So, ok. By special request, and because Allan made dinner tonight, here it is.
Cross a border, adjust a mind-setI continue to get emails from Americans who are in Canada for the same reasons, others who are in the application process, and Canadian well-wishers. It's really nice.
by Laura Kaminker
A number of months ago, my partner and I moved to the Toronto area from New York City. Unlike many immigrants who come to Canada in search of economic opportunity, we came seeking something more abstract: a healthy democracy.
We didn't leave because of George W. Bush, although his placement in the White House by the Supreme Court gave our feelings sudden, irreversible clarity. No, the Bush-Cheney White House was just one last, very large, straw on a pile that had been building since the Reagan era. After years of frustration with the country's rightward drift, we decided we'd had enough. We were tired of feeling so alienated. We wanted to live in a society with values more like our own.
I began researching how to emigrate to Canada in the summer of 2003. I learned we'd be applying for permanent resident status, in the "skilled worker" category. The application process took about 18 months and cost more than $2,500 (U.S.). We listed every place we'd ever lived, every job we'd ever held, every organization we'd ever belonged to. We assembled sheaves of documents: high-school diplomas, university transcripts, birth certificates, affidavits of common-law partnership, proof of employment, medical records. We were fingerprinted and checked by the FBI. We were poked and prodded by an ancient doctor whose hand shook when he tried to draw blood. We traipsed to the bank for certified cheques and to photo shops for pictures.
And we saved money. We cancelled a dream vacation (no small thing for me -- I live to travel) and saved and saved to attain the required "proof of funds," and to build a cushion should employment be harder to find than we hoped.
We filed our applications in March, 2004. I then spent the summer working to elect John Kerry, despite our plans to leave no matter who won the election.
We checked the mailbox daily, as we wrapped up our lives in New York. Finally, on May 11, 2005, the envelope arrived -- "Important Notice: The processing of your application for permanent residence in Canada is complete. We require your passports before we can issue your immigrant visas . . ."
We found a place to live, arranged the move, said many goodbyes. On Aug. 30, we drove the world's fullest minivan, our two dogs nestled among the boxes, through New York state farmland. Hearts pounding and eyes welling with tears, we crossed the border.
We left behind a large, affordable apartment, great jobs, good friends and nearby family. Waiting for us in Canada was a rented house and a small band of well-wishers we met through my blog (wemovetocanada.blogspot.com). We clutched our résumés, our faith in ourselves and our sense of adventure.
What would we find? Other than Tim Hortons and Don Cherry, the new coins and the new spellings -- would it all be pretty much the same?
We knew life in Canada would be different, if only for how we see the United States: foreign wars for profit; unchecked poverty and its twin, rampant violence; increasing government intrusion into citizens' personal lives; media controlled by the government, and a government controlled by religious fanatics; a corrupt, antiquated election system.
But contrary to what some Canadian cynics say, Canada is not only defined as "not the United States." Its identity is more subtle than that of the U.S., but then, it's a more subtle country. Canada doesn't go around thumping its chest declaring itself The Greatest Nation on the Face of the Earth. Canada speaks more quietly.
I think when Canada speaks, it uses "we" more often than "I." One might sum up the difference between the U.S. and Canada as individualism vs. community. Of course, both countries have both, but there is an unmistakable difference in emphasis.
The most obvious example of this is national health insurance. Ensuring that every person has access to basic health care requires some sacrifice from everyone -- and that's a trade-off most Canadians willingly accept. Despite whatever problems the system may have, the vast majority of Canadians agree that everyone must contribute toward this greater good.
I also see this emphasis on community in the mundane dealings of daily life.
Where I live, in the Peel region of Ontario, there is a robust recycling program. Learning its many rules and regulations took some time. As our recyclables grew and our weekly garbage output shrank, I marvelled at how a true recycling program could work.
The New York City recycling rules can fit on a small pamphlet -- and recycling is a disgrace. If New York tried to institute the Peel guidelines, there would be a revolt. The mayor and the city council would be run out of town. Too inconvenient, too confusing, too many rules, I can't be bothered.
Then there are the GO trains. They are clean, comfortable, and the service, albeit infrequent, is reliable. But no one takes your ticket! American friends are amazed when I tell them that Ontarians ride on an honour system. As one visitor to my blog said, "I couldn't even contemplate not punching my ticket. What if they checked me and I hadn't done it! Also, if people started abusing it and riding for free then eventually they wouldn't be able to have the GO train at all or they would have to reduce the service!"
This is not, shall we say, an American attitude. If the New York City subway ran on an honour system, the system would go bankrupt in a week. Naturally some New Yorkers would pay a fare even if they weren't forced to, and I'm sure some of my Mississauga neighbours would gladly sneak a free ride.
Where I'm from, diligent honour-system riders would be derided as fools and chumps. Where I am, a dishonest rider is seen as hurting the greater good.
That accent on the greater good, for me, defines Canada. Here's what one Canadian said in my blog: "When it snows and nobody's been out to shovel yet, so you're walking on that bit of trampled snow in the middle of the sidewalk, and you see somebody coming towards you, you'll step aside to let them have the path, and they'll do the same thing. Snow, self-effacement, and consideration of others' needs -- that's Canada right there, for me."
As we near the end of our first Canadian winter, those are words to warm my heart.
Laura Kaminker lives in Port Credit, Ont.