Sunday, November 21, 2004

Canadian Identity

Winter is coming again, and that means I'll have more time to devote to trying to figure out what things make Canada so…well, so Canadian. This project has kept me busy since I've been spending so much time up here. But the real interesting thing about that is that this keeps Canadians busy much of the time, too. They take a great deal of pride (well, as much pride as Canadians take in anything) in their ability to conduct "National Discussions" about the "moral imperative" du jour.

Canada is so much like the United States in some ways that it's easy to forget for a time that you are living someplace else. One November day as I waited for a bus in Vancouver I noticed the ad on the bus stop kiosk across the street said, "Tropical vacation paradise! See Cuba!" Everything had seemed pretty normal up to that point.

And then, the money. It takes some getting used to. The government introduced $1 and $2 coins and in order to make that work, they simply stopped printing $1 and $2 bills. So you go to the grocery store, take a buggy, do the shopping, stand in the line-up at the till, and your total is $56.90. How do they count out the change from the three $20's you give them? "Fifty-seven, fifty-nine, sixty."

Eh? You have a dime, a toonie, and a loonie in change. By the time you run the rest of your errands and get home, you may have thrown out your back from the change in your pocket.

If you need to see a doctor about that back injury, you really should understand that the notion that health care is "free" is an American misunderstanding of the situation. Health care in Canada is not free. Canadians pay a health premium, and that money goes to bureaucrats who then claim that the reason Canadians are waiting something like 7 months for treatment to begin after a diagnosis of cancer is that there isn't enough money to go around.

The really great thing about the heath care system in Canada is that Canadians don't have to pay anything extra for all that waiting around. Ever since the mid-1960's when the system was adopted, Canadians have come to expect that adequate health care is the right of every Canadian. The many interpretations of the meaning of the word "adequate" is one of the National Discussions in which Canadians are presently engaged.

One summer, my partner (a Canadian) became ill and we experienced a couple of thrilling visits to the local Emergency Ward. I had plenty of time to observe the Canadians around me. From what I can tell, Canadians like the present health care system because as a Canadian you can go to the pub, drink yourself into an agitated and belligerent state, grab a beer mug, hit some guy over the head with it, and then pass out, cracking open your head on the corner of a table as the floor rushes up to meet you.

And the best thing about it is that all the stitches are free! For both of you! And the second best thing about it is that all the government employees who work in the hospital get paid the same no matter how many people they see or how many people are waiting to be seen. There's no particular incentive to move any faster or work any harder. So, they do not. And it's not their fault! Nothing is anybody's fault here; it's just astonishing. I have been known to propose (on my way to a drunken and belligerent state) that the national motto be "It's not my fault. So."

1 comment:

Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system. Health insurance is a major aspect to many.