I ran for office in a western Canadian province many years ago, almost thirty, to be exact. I ran for what would be the equivalent in the US of the Democrats – our federal Liberal Party. Because I was a candidate, people felt open to express their concerns to me. The blatant racism I discovered while door-knocking– back then, mostly comments about turbans–both shocked and surprised me. I didn’t win that election, but as a young single mother, I didn’t want to raise my daughter in that atmosphere. I moved to Ontario a year and a half later. It was acceptable to be a liberal here, and even the Conservatives tended to be pretty moderate.
I’ve never regretted that move; I only wish I’d done it sooner. I moved to Ottawa, our national capital, which isn’t far from the small town where the Blairs settled in the early 1800s, so I was close to family too.
Ottawa is a great city. It’s friendly, and safe. It’s an easy city to get around in, even with all the construction that’s going on. Where I live, I can drive downtown in eight minutes. I can walk to trendy restaurants and shops; I know the names of the owners and they know me, so it feels like a small town, even though we’re almost a million people. People smile at each other on the street, while they’re out walking their dogs; in my neighbourhood, more people know my dog’s name than mine.
We’re putting in light rapid transit everywhere which is a pain right now, because all the detours during construction, but will really transform this city.
We have a mayor who manages (somehow) to get to almost every event in town and knows a lot of us by name; same with our city councillors, all good men and women, who work hard. Unbelievably hard, when I think about the hours they put in dealing with the inevitable problems that pop up every day.
The health care system isn’t perfect but it’s not the disaster your President-elect portrayed it during in the debates. It’s not easy to find a family physician these days, but there are walk-in clinics everywhere. And the health care is free. If you have a serious medical problem, you can count on that support system to be there for you, no premiums, no insurance company deciding what treatment you can afford. It’s something we’re very proud of; we weren’t happy when your President-elect described it in negative terms. It works a whole lot better than the alternative.
The vast majority of people don’t carry guns, concealed or otherwise. I’ve only ever known one person in my whole life who owned a handgun and that was an Alberta judge who’d made a lot of enemies during his high profile criminal law career: he carried it in a leg holster strapped above his sock. That scene in Columbine where Michael Moore opens the front door of a house in Windsor and walks in unannounced, a complete stranger, and then comments at how surprised he is that no one threatened to shoot him? That’s Ottawa, too. We had our 17th or 18th homicide this week of the year. For us, that’s a lot.
Too many visible minority people, both indigenous and people of colour, get stopped and harassed by the police here . But nothing on the scale of what happens in the United States, although that’s nothing to be complacent or self-congratulatory about, either.I used to work as a human rights lawyer; I know discrimination is still out there; it just hides in the cracks and the corners. For what it’s worth, we’re working on it. Things change slowly. Too slowly for most of us. But we do celebrate same sex marriage and we have an openly gay female Premier and an openly gay Cabinet minister and that says something about the progress we’ve made.
We have a country that, at the moment, has a young, telegenic, and vibrant Prime Minister who hasn’t groped anyone that I know of and treats women with respect. (Justin Trudeau did elbow a female Member of Parliament accidentally on the floor of the House of Commons and was genuinely contrite; he apologized often and profusely). He has a lovely young family and some very smart people around him. He appointed equal numbers of men and women to his Cabinet, the most diverse we’ve ever seen (including two Cabinet ministers in turbans) and so far, it’s working out well.
We fell off track a bit, with our previous government, I think, in terms of maintaining our Canadian values: I feel like we’re finding our way back to them. And one of those values is welcoming immigrants, no matter where they’re from. Prime Minister Trudeau was at the airport to welcome the first plane load of Syrian refugees himself, and I think that brought tears to a lot of eyes, watching him hand snowsuits to those little tired, frightened kids. He likes to give hugs.
If you really are thinking of moving to Canada, be warned, it’s not perfect. It can be really cold in winter and scorching hot in the summer and we really only have those two seasons and fleeting glimpses of the other two. We complain about the weather constantly, no matter what it is; that’s part of our national dialogue. We don’t take as good care of our environment as we should, but we do believe in climate change and are trying to take concrete steps to deal with it. In most things these days, I would say we lift, or at least try to lift, above our weight.
It’s a good place to live, this country, and this city. If you do decide to move here, we’ll make you feel at home. But if you stay where you are, know too that we’ll stand with you.