Thursday, July 1, 2010

What Keith did on Canada Day

Nothing too out of the ordinary. Slept in till 6:30, then went to work for a while. I'm a contractor and want to make up the hours I lost the day I was home sick.

From my last swim, after several years of 3x a week usage my googles have finally started to leak slightly. The nose clip I bought a while ago has cracked so it doesn't stay on as firmly. Try-It is closed today so I'll have to go tomorrow.

Once home I went for an hour bike, mostly fairly easy spin, trying to keep the rpm up. Plus 4 or 5 surges near the middle of the ride, mostly going up James McKevitt. Plus racing cars off the lights every now and then.

Then a 20 minute run. It worked out to a 6:10 K pace, but it felt relaxed and natural. Breathing was low to mid zone 3. Stretched after. Starting to gather all the stuff I'll need for GWN to make the actual packing tomorrow easy. I'd like to get to Stoney Plain early enough to get the race package, ride the run course, drive the bike course, and drop Estela off at T1 on Saturday. I'll know several people there, but don't know if I'll get a chance to meet up with them. They're a rowdy lot, those triathletes, and innocent newbies like me need to be careful around them.

Off and on I've been musing about Canada Day. I'm old enough to easily remember the big deal that was made of our Centennial. There was a song and lots of infomercials, and lots of hype. It seemed that Canada was just coming into it's own and the world was beating a path to our door. But it's a darker world now. Not so idealistic.

For a long while I thought Canada had lost it's way and was losing it's identity to the USA. But then we seemed to come to our senses, mainly through the wily good sense of one of the smartest and toughest Canadian politicians to have come down the pike so far, even if he can't speak either of the official languages. He kept us out of the Iraq war, which is probably one of the single smartest things that has happened to Canada. By contrast, the USA is in it up to it's eyeballs and the actions taken have tarnished and soiled an already tattered reputation.

Canada came out of the economic crisis, by and large, in pretty darn good shape. The main reason is that our bankers are a conservative lot, not given to fantasy and masturbatory manipulations of obscure financial instruments for personal gain. We got our debt under control so we haven't sold our soul, at least not yet.

Canada and Canadians are generally considered to be a dull lot. Boring even. The international news doesn't often have much to say about Canada. Which is a good thing, really, when you consider what typically gets covered in the news. But if the news reported good stuff, Canada would be all over it like the white on rice. Why? Because Canada and Canadians are really good at good stuff.

Like what, you say? Allow me to resort to bullet points in no particular order:

