Higher Ground


Cro­cus­es, tak­en in the Park near our place today

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 1—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 Canada—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.

8 Replies to “Higher Ground”

  1. “…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.”

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this is absolute­ly the truth here in New Brunswick, where it’s almost impos­si­ble to get a fam­i­ly doc­tor and I was told 18–24 months to even *see* an ortho­pe­dic sur­geon. That’s not a wait for surgery, but just to be seen. I spoke to a friend just yes­ter­day who was wait­ing at the after hours clin­ic (the only way to be seen if you don’t have a fam­i­ly doc­tor), only to have some­one from the phar­ma­cy come over and tell the crowd that s/he did­n’t think the clin­ic was going to be open­ing that evening. It is hideous­ly bad here. But, I’m glad you’ve had a good expe­ri­ence and I love this post! Again, glad you’re feel­ing better!

  2. Glad you’re feel­ing bet­ter, David.

    Thor­ough­ly enjoyed this post — It makes me want to break into a cho­rus of “Oh, Canada!” .… 🙂

  3. You speak the truth, brutha! We’re well pro­tect­ed up here (or “down here” in my case).

    Of course it’s inter­est­ing to see how the val­ue of words change. When it’s all high times and boom, it’s bad to have a “risk-averse busi­ness cul­ture” and to have “old-fash­ioned rules on bank­ing”; then when the barom­e­ter tips, sud­den­ly it’s a good thing.

    I haven’t read the arti­cle, does it talk about the con­se­quences of so many Cana­di­an busi­ness­es being owned by Amer­i­can companies?

    Apro­pos our con­tin­u­ing side-dis­cus­sion about the mean­ing of “home”, I noticed this bit:

    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 […]

  4. That’s inter­est­ing about the healthy life expectan­cy (“Aver­age num­ber of years that a per­son can expect to live in “full health” by tak­ing into account years lived in less than full health due to dis­ease and/or injury”). I’ve nev­er heard of that term, but I find it a more use­ful fig­ure than the life expectancy. 

    Melis­sa, that’s awful! Here in BC, I’ve had noth­ing but good expe­ri­ences. In the last year, we’ve had to put my grand­moth­er into a care home and it has not been as hard as we expect­ed — we were amazed at the rel­a­tive speed com­pared to what we ini­tial­ly feared. Plus her place seems to give her good care. In the last two years, we’ve also had a fam­i­ly friend from out of the coun­try get med­ical help dur­ing an emer­gency while vis­it­ing Cana­da — again, we were grate­ful to the hos­pi­tal for their care and prompt­ness. Hope­ful­ly the rest of Cana­da is this good.

  5. The Cana­di­an econ­o­my is tied to the US econ­o­my. It’s just a mat­ter of time. Wait six months.

  6. I nor­mal­ly would agree with you, David, but my ques­tion is — how ‘pro­tect­ed’ do Cana­di­ans real­ly feel? I mean, for me, every morn­ing I read “the eco­nom­ic down­turn”, “the reces­sion”, etc. I won­der if the per­cep­tion is real­ly different?

  7. Raul — you should see what US News is like by com­par­i­son. It makes Cana­di­an ‘down­turn’ mes­sages sound pret­ty mild. Every oth­er word on CNN is ‘depres­sion’.

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