Feature

The great, blue North

Thousands of blue-state Democrats, distraught over another Republican victory on Election Day, are threatening to move to Canada. Would they be happier up there?

What is Canada like?It’s a lot like America, only it’s a lot less crowded and a lot more liberal. Most Canadians speak English, have roughly the same income as Americans, and spend much of their money at Wal-Mart, Starbucks, McDonalds, and other U.S.-based stores. They live in a country that, like the U.S., has wide open spaces and seemingly limitless possibilities—until winter. Canada is cold.

How cold is it?In Ottawa, the coldest capital city in the world, the average daily low in winter is 5 degrees. And as you move north, to places like Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan and Prince George, British Columbia, temperatures routinely drop to 30 or 40 below zero. Beaver Creek, in the Yukon, once recorded a temperature of 81 below. For that reason, 90 percent of the nation’s 31 million inhabitants huddle together within 100 miles of the U.S. border.

So why move there? Canada has its charms, especially for the liberal-minded. If it were a state, it would be very, very blue. As of now, virtually no one watches the Fox News Channel (it isn’t even available on cable), and if the recent presidential election had been held in Canada, John Kerry would have crushed George W. Bush in the biggest landslide in history—64 percent for Kerry to just 19 percent for Bush, according to a Time poll. Eight Canadians in 10 think Bush is turning the U.S. into a “rogue nation,” and a top aide to former prime minister Jean Chrétien last year publicly called Bush “a moron.” (The aide was forced to resign—not because most Canadians disagreed, but because of the offense it gave to a powerful neighbor.) Most Canadians view the U.S. as a rude, overbearing older sibling, and are very comfortable with social policies many Americans would find shocking.

Such as?Socialized medicine, for starters. All Canadians are entitled to free medical care. Patients must wait months for some procedures, but the fact that every Canadian can see a doctor, regardless of their incomes, is a source of national pride. And then there’s gay marriage—it’s legal in six of Canada’s 10 provinces, and the high court may soon make it a right nationwide. Three provinces have decriminalized marijuana possession, and Canada was the first nation to legalize pot for medical use. Local governments even provide safe injection sites for heroin users so they won’t transmit AIDS and other diseases by sharing needles.

What about crime rates?Canada is one of the safest countries in the world. Its largest city, Toronto, is a modern financial center with gleaming skyscrapers and spotless streets. Toronto has 4.5 million people, but a murder rate 10 times lower than that of Houston, and nearly 40 times lower than that of Washington, D.C. Quebec City, the cultural center of French-speaking Canada, has the charm of the Old World, with about as much street crime as Disney World. And Vancouver, the murder capital of Canada, has a homicide rate that would rank it 21st among U.S. cities. Only 22 percent of Canadians own guns, compared to 49 percent of Americans. Firearms must be registered with the government and are viewed as tools for hunting, not for self-protection. Handguns and assault rifles are strictly forbidden.

Are Canadians different from Americans?Yes, in subtle but important ways. The population is more homogenous—86 percent white, and 82 percent Christian. But Canada is so vast and sparsely populated that the government has no reason to discourage newcomers, and Asians and Indians are now immigrating to Canada in large numbers. While the U.S. prides itself on being a melting pot, Canada focuses more on respecting multiculturalism. (Quebec, the French-speaking province, fiercely retains its identification with all things French.) Americans revere the rugged individualist; the Canadian hero is the team player. Americans cherish the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; Canada’s motto is Peace, Order, and Good Government. While America was founded on rebellion, Canadians have always nurtured an abiding faith in the good intentions of authority. In the U.S., scalawags, loners, and fortune seekers conquered the frontier. In Canada, it was the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

What are the downsides?Canada isn’t the world’s most exciting place. An American admirer—Ralph Nader—compiled a book called Canada Firsts to laud the nation’s achievements, and noted that Canadians invented Pablum, the credit union, and the rotary snowplow. Canadians themselves are sometimes struck by their own inoffensiveness. “If Canadians were porridge,” Will and Ian Ferguson write in How to Be a Canadian, “Goldilocks would find us just right.”

How do you become a Canadian?

The open door

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