A lot of Canadians – particularly young, American-media obsessed Canadians who have never been taught enough about their own country – seem to believe that Canada and the United States are basically the same country. The best example of this is the phoney controversy over the name of the Edmonton Eskimos, which resulted in the team sacrificing 70 years of history on the altar of political correctness. The issue arose again thanks to political strife in the U.S., which put renewed pressure on the Washington Redskins of the NFL to change their blatantly racist name. The difference is that ‘redskins’ is clearly racist, while Eskimos is not. But that doesn’t matter; in the Canada of today, if it happens in the U.S., therefore it must be happening here, because we’re basically the same country, right?
While there are plenty of similarities between us and our bigger, stronger brother, there are plenty of differences between the two nations, which can be summed up in two phrases – the very Canadian ‘peace, order and good government’, and the very American ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.
Chances are you’ve heard of the latter phrase, but not the former. One is an American expression that perfectly summarizes the mind-set of the country, the other is a semi-Canadian line that pretty well sums up this country.
‘Peace, order and good government’ is a phrase that is used in section 91 of the British North America Act of 1867, the act that united the original British colonies into one clumsy country called Canada. It’s very British – the same phrase turns up in the the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852, the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act of 1900, the South Africa Act of 1909 and the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. While the term has a legal definition about making laws, etc., it has taken on a value of its own with Canadians beyond its constitutional purpose. (Thank you, Canadian Encyclopedia.) We have peace, order and good government (so boring), while our neighbours have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (so exciting).
The United States was born in rebellion – ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is a phrase from the Declaration of Independence – while Canada was born out of discussion and compromise. They went to war to end the British monarchy, while we STILL have a British monarch as our head of state (to our eternal shame, in my view). While Americans have heroes of the Revolutionary War – e.g. George Washington, etc. – we have the United Empire Loyalists, people who fled the emerging United States to stay loyal to the Crown.
They had a civil war from 1861-65 fought over slavery, while parts of the future Canada (Upper Canada) had abolished slavery as early as 1793. They has a wild, lawless west, while we had the North West Mounted Police to keep things under control. When the First World War (then called the Great War, because nobody thought there would ever be another war like it) broke out in 1914, Canada was immediately at war because we were a mere colony of Britain. The U.S. sat it out until 1917. When WWII broke out, Canada waited a respectable seven days to join the fray, while the U.S. watched (and profited) for two years.
A truly baffling thing about the U.S. compared to Canada, or any major democracy, is the paucity of political parties. The United States, the second largest democracy in the world, has only two political parties. (India is no. 1, with eight national parties, 52 state parties and some 2,500 ‘unrecognized’ parties.) Here in the north woods, we have three major national parties, and a long history of regional parties that rise and fall and, even though they do not gain power, often have an outsized influence on the national agenda.
You want more? How about the utterly bizarre fact that the U.S. is one of only three countries that has not adopted the metric system – the others being powerhouse countries like Liberia and Myanmar, a country that could change its name (Burma), but not its measuring system. (Canada, typically, has adopted metric is a sort of half-assed way, with plenty of imperial measurements still in use.) How about the fact they elect judges and district attorneys and the like, and that trials are often played out in the media? And that the states have different ways of voting for the president, resulting in fiascos like any election in Florida?
Nothing illustrates the difference between America and Canada than health care. We have universal health care for all (like most of the rest of the world), while they have a mostly private health care system (unlike most of the rest of the world). Our system has flaws, God knows, but Canadians would not change to the American system for anything. Despite the fact that their system spends far more per capita than ours, and that the no. 1 cause of bankruptcy is medical problems, the U.S. steadfastly stands behind a system that favours the wealthy.
The bottom line is Americans value individual initiative and liberty (New Hampshire’s license plates read Live Free or Die) while Canadians lean more towards the common good. We are much more prone to listening to what the government tells us (not always a good trait), while Americans are more prone to distrusting the government and bristling at anything that infringes on their supposed liberties. Which is probably why COVID-19 is running rampant in the U.S., where mask wearing is a political battlefield.
So you see, kids, we’re different here. Not necessarily better in all ways, but different. Keep that in mind.