As Canadians gaze south at the U.S. election, it can also be a time for reflection. There’s a lot that both countries can learn from each other.
We asked our network of Canadian expats in the United States: What does the U.S. government do better than Canada’s?
This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series – expats talking about life and politics south of the border.
Jeff Gebhart, works as an IT manager in Oak Ridge, Tenn., from rural Saskatchewan and Calgary:
One absolutely obvious answer: The United States has a far superior method of selecting Senators.
The idea that the Prime Minister, in the 21st Century, should have the power to appoint, effectively for life (I know, it’s until age 75) an entire branch of Parliament is repugnant to me in so many ways.
Regan Fletcher, who works in digital sales and business strategy in San Francisco, Calif., from Oshawa, Ont.:
I don’t think I’ve agreed with Jeff on a single issue/response through this election but I agree with him 100 per cent here! I think Canada, and Canadians, should be embarrassed that our senators are appointed.
Jenny Zhang, who works in advertising in Greensboro, N.C., from Ottawa and Toronto:
The U.S. postal system, which in my experience is faster, cheaper and more reliable than Canada Post. I know most of that is plain logistics and economics – Canada is far more spread-out and sparsely populated and has neither the means nor the need for the type of infrastructure as the US postal system. Nevertheless, it sure is nice to order a package from New York on a Tuesday and receive it on a Thursday, and to live in a place where Amazon can even contemplate same-day delivery services.
Ben Wright, a web co-ordinator in Atlanta, Ga., from PEI:
Respect for nature and history.
I appreciate how hard Parks Canada works with the limited resources they’re given, but the National Park Service just blows them away. NPS does a tremendous job in Georgia. Trails are well-maintained, signage is current and useful, rest facilities are generally in good working order, and when there are interpretive centers they’re actually informative. Maybe Canada doesn’t place as much emphasis on formal parks because there’s already so much wilderness and green space, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed exploring the many, many green spaces around Atlanta, especially the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area which is inside the metro Atlanta area and includes hundreds of miles of wooded trails.
Jonathan Havercroft, a political science professor in Oklahoma City, from Montreal:
Once upon a time I would have answered that the U.S. system allowed greater autonomy for Representatives and Senators to vote as they please and vote against their party. Party discipline in Canadian Parliament is so strong that MPs rarely are able to vote against their party – especially if they are in government – and when they do, they often pay a price. My MP growing up was Warren Allmand and in 1995 he voted against the Martin budget, Jean Chrétien responded by removing him as Chair of the Justice Committee and in the next election the Liberals nominated someone else.
The big advantage of the U.S. primary system is it means that the citizens in the district – not the party members – get a say in the nominees for their respective parties. And this does make elected officials more accountable to their constituents. Unfortunately, as party polarization has increased in the U.S. over the last decade, few elected officials (at least nationally) have been willing to break with their party and vote their conscience (especially on big issues). Hopefully this is just a short term trend and we’ll eventually see a return to more independent-minded Representatives and Senators.
Penny Stamp, a graphic artist in Orlando, Fla., from Regina:
I really try not compare the two systems, as the Canadian government has to handle things on a far smaller scale. The U.S. has about 10 times as many people. It makes all government processes far more complicated. You can’t just make the health care or postal system 10 times bigger (or smaller) and make it work anywhere near the same. Both governments have virtues, and both have problems. The approach to solving the problems is also (and needs to be) vastly different. I sometimes think of Canada as a childless couple, criticizing a family of 10 for not being as organized – and the family of 10 constantly wonders why they can’t be.
David Levine, a lawyer in New York City, from Toronto:
Universities. The elite universities (mostly in the Northeast, but not to discount others such as California’s University of California and Stanford) and small liberal arts colleges offer an incredible education, albeit for a price. Having worked with many graduates of these institutions, I can safely say that no Canadian school compares, including University of Toronto and my alma mater, McGill. It is no wonder people come from around the world to teach and study at these schools. Of course, I recognize that Canada could not create something similar, unless there was a radical overhaul to the post-secondary education system. Further, Canada would have to more generally get over its phobia of the notion of an elite in order to create a parallel. Still, this is something that the United States does very, very well.
Ashley O’Kurley, a financial planner in Miami, Fla., from Edmonton:
How well the U.S. tells its story to itself and the world. Anybody ever visit Sir John A. McDonald’s grave in Kingston? Nice plaque, tall marker. But not much else.
Every president in the U.S. for the better part of a century has his own library/museum that includes millions of dollars of interpretative material to tell the story of the United States during the time of that particular president and how his leadership affected the evolution of the country. John Diefenbaker’s grave site (if you can find it) is decrepid by comparison. Even the places where a former president used to vacation becomes a tourist site that tells the story of the country. Harry Truman’s Little White House in Key West is just such a place. Heck, they even carved the faces of four of their presidents into the side of a mountain! At least we have Laura Secord.