THE BLOG
02/19/2009 11:03 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What Obama Can Learn On His Trip To Canada Today

Canada's banks are ranked first in world.

Canada's health care system works better than ours, at one third the cost.

And Canada recruits the best and brightest workers from around the world, while the U.S. turns them away.

A few years ago while skiing at Whistler, I was amazed at all the Chinese from Hong Kong who had emigrated to Vancouver a couple of hours away.

I shared the lift with a young woman whose wealthy family owned several factories in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. She told me that they were moving much of their business, setting up operations and buying homes in Vancouver and Whistler.

I asked why her family didn't want to move to California or the US, where most of their products were sold.

She explained that it was such a hassle trying to move to the US. Canada welcomed skilled and intelligent immigrants and those who wanted to set up businesses there. "This country is much saner. It's easy for us to get residency cards," she told me.

This point was brought home when I read Fareed Zakaria's piece in Newsweek in which he wrote that "The U.S. currently has a brain-dead immigration system."

The U.S. issues a miniscule number of work visas and green cards, turning away thousands of skilled, talented students who want to stay and work here.

This issue is personal with me.

My mother came to Baltimore on a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Johns Hopkins Medical School almost 70 years ago. But she couldn't get a visa to stay and was forced to go back to Chile for four years, where I was born.

Canada welcomes skilled students and scientists from all over the world and has no limit on the number of skilled immigrants who can move to the country. Educated and brainy people can easily get a Canadian Skilled Worker Visa, which allows them to become perfectly legal "permanent residents" in Canada -- no need for a sponsoring employer, or even a job.

"Visas are awarded based on education level, work experience, age and language abilities. If a prospective immigrant earns 67 points out of 100 total (holding a Ph.D. is worth 25 points, for instance), he or she can become a full-time, legal resident of Canada," according to Zakaria.

In 2007 Microsoft --- frustrated by its inability to get H 1B visas for foreign high-tech Indian and Chinese programmers --- decided to park its overseas brains in Canada, a short two-hour drive from its Redmond, Wash. headquarters.

The software giant said it would stock its new Vancouver development center with "highly skilled people affected by immigration issues in the U.S." The US is losing thousands of jobs and skilled immigrants and Canada is gaining them. How dumb can we be?

Our universities attract the brightest graduate students in the world, only to then have our country throw many of them out.

On Tuesday, President Obama applauded Canada's banking system.

"One of the things that I think has been striking about Canada is that in the midst of this enormous economic crisis... Canada has shown itself to be a pretty good manager of the financial system in the economy in ways that we haven't always been here in the United States," Obama said in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

"And I think that's important for us to take note ...that it's possible for us to have a vibrant banking sector ...without taking some of the wild risks that have resulted in so much trouble on Wall Street," Obama pointed out.

Canada has not faced a single bank failure, and has avoided the meltdowns and government bailouts in the financial and mortgage sectors.

In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada's banking system the soundest in the world with a rating of 6.8 out of 7.

U.S. banks ranked 40th, Britain's 44th... Canada's banks currently boast the largest market capitalization in the world. Royal Bank of Canada's market cap is $30 billion, compared to Citigroup's $16 billion market cap.

Sure the Canadians are scared and worried about the financial crisis, but their unemployment is 7% (ours is 7.6%), and with 12 years of budget surplus, they are better positioned to withstand the world financial meltdown.

The other area the U.S. can learn from Canada is in health care spending.

In the United States we spend more than $6,000 per person while Canada spends about $2,500 and gets better results. If you are a male between the ages of 15 and 59, your chances of dying are higher in the U.S. (140 per thousand) than in Canada, 95. On the whole Canadians live about three years longer than Americans.

The long-term answer is obvious. Adopt a single-payer system like Canada's. It's cheaper than what we are now doing. We can't afford not to.

Not socialized medicine. Doctors would remain private. By cutting out the bureaucracy, needless lawsuits, and curbing greed, the U.S. could save 50% of the monies now being squandered, more than enough to cover the 50 million uninsured, according to a General Accounting Office and a Congressional Budget Office report.

Everybody would have access to health care and nobody would go bankrupt because of their health or die when they get sick from a treatable (or preventable!) illness.

Canada's successful health care program is a major reason that American car companies have moved so many formerly American jobs to Canada. Ontario, just a few miles north of Detroit, is now North America's largest auto manufacturing center.

No surprise there. The Canadian government pays for the health care of the workers, saving auto companies, like GM, more than $2,000 on every car produced.

General Motors spends more on worker health care per vehicle in the U.S. than they spend on steel for each car they produce. The three big automakers are HMOs on wheels. No wonder they are in such desperate shape.

The costs of inaction in curbing health care spending are much greater than reforms' would be.

So look around Obama and bring back some ideas that work...

Jfleetwood@aol.com