  • Our riots are sad affairs, scarcely worthy of the name. A couple police cars burnt, a mob of a few thousand, done and over in a few hours. Riots in other countries involve tens, sometimes hundreds of thousands and can go on for days. Looking at the damage it would be hard to distinguish the G summits with a Canadian team winning the Stanley Cup. If you've ever had someone apologize after you've bumped into them, or stepped on their foot, you've run into a Canadian.
  • More seriously, we have accomplished the rare knack of bringing people from all over the world to live here, and to do so in relative harmony. Clashes between ethnic or religious groups are trivial in comparison to those elsewhere. People have mostly left the conflicts of their old cultures behind. Of course, there are some that haven't, but incidents are few and far between.
  • We have escaped, at least so far, the poisonous gun nut culture so prevalent in the USA and some other countries. Even out in the country, seeing guns is rare. Shooting deaths are a trivial risk. There are periodic raids where guns and other arms are captured, but this is rare. For a while there were some public gang related shootings in Calgary. The police went to work and arrested at least some of those involved, but there's been rumours that people from within those ethnic communities put some heat on the gangsters and told them to stop. Or else. People see solutions to such problems as community based, and not to buy guns for themselves.
  • Even with Stephen Harper and his few bad decisions based on partisan politics, our governance has been relatively sensible. We have our problems with majority governments formed by a minority, sometimes as small as 37%, but we've had almost 5 years of minority rule now, and it's worked out ok. 
  • Canada left WWII with one of the largest military forces in the world, and probably per capita it was the largest. Slowly it devolved into a laughingstock. Over the last decade or so it has become a force to be proud of again. Various peace keeping ventures. General Romeo Dallaire worked with a few hundred soldiers to try to stop or minimize the slaughter in Rwanda and nearly lost his sanity doing so. Troops helping save Winnipeg from a flood. The mission in Afghanistan is muddled to say the least and has killed far too many of our men and women. Yet they are doing a superb job there. Surprisingly enough, thousands of ordinary Canadians have been turning out on the overpasses between Trenton and Toronto to pay their respects to our fallen service people. 
  • Canada has had, and is still having problems with Aboriginal people. To our shame, they live and die as if they were living in a 3rd world country. To our credit, we have recognized and apologized for our previous behaviours and are working more with them to find solutions that are acceptable to them. This is a difficult task, as they don't want to be like white Canadians, but recognize their world has changed and there is no going back. They see they have to find their own identity, and some groups have succeeded very well. Others are struggling. Yes, natives make up a much larger portion of the homeless and prison populations than their percent of the population would indicate, but there have been efforts to incorporate Native ideas of justice.
  • Canada's health care systems has it's problems, but they are mainly disagreements over the triage decisions made by doctors. Doctors, not insurance company vultures who earn their salary by denying benefits to policy holders. There are horror stories of wait times, of people dying in the waiting rooms, of people waiting years for a surgery procedure, but these are uncommon. I could speak of the care my mother in law received in her last few years of life, and there is very, very little to complain of and nothing important. Naturally, when a service is essentially free, and involves your health, there are demands on it. In economic turns the demand for health care is essentially infinite, so it's no surprise the costs keep going up. There are things we could be doing better, but that's another rant. What's important is that nobody goes bankrupt trying to buy health care. Nobody factors in health insurance as a factor when changing jobs. In fact, most Canadians don't have health insurance; we don't need it, excepting some special cases.
  • We have been asked to send numerous people abroad to help train people for a variety of roles in health care, policing, justice, and governance. There is a recognition we are doing a lot of things right, and other countries want to know how we do it. Our public service and general business dealings are open and straightforward. There is very little corruption aside from a few politicians accepting cash in an envelop.
  • I think the single biggest thing is that we've learned to live and let live. Every religion in the world is practiced here and most people shrug their shoulders and say "so what". We have grasped the essential point that the freedom to practice my particular religion is the freedom of others to practice theirs, AND vise versa. Except for the Jehovahs going door to door peddling their bigotry, and they rightfully get lots of abuse along they way.
  • Most Canadians don't care what colour your skin is, or the shape of your eyes, or within limits, what clothing you choose to wear. By and large, covering your face is out. Wearing religious symbols is your business. We'd like you to learn to speak at least one of the official languages, but it certainly isn't compulsory. People don't judge you by your accent. It doesn't diminish us to see street signs in Chinese characters downtown. We recognize that the good parts of other cultures can add value to ours. For most Canadians being gay is as remarkable as being left handed or having natural red hair. Being agnostic or atheist isn't remarkable at all.
  • Maybe the essential thing is that our country is a big empty place. It's cold most of the year. It simply isn't possible for a rugged individualist to survive here. We need others. Every Canadian knows what someone standing there with jumper cables wants, and they don't have to wait long. It might be us next time. People take turns helping push cars out of ruts in parking lots or similar situations. It might be us next time. We are generally polite in lineups with a strong sense of first come first served, yet a recognition that some people deserve a bit of extra consideration, such as the pregnant, the elderly, the disabled. I'm not the only one who shouts at people without disabled tags that park in disabled spots. There are asshole drivers, but honestly, most days it's not too bad. People let each other in. It might be us next time. Normally it's safe to cross with the walk signal. We pull together and help other people in the face of natural and other disasters. It might be us next time.  


  1. What a lovely post! As one of those that chose to live here from the UK, an "outsider's" view is that Canadians are very polite (more polite than the British and VERY good at line ups!) - but more seriously, I wouldn't say boring - I'd say just quite simply, whilst wanting to live LIFE to the full and not being obsessed with working 14 hours a day to maximise the material things, the Canadian culture is generally one of treating each other well and simply being well mannered - from little children to older adults. As in any country not true in every case, but as a general rule has been our own personal experience - a very good one! You said it all so well and we're VERY happy to be here :)

  2. Well said Keith!!
    Good luck with your upcoming race!!

  3. I swear I left a comment yesterday...

    You're very patriotic. Wish more Amerikans were like you. Not that I wish more Amerikans were Kanadians, but that more Amerikans were patriotic.

    PS-did you say "THE white on rice"? Implying "the" as in "caucasian"? I thought Kanadians weren't racist.


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