As a Canadian, I get a kick out of telling fellow students where I’m from. While some reactions to my nationality are muted, other reactions are much more intriguing. Recently, it’s become common for someone to say that I’m “so lucky” to be Canadian and that they want to move to Canada to “escape America.”
These reactions surprise me because Americans have historically ignored their neighbor to the north. For many, it wasn’t until Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election that Americans looked toward Canada as a place of salvation, causing the Canadian immigration website to crash from unusually high traffic. Since then, Americans’ idealization of Canada has seemingly increased as America battles countless internal issues, such as political polarization, climate change and economic woes.
The truth is, the Great White North is not nearly as perfect as many Americans think. Romanticization of any country can result in harmful misconceptions, creating an illusion of a place very different from reality.
For example, while many Americans lament the electoral college and how a candidate can be elected with a minority of the popular vote, Canada’s Westminster system is similarly fraught with its own issues of representation.
Under the Westminster system, Canada has a two-chamber legislature: the Senate and the House of Commons. The country is divided into 338 constituencies in which parties run candidates. During each election, the candidