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7 Things Canadians Might Not Know About Canada

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If beer companies advertised countries, Dos Equis would rep Canada -- it is the most interesting country in the world. But many of those living here would never guess it. Hence the need for an internet list to all Canadians. You're welcome.

1. Your fixated relationship with status quo healthcare is kinda weird.

Canadians hold onto their current version of healthcare like it's the world's last Montreal bagel. They somehow don't notice the following: it's not really universal (it mainly covers physician and hospital services); it costs more than a downtown of Vancouver condos (almost $193 billion total in 2010 and often close to half of all provincial budgets); other countries revamp their systems to provide better outcomes without going through a national existential crisis; and comparing our system to the United States is like lauding a gender equality policy because it compares well to Saudi Arabia's. (The U.S. is the OECD country that spends the most on healthcare while leaving over 16 per cent of its massive population uncovered.)

Healthcare in Canada, compared to other OECD countries, gets a solid "meh." Improving it could include greater universality, increased standardization among the provinces, or a two-tier system à la Switzerland, but it certainly does not include the tired status quo.

2. Your Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a robust protection of individual rights. Kind of.

This is old fodder for #CdnPoli geeks and constitutional scholars, but a surprisingly large chunk of Canucks don't know the following: Section 1 of the Charter guarantees all the rights described in the Charter as long as they fit within a "free and democratic society." This usually means two things to two different groups of people.

One side sees it as a slap in the face to a legitimate bill of rights that guarantees your right to this or that no matter what. The more skeptical crew insists that the beauty of the Charter is that it recognizes that no right is absolute, that rights sometimes conflict, and that in some cases the common good should prevail. This latter perspective is built into Section 1 and its temperament has allowed Canada to talk about things like free speech, gun control and healthcare without the conversation being monopolized by "But the 1st/2nd/etc. Amendment...".

3. You're so much younger -- and so much older -- than you think.

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It's always weird when a backpacker returns from a Europe trip and proclaims "There's so much history over there," as if nothing happened in North America before the white folks showed up. Canada changed relatively recently -- 1999 saw the territory of Nunavut delineated from the Northwest Territories. But this change only brought Canada's old and new -- or First and Later -- into stark contrast. The name of this 'newest' territory means "Our Land" in Inuktitut, language of the Inuit people that have legitimately called the place their land centuries before Confederation.

4. Your provinces are more powerful than a polar bear on steroids.

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Here's Cdn Poli Sci 101 -- the Fathers of Confederation got together. They began the great Canadian tradition of accommodating disagreements by convincing a motley crew of colonies to form one political arrangement. To ensure the longevity of this arrangement they gave all the oh-so-sexy policy areas (like taxation!) to the national government and all the can't-possibly-become-important policy areas (uh, education and healthcare) to those lowly provinces. Shake, bake, and fast forward a hundred years or so. Ta-da! The provinces oversee many of the areas most important to the daily lives of Canadians. Provincial Premiers can, within their provinces, hold almost as much sway as leaders of nation-states do in their countries.

5. You're even more multicultural than you think.

When paranoid American right-wing politicians fear The Immigrant, they need only look at Toronto. Half of Canada's biggest city is foreign born -- more than L.A. or New York -- and yet it usually manages lower crime and unemployment rates. It is a unique mark of the Canadian political scene that nowhere on the political spectrum -- even the far right -- will you find a serious anti-immigrant party. The provincial Parti Quebecois comes closest, but look what happened to them during the last Quebec election (i.e. even breaking up the country can be more popular in Canada than intolerance).

6. You're less partisan than you think.

There will always those who think that the mere whiff of their party near Parliament will magically yield super policies that erase income inequality or gets the Leafs into the play offs. Canadians in general, however, don't guarantee their political allegiance to anyone. The research on this is contested, but it does suggest that a main theme in Canadian partisanship is its flexibility. Voters change their minds depending on the context. Just because Party A managed to align those suburban voters with these coastal ones by selling a particular conservative message does not stop Party B from doing the same next time around by putting a new spin on a progressive message. Canadians, it seems, do not suffer from absolutism.

7. Peacekeeping may be a dish half-baked.

Canadians love to contrast the peacekeeping focus of Canada's military missions with an American imperialistic approach. There is a healthy stream of International Relations research, however, that understands the emergence of Canadian peacekeeping in the '90s as nothing more than a marketing ploy to sell the massive budget cuts of the Chretien government to the Department of National Defense (i.e. our soldiers are keeping peace, ergo we don't need to buy expensive weapons systems). The silver lining here is perhaps that the large-scale acceptance of the peacekeeping narrative by Canadians points to something in their political culture that prefers steady accommodation versus guns-a-blazin' solutions.

All that to say that beavers, mounties and ostensibly indefatigable politeness does not cut it -- if they ever did -- when it comes to the Canadian political soul. It's a big, exciting and complex country. Stay interesting, my friends.

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