Thursday, March 10, 2016

From the perspective of an American in Canada

Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie are in Washington today meeting with President Obama and Michelle at the White House for the first official state dinner with a Canadian leader in 19 years. I'm a news junkie, and seeing my two favorite leaders from my two favorite countries shaking hands and standing together makes me proud to be an American living in Canada. And damn, they are some fine looking gentlemen.

Honestly, I am as shocked and baffled by the U.S. presidential election as everyone else. I'm obsessed actually, and fascinated and embarrassed for my country. I love talking politics. I get excited for the debates, even the Republican ones... especially the Republican ones because they're so ridiculous. I enjoy yelling at the television and cheering for my favorite team. My Seahawks and BlueJays have flown the coop so American politics is the only game I'm watching now. If there were jerseys I'd wear the blue one and it would say BERNIE on the back.

In Canada, the Liberals are represented by the color red and conservatives use blue. This was hard for me to get used to when there were signs all over for the the federal election this past fall. Also, Canada has more than 2 major parties - there's the lefter-leaning NDP (orange) and even-lefter-leaning Green (green) parties. Not knowing much about Canadian politics I figured I would be a Liberal since that's what I am in America but I took a few tests online and watched the candidates during their short and adorably civil election and to my surprise I learned that I actually lean more NDP and Green. Still, I was happy to see the election of "anybody but Harper," a man who seemed to be a slightly less economically destructive and war-mongery Canadian version of George W. Bush. It was exciting to see Canada usher in a new era of leadership with the election of Justin Trudeau. It reminded me of when Obama became president, minus the racist vitriol that growls from the conservative sidelines in American politics. Canadians (even conservative ones) tend to be more civil and respectful when discussing big ideas.

The most eye-opening thing I've learned since moving to Canada is how little Americans know (or care) about their neighbor to the north. Canadians have a unique perspective of the United States - they like us and our music and movies and t.v. shows but they're confused by the way we choose our leaders and by some of the leaders we choose. Canadian news channels such as the CBC and CTV and Toronto's CP24 focus on provincial and global issues and report on American politics from an objective perspective. As far as I can see there are no liberal-leaning stations like MSNBC or conservative-skewed stations like FOX News. Likewise, I see little disdain in Canada for what Americans refer to as the "mainstream media." FOX and MSNBC are only available on the most expensive tier of cable packages so most people don't get them at all.  Being cut off from this kind of coverage may explain the confusion the rest of the world has about how heated and circus-like our political system has become. The 24-hour American news channels have become the driving force in encouraging specific political points of view. When you don't have those influencers constantly shouting in your ear, it's hard to see what Americans are so emphatically angry about.

The number one question I get when people find out I'm from America is, "What is up with Donald Trump? How can Americans fall for someone like that?" I reassure them that not everyone falls for his shtick and I promise I'm one of the "good guys" on the polar opposite side. The conversation often comes around to Rob Ford and how Toronto once got duped by an embarrasing buffoon too. (I think America's buffoon is more sinister and dangerous though.) We shake our heads and commiserate over the foolishness of some of our fellow citizens.

Some say I'm the foolish one for supporting Bernie Sanders. I hear people mock his plans for universal health care and free public universities as a "pipe dream." Count me among the dreamers. Why can't America have what other countries have? I've found it's rather nice not sending insurance companies hundreds of dollars every month hoping they cover a portion of my medical costs. When I became a resident of Ontario I applied for and got a Health Card. I haven't used it yet but just knowing I have the option of not facing financial ruin in the event of an emergency is such a relief. It's time for Americans to demand this promise from our country too.

I've watched as Bernie's ideas have influenced the debate on both sides and I want to hear more. The fact that he's funded by individuals, not corporations is admirable. Corporations are not people, my friend. I'm a Dem till the end and will vote for Hillary if she's the nominee, but until then, #I'mWithHim.  On Sunday my husband and I voted for Bernie in the Global Primary held by Democrats Abroad at the Globe Bistro on Danforth.

It's the least we can do.

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