U.S. Media, Public Can Learn a Lot From Neglected Neighbor Canada

Canada is the best next-door neighbor we Americans could ask for, but the U.S. media -- and populace at large -- hardly takes notice. Unless there's a natural disaster or big, multiple-fatality explosion.

The last major American daily to have a bureau in Canada's capital, Ottawa, The Washington Post, pulled out a decade ago. Time magazine, which long had a Canadian edition, closed its Canadian bureau. in 2006 and folded its 65-year-old Canadian edition.

It's a real shame and an ongoing wasted opportunity: We can learn a lot from Canada and Canadians, and not just about their health-care system. The "Great White North" is different from us in far more ways -- some quite basic -- than most of my fellow Yanks realize. Canada's far more civilized approach to the role of government in its citizens' lives and their basic civility is too important to overlook.

That's one of the main reasons I've begun a Canada blog for Dow Jones' big site. As far as I can tell, it's the only major American media outlet regularly covering the Canadian beat, which is ridiculous.

This former Montrealer can attest that Canadian politics, business and values are not congruent to America's. Just to cite one of many examples, the back of Canada's $10 bill shows...a Canadian female U.N. peacekeeper! Can you imagine anything like that on a U.S. bill?

I can literally see British Columbia across the water from our place in Washington state, and I visit Canada often to savor its pleasantness and civility. I'm probably one of the few Americans who still watches Canadian TV over the air (Canada's stations haven't gone digital yet). When people here in Washington watch Canadian TV at my place, they always comment on how different the Canadian version looks and feels -- the commercials are different, and so are the shows. Fewer explosions, not as many car crashes, fires or gunfights

How little do Americans know about Canada? I decided to test this recently, preparing a basic quiz about Canada for my Rotary Club. It's part of a unique international district that includes public-service-minded Rotary clubs across the border.

My fellow Rotarians were mostly college-educated businesspeople. Plus, Canada is a stone's throw away. But only three out of 30 members who took my written test could name Canada's current Prime Minister (Stephen Harper, a Conservative). And only nine could correctly name Canada's capital (Ottawa).

Here's a quick Canada quiz. Did you know, for example:

  • Canada has no home-mortgage interest deduction?
  • Canadian universities don't award athletic scholarships?
  • Canada has no1 or2 bills? (They've been replaced by coins, the "loonie" and the "toonie").Canada has had only one bank failure in history (and none recently)?
  • Canada's income-tax system is far more heavily biased against high income earners than ours?

That's just a start. Canada is a resource-rich country, a net exporter of energy, unlike the U.S. So why are Canada's gasoline prices so much higher than ours? Because Canada does not heavily subsidize oil companies like BP. Prices are based on the world market price.

Canadians know far more about their large, powerful neighbors than we do about them. But the differences can be telling, even fascinating. We really need to know more about our northern neighbors. They set a good example for us in so many ways.