Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — November 2007

Saskatchewan and the Canadian healthcare system

You never know what Google Alerts will bring up on any given day, but today my alert for “Canadian Studies” brought me to a multi-story special feature in the Billings Gazette (yes, as in Billings, Montana) on the Canadian healthcare system. The comments readers have left under these stories are equally interesting as readers debate why they should or shouldn’t help pay for the healthcare needs of “the poor” (one reader’s use of quotation marks, not mine). To my mind, though, the Gazette journalists get it right and they do a great job of pointing out how the Canadian health care system finds its origins in Saskatchewan, and in particular the town of Swift Current (or Speedy Creek as my dad sometimes calls it).

While some of the commenters on these stories spout myths about Canadians flooding the US system and Canadians paying 50% in income taxes, the Gazette gives a balanced take on the pros and cons of the Canadian system. They also help dispel some of these myths, though clearly many of the people leaving comments on the stories didn’t fully read any of the articles. As the Gazette points out,

The tax burden for Canadians is generally higher than in the United States. Data from 2004 say the Canadian tax burden is 33.5 percent of its gross domestic product, while in the United States it was 25.5 percent. But Canadians don’t have to buy insurance or pay out-of-pocket expenses for basic health care.

Canadian officials also point to the low administrative costs of their nonprofit system. Alberta health officials say a mere 3.5 percent of their public health care dollar is spent on administration.

In the United States, private health insurance companies say they spend about 15 percent of premiums on administrative costs and overhead.

There’s also a good story on the doctor currently working in the fine town of Maple Creek. Originally from South Africa, he has a lot of good things to say about the Canadian system:

“The level of care you can provide for every person, for everyone, is basically the same, throughout,” said Le Roux, who moved here with his family from South Africa, in part because he wanted to practice in a broad-based public health system. “You never have to think, ‘Can this patient afford the ultrasound, or the CT scan or the MRI?’ If I think this guy needs the CT scan, I can send him for it.”

The fact that the Canadian healthcare system began in Saskatchewan says a lot about the difference a small, resourceful region can make when they find a creative way to address a problem experienced by the whole country. If you’ve been to Saskatchewan and met the people there, I don’t think you’d be surprised to learn that Saskatchewan is the birthplace of public healthcare in Canada.

Oh, by the way, go Riders!

November 26, 2007   No Comments

Cultural guerillas

This is a really cool story…

It is one of Paris’s most celebrated monuments, a neoclassical masterpiece that has cast its shadow across the city for more than two centuries.
But it is unlikely that the Panthéon, or any other building in France’s capital, will have played host to a more bizarre sequence of events than those revealed in a court last week.
Four members of an underground “cultural guerrilla” movement known as the Untergunther, whose purpose is to restore France’s cultural heritage, were cleared on Friday of breaking into the 18th-century monument in a plot worthy of Dan Brown or Umberto Eco.

A “cultural guerilla” movement. I love it. If only more people elsewhere saw the world as they do and took on the responsibility of looking after their own cities, treating them as the cultural treasures that they are: “We would like to be able to replace the state in the areas it is incompetent,” said Klausmann. “But our means are limited and we can only do a fraction of what needs to be done. There’s so much to do in Paris that we won’t manage in our lifetime.” How many things do we pass every day and say “I wish someone would finally fix that!”?

Read the whole story here.

November 26, 2007   No Comments

The Canadian Experience: A Northwest Passages editorial

In 1995, my best friend Rob Stocks and I co-founded Northwest Passages, the only bookstore in the world to specialize exclusively in Canadian fiction, poetry, drama, and literary criticism. Since then, Rob’s partner Sarah Bagshaw has taken over all the day-to-day operations of the store, while Rob and I stay involved on many fronts. One of my jobs that I don’t do as well as I would like is to look after the Northwest Passages newsletter which goes out to nearly 1000 readers. It’s supposed to be monthly, but recently semi-annually might be closer to the truth. At any rate, here’s my editorial for this month’s issue:

The Canadian Experience

10/17/2007, somewhere just south of the NY/Quebec border

I’m writing to you today from the front seat of a 54 passenger bus that is taking me, two colleagues, and twenty-nine American students from Burlington, Vermont to Ottawa. In a few hours, our group and the group from the packed bus driving just ahead of us will be sitting in Question Period in Canada’s House of Commons. Our goal in this three-day field trip, run by the University of Vermont Canadian Studies program for more than 50 consecutive years, will be to learn something about Canada, its political institutions, its art and culture, and its national identity.


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November 4, 2007   No Comments