This week, two European tourists complained about the Canadian car culture after a brief stint in the 10 million square kilometer nation of over 35-million people. The British and Danish complainers now reside in Aarhus, Denmark. While I support criticizing a country, it is also good to have the facts in order. To that end, here are some stats Chabowski should have taken into account before making rush judgments on Canadian society.
I happen to live in Aarhus, Denmark -- but was raised and educated in Canada. I grew up in Burlington, Ontario, and later lived in Hamilton. Ever since I can remember, I have been an avid cyclist. I have both been a car owner and a heavy public transit rider in southern Ontario. The buses and trains in Ontario have accommodated my bicycle by setting a bike rack at the front of the bus or in the train. Now that I'm in Denmark, I have no accommodation for bringing my bike onto Danish public transportation.
Transportation to rural areas
Like anyone who must travel more than 20km each way to a rural area, a car is the only economic mode of transportation. Luckily, I have friends in Denmark who own cars -- it facilitates travel to those picturesque yet isolated areas.
Would Danes employ hatchback cars instead of SUVs if they had similar winters to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal or Halifax? Of course not! Chabowski confessed to Zi-Ann Lum that Scandinavian winters in Aarhus are handled with salt and winter tires -- last winter, they got less than 10cm of snow. I rode my bike over snow to school, 14km every day. The buses were either late or cancelled. If Denmark had the same snowfall as Toronto, there would be more than just late buses and cancelled routes. At present, the SUV is to Canadians what a wagon is to Denmark .
Canada's fascination with cars might have to do with the significant car manufacturing industry, a high disposable income, and vast distances people may travel on a regular basis. For example, Toronto to Hamilton is over 61km, and Canadians do this daily. By comparison, Denmark's's small geographic size allows the tiny nation to implement wide-spread infrastructure and place a 180% tax on cars. The geographic grandeur of Canada is no comparison. The criticism Chabowski has for the heavy traffic in the big Canadian cities is almost naïve -- the population of the Denmark (5.6 million) is less than the metropolitan population of Toronto, not including the millions of people who commute on a daily basis to Toronto by train, bus, and car, for work and entertainment. Taking in the distance between Toronto and Canada's capital, Ottawa, at over 450km, it is imprudent to compare the transport culture of Canada to that of Denmark, when the distance between Aarhus and Denmark's capital, Copenhagen, is short of 180km. Denmark is a mere 42,000 sq. km, it would fit three times in the 139,000 sq. km of Southern Ontario.
The main cities the two tourists explored were part of Canada's top 15 most populous places: Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City, Ottawa, and Halifax. Each of these cities is are larger than Aarhus, in terms of population and geography. Aarhus, the second biggest city in the tiny European state of Denmark, boasts that it is a little big city of 91 sq. km, home to 330,000 people. By comparison, Toronto is home to over six million people within 630 sq.km. It would be ridiculous for me to suggest biking and walking all around Toronto the way they can in a town seven times smaller than T dot.
Chabowski claims that Canadians are unhappy because of their car culture -- interestingly Canadians as of 2014 are ranked as the third happiest people in the world, behind Switzerland and Norway, but ahead of Denmark at fourth.
Chabowski blames cars and fast-food for contributing to obesity in Canada. She omits that Denmark had to impose a 'fat tax' on foods to reduce its obesity to 18%. Canada, with all of its cars and fast-food chains, already has the coveted 18% obesity rate -- without resorting to a fat tax to control eating habits. Canadians enjoy a high life expectancy at 82 years are ranked in good health (also third in the world). Danes enjoy shorter working hours and an average life expectancy rate in the OECD at 80 years.
None of this defence for Canada's car culture is meant to imply Canada is perfect, but when your vacation consists of visiting metropolitan cities with the expectation to get out to national parks and vineyards without a vehicle, you have not thought through your vacation. Canada is the world's second largest country geographically, and a car is a part of the lifestyle that allows people to travel around.
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