on all major indexes. Life expectancy in Canada is 81 years, versus 78 in the United States; “healthy life expectancy” is 72 years, versus 69. American car companies have moved so many jobs to Canada to take advantage of lower health-care costs that since 2004, Ontario and not Michigan has been North America’s largest car-producing region.
Of course that last bit about Ontario producing most of North America’s cars is also not such good news, as the dire straits of the auto industry have hit that province at least as hard if not harder than Michigan.
Even the immigration policies that Pam is learning in detail these days, as she studies to become an Immigration Consultant, get some attention by Zakaria:
The U.S. currently has a brain-dead immigration system. We issue a small number of work visas and green cards, turning away from our shores thousands of talented students who want to stay and work here. Canada, by contrast, has no limit on the number of skilled migrants who can move to the country. They can apply on their own for a Canadian Skilled Worker Visa, which allows them to become perfectly legal “permanent residents” in Canadaâ€”no need for a sponsoring employer, or even a job. Visas are awarded based on education level, work experience, age and language abilities. If a prospective immigrant earns 67 points out of 100 total (holding a Ph.D. is worth 25 points, for instance), he or she can become a full-time, legal resident of Canada.
Zakaria notes that companies have begun to notice, and that Microsoft situated their latest research center here in Vancouver.
At any rate, I’m not trying to gloat or hold our good fortune over the old friends and family we left behind in the States, but perhaps they can now understand why we don’t seem to have the same level of dread and panic when we talk about our economic prospects that they do. Canadians right now seem to be more confident, and less likely to respond emotionally to the news (partly because our news is also less sensationalistic). Given that we have better safety nets, including health care, a stable banking system, and even our food inspection system, which caught the bad peanut butter when it came to the border, that’s not all that surprising. Pam and I find ourselves continually shaking our heads as we watch the Evening News from the major US TV Networks, sometimes in relief, and sometimes in bewilderment that things in the country we left have gotten so bad.