The multiculturalism: I grew up in a relatively big city. In my junior high/ high school, out of about 2000 students, there were only couple of Black students. And yet, they were from the French islands… there were some Asian students, but mostly because my high school taught Chinese. Having a foreign last name like me — even though your whole family had been French for generations — could set you apart. Just imagine my surprise when I first came to Canada, and saw immigrants, first, second, or third generation, represented in all layers of society! We are exposed to the world’s diversity daily. Most people I know here speak at least two languages and are proud Canadians… with a foreign background. Multicultural societies are often criticized and yes, no model is perfect… but I’m proud to live in a multicultural country.
The people: Canadians are nice people. It sounds a bit cliché but it’s true. I find people really polite most of time, and ready to help. People are caring too: if you drop something, someone is going to run after you to give it back. If you look lost, someone is going to ask you if you need directions. Cities are fast-paced but it’s the norm for people to take the time to help out. How nice… I could never get used to Parisian rudeness. Canadians are also patriotic but not over-patriotic: most of time, we wear our pride on our backpack (what? Never seen a Canadian backpacker with a little flag on his bag???), that’s about it.
The political system: First of all, we have strong democratic traditions.Canada functions within a framework of constitutional monarchy and a federal system of parliamentary government. Politics generally emphasizes constitutional law, freedom of religion, personal liberty, and regional autonomy… and British common law French civil law, North American aboriginal government, and English civic traditions inspired the system. Most of the politics are worked out through compromise between interest groups, regional consultations, and the Hill (Parliament). Canada also has a liberal attitude towards homosexuality, women’s rights, immigration, multiculturalism etc., which fits me perfectly. There is also a sense of collective responsibility: universal health care is supported, as well as gun control, foreign aid, and other social programs. Sure, I don’t like Harper… but thanks to regional autonomy, we, in Ontario, enjoy a liberal government. Better than nothing!
The affordable way of life: When I first came to Canada, I was living with 390 EUR/ month (about CA$560), a monthly allowance I had to finish my Bachelor degree. In France, with that little money, I couldn’t rent a place and it was barely enough for food. I had stopped going to the movies (almost 10€ a ticket), buying clothes, and when we would go to the restaurant, we would pick the smallest place with the cheapest food. No clothes or only when absolutely needed, forget about concert tickets and a lot of things. But in Canada, although I do make a bit more now, life has always been affordable. Food is cheaper, and so is housing. Utility bills aren’t as high (electricity, phone…). There are always good bargains for clothes or entertainment (half-price movie tickets). My life is definitely better.
The opportunities: Same here… I couldn’t get a job in France, and with a weak economy and a youth unemployment rate of 23.1%, the future didn’t look so bright. I had the degrees, but not the right ones: for some employers, I was over-qualified, for some other, I wasn’t qualified enough. I could speak three languages but not the right ones, I couldn’t be a salesperson because I didn’t have the salespersons certificate, I couldn’t work part-time in a restaurant because they already had plenty of kids doing their apprenticeship for free etc etc. In Canada, it wasn’t easy at first, but at least I was employable, even though I worked a fair share of low paying jobs. But eventually, people trusted me and gave me a chance. That’s all I needed. And it worked fine.
The languages: Canada has two official languages: French and English. Although French is mostly spoken in Québec, New-Brunswick and among some communities in Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, most young Canadians (the bilingualism policies were implemented in the 70’s) can speak a bit of French. Government services always are in both languages and civil servants have to be bilingual. Even though I speak fluent English, I’m glad I can borrow French books at the library, that I can study in French if I want to, that I can speak in either language when having my driver license renewed etc. French communities also bring their share of culture, with movies, plays etc. in French.
The immigration system: I wanted to live in a country I could actually be part of. Work permit and temporary visas are a great way to discover a place, but I wouldn’t have lived on these forever: no right of vote, a status that has to be renewed and can always be revoked etc. But lucky me, Canada has a transparent immigration policy, with a website and a ministry dedicated to immigration (Citizenship & Immigration). As long as you fit one of the immigration program, you can be eligible and become a permanent resident, and then, a citizen. Making an application is straightforward. I did it and I’m now glad to be one of the 250 000 immigrants that become permanent resident each year.
The weather: love it or hate it, at least, it’s unique and extreme. Where else on earth can you go from +40°C to -40°C? And the blizzards, the snow storms, the tropical storms, the heavy rain warnings, the wind chill… all that for one big country!
The symbols and icons: the beaver, the maple tree and the maple leaf, the flag… what’s not to like?
I hope you’re now all dying to visit Canada! And tell me… what do you like best in your country? Meanwhile, I wish you all a happy new year! May 2008 be a a great one!