About a year ago, I moved from the United States to Canada. The move was temporary, lasting only for eight months. But this was more than enough time for me to notice some fundamental differences between the two countries.
First of all, Canadians are more polite. Extraordinarily polite. Mind-blowingly polite. In Toronto, one of the largest cities in the country, pedestrians wait politely at crosswalks until they are waved across the street by friendly drivers. People who bump each other on the sidewalk stop to apologize. The residents are almost frightening in their niceness.
Second, they talk funny. (No, they don’t say “aboot.” But you should hear their version of “house.”)
And third, and most importantly, Canadians are absolutely apathetic about politics.
Maybe that’s not completely accurate. In fact, a lot of Canadians are extremely invested in politics—American politics. Yet for all of the citizens eager to explain their views on Obama’s latest scheme, I found it near-impossible to find even one who cared to explain how their own government worked.
Don’t get me wrong—they’re not dumb, or even uninformed. Of the Canadians I met, most were capable of explaining their multi-party races and their (unelected) Senate without hesitation. It’s just that most weren’t interested.
For a long time, this apathy bothered me. I tried to talk to acquaintances or even strangers about the political system, but they seemed more interested (once they knew I was American) in discussing my home country’s affairs. I tried to take the issue up with friends, but got only shrugging shoulders. Even the most-informed Canadians I knew kept up largely with international news developments and how they affected Canada, preferring to keep their own politics on the backburner. I raged about apathy in the modern world, about lack of patriotism, about what the world was coming to.
And then it occurred to me to ask why.
Why were Canadians so relaxed about their politics, when the people I knew just south of Canada’s border could get into fistfights defending candidates and fierce debates arguing upcoming legislature? What was so different about the two countries?
So I began to think about American politics. More specifically, I began to think about the hot-button items that riled up my friends from the States. And then I realized something astonishing: Nearly all of the items that made US citizens angriest had already been resolved by Canada’s government.
Abortion was legal, under the Canada Health Act. The death penalty was abolished. Marijuana was legalized medicinally, and taxed. Health care was free, and education nearly so. Gay marriage had the same benefits as straight marriage. Affirmative action was permitted by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (something like Canada’s Bill of Rights).
In fact, I found myself unable to think of a single truly divisive issue currently being debated in America that had not been dealt with in some form by Canada.
The actions taken on these issues are not necessarily liked by all Canadians (and some Americans, I’m sure, will have something to say about a few). But the decisions have been made, and that’s what’s important—that is what sparked what I misinterpreted as national apathy.
Canadians aren’t uncaring about their government. They’ve just gotten too much done to have a whole lot left to debate.
American enthusiasm is rarely seen as a drawback. Americans are political, patriotic, and vocal about their opinions. And often this is hailed as a necessary counter-measure for apathy: a cure for the lack of caring that so many adults fear they see in modern youth. Maybe apathy isn’t a problem.
Maybe it is a symptom of success.
Canadians looked apathetic to me, an outsider, because they were satisfied. Their government is far from perfect (just look in the news for the mayor of Toronto’s latest scandal) but it has, on the whole, gotten things done. And maybe that’s all we’re really asking.
It’s time to champion our apathetic youth, to celebrate the fact that they can be apathetic. America still has a lot of issues to work through, and a lot of shouting matches to accompany them—the debates are certainly far from over. But, no matter how slow the going is, we are getting to the point where we can have non-opinions about politics. We are getting to the point where we can look at the most pressing issues our country has, and realize that neither option is all that bad.
We are getting to a point where we can relax.
And maybe—just this once, just between us—we can admit that Canada got something right.