|EDINBURG, November 24 - Our good neighbor—Canada. They are the nicer “us.” But we take them for granted. We didn’t pay much attention until the recent shootings in their Parliament.
Luckily, Sargent-in-Arms and now national hero, Kevin Vickers, shot and killed the gunman. (ISSIS took credit for that and a previous shooting.) Members of Parliament were lucky. Canada was lucky. We are lucky—to have such good neighbors.
South Texas is lucky. I am lucky. My Department of Political Science is lucky. We have at the University of Texas—Pan American a new professor from Canada, Dr. Owen Temby. The University of Texas at Brownsville also has, from Quebec, a new professor of Public Administration, Dr. Alexandre Couture Gagnon. Both of them will be professors at UTRGV, fall, 2015. We are expanding our horizons. Our students and Valley community will soon know more about our good neighbors to the north.
Why not start now to learn more about Canada? Canada and the U.S. are each the other’s leading trade partner. We are members (with Canada and Mexico) in the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA is now 20 years old). We share a long, mostly peaceful border. Canada is the second largest country in the world based on territory. (They need people; they have only 32 million inhabitants.) Ready to go? Lots of positive things to see and do and be.
Canada is the 3rd “most democratic” government in the world; number one in the Americas (The Economist). The U.S. only ranks 18th. All have health care. Relations with the U.S. are good. The country is officially bi-lingual (French as well as English). Customs and traditions are familiar to citizens of the U.S., since both share a British heritage. But they are so “veddy” much more polite than we.
There are other similarities (bi-cameral legislature, etc.) but there are also many interesting differences. Their government actually governs, the ruling party having all the power for four years, or as long as elected. Imagine! They Chief Executive and political party which won the election actually are allowed, nay, expected to govern. That is so, at least most of the time, but not if a party does not receive 50 percent of the House seats.
Canada is a federal system but embedded inside a constitutional (largely unwritten) monarchy. Their sovereign symbol is the Queen, Elizabeth II of England, who “reigns but does not rule”. The U.S. is also federal but the ten provinces of Canada have much more power than our states. (When they formed, July 1st, 1867, under the British North American Act, they looked down on the U.S., recently wracked by civil war, and decided to grant more power to the provinces than to the central government.
This proved, in many ways, to be foolish. For a while, even the gauges of railroad rails varied; trains had to be reloaded as they entered a new province. Naturally, modern times and technology demand more unity. And Canada has that, too, despite some rather natural but conflictive regionalism and cultural “nationalism” (e.g., Quebec). But they resolve those conflicts amidst open, democratic debate, often granting more autonomy to Quebec and to other provinces.
The Queen of the U.K. is Canada’s Head of State and, formerly, acts of Parliament had to be approved by Britain. No more. It is still part of the Commonwealth, but Canada is a sovereign, democratic nation. Its own Cabinet and Chief Executive, the Prime Minister (currently, Stephen Harper) are the “government.” The unique party system is a sort of a “two and one-half” party system (Gregory S. Mahler, Comparative Politics, 2013).
Parties are mostly unified, disciplined and professional. For example, hope you saw the very sophisticated Member of Parliament, Chrystia Freeland, on Bill Maher Friday night. Even the “Conservatives” are more liberal (on social issues) than our parties, as, of course, are their Liberal Party and New Democratic Party. Pluralism is respected, spread amidst minor parties such as Marxists, Libertarians, Christian Heritage, even “Rhinoceros” and “Pirates.” But only the Greens, who are growing, have achieved a seat in Commons.
Canadians are experimental with their politics. The Reform Party champions the idea of “The West Wants In,” yet another manifestation of the strong regionalism of Canada. One of the main strengths of Canada, then, is its sturdy, progressive people. They weather the cold of the northern hemisphere and its vast, diverse territory. They include assertive, proud citizens of cosmopolitan French heritage in Quebec and in some other provinces, such as New Brunswick, which is constitutionally bilingual.
Canadians thrive in “cowboyish” Calgary and its famous “Stampede” You may feel Canadian (or at least envy them) as you stare, entranced, at the mountains above the misty green tranquility of glacier-created Lake Banff in the Canadian Rockies. Continue on to “more British than the British” Vancouver. Have tea promptly at 4 P.M., served on local made pewter, after a return by ferry, perhaps from wild, rocky “Point No Point” on Vancouver Island.
Beyond beauty and unparalleled tourist opportunities stand Canadian politics and policies. The recent shootings seemed to interrupt the dream, propelling them, along with their sister Republic, the U.S.A., into the harsh realities of terrorist threats. They are now bolstering their defenses. But they do not withdraw. Canadians join the U.S. in opposing extremists in the Middle East. But they stoutly flout U.S. intransigence and pressure on other issues. They reach out (for pragmatic business and tourist reasons) to another sister Republic—Cuba--believing real strength lies in fairness in international law, and in unity for the Americas.
If Canadians are lucky, they have created their own luck. Canada has invented itself—and continues to re-invent itself, as a fusion of the best of Native, British, French and U.S. cultures and concerns, creating a nation and a people that are admired world-wide. We, here in South Texas, need to learn all we can about our brothers and sisters on both sides of the northern border. We in the Valley are happy and lucky that we have acquired new Canadian colleagues and will soon begin an adventure with a new university—studying the universe.
Dr. Gary Mounce is a political science professor in the Rio Grande Valley. His op-eds appear regularly in the Rio Grande Guardian.