I am a geographical elitist and the first to admit that I choose my allegiances arbitrarily. I’ll defend Philly to anyone despite the Schuylkill, the unions and the school system. I’ll fight anyone who criticizes Charleston, S.C. and its preponderance of Krispy Kremes and barbecue joints. But no amount of fall foliage, fresh lobster, or clam chowder can force me to set foot in New England.
And don’t get me started on Canada.
For almost the entirety of the 1990s, Canada roosted atop the UN’s list of best countries to live in. And this month, after suffering a brief drop since 2001, they’ve climbed back up to No. 4 (the U.S. was No. 13) and they’re preening their feathers again.
I have several problems with this, the first being fundamental. What, I ask myself, is the UN doing pitting nations against each other in a ratings game? The UN exists primarily “to maintain international peace and security; to develop friendly relations among nations.” I’m sure it doesn’t seem friendly to Britain, which has dropped steadily and rests now at No. 29. And I’d bet there’s all kinds of bitterness brewing in Zimbabwe, which crawled in dead last. Nothing inspires feelings of international harmony and goodwill like being told that 110 countries are better than yours.
But there are really myriad reasons to dislike Canada, if you are inclined to seek them out. For a Philly fan, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens are just the obvious ones. Canada did an unneighborly number on our lumber market until we capped softwood imports. There’s always the 1993 World Series to gripe about, and how they got the decidedly better half of Niagara Falls. Perhaps the worst thing about Canada is the average January temperature of 12.2 degrees in Ottawa.
Then there’s that Parliament member from Toronto, Carolyn Parrish, who, when asked about those “damn Americans,” said, “I hate those bastards.” Apparently, we’re just “completely out of step.” Well, actually that may be true. The British must think so, because they give Canadians year-long visas to our meager 4-month ones. Maybe if we buttered them up by featuring the queen on our coins, they’d get over the Revolutionary War and give us special privileges, too.
As compelling as these reasons certainly are, a lot of people stubbornly insist on admiring Canada. Whether it’s the new ranking, the proximity, or the baguettes, we nearly lost a lot of invaluable citizens like Alec Baldwin to the icy provinces over our election results. On Nov. 3, almost 180,000 people, most of them from the U.S., checked out Canada’s immigration Web site, totaling more than it usually sees in a week.
It’s not as easy to become a Canadian as those wishfuls might have hoped, but I have to hand it to the Canadians in this regard. You have to appreciate their understanding and hospitability, like the program found at www.marryanamerican.ca, where you’ll find a generous appeal to Canadian singles to help naturalize U.S. ex-patriots by condescending to wed them.
Notwithstanding, I like to think that Canadians secretly envy their southern sister. The arguably talented William Shatner and Celine Dion, the legendary Wayne Gretzky and the well-endowed Pamela Anderson have all made their millions under the red, white and blue banner, after all. If that’s not empirical evidence, I’ve already issued my disclaimer of irrational bias.
But not even Canadians really want to be Canadian. I mean, Quebec has wanted out for years. And, although there may be good climate-related explanations, I think it’s very telling that in a country second in size only to Russia, “approximately 90 percent of the population is concentrated within 160 km of the U.S. border,” according to the CIA’s World Factbook.
Truth be told, I have no bone to pick with Canada that couldn’t be resolved with some balmy weather and a Flyers Stanley Cup victory. They’ve got their good points, like universal healthcare and the metric system. But you’ve got to pick on somebody, and hey, if it weren’t Canada, it would have been Jersey.
Elizabeth Vaughn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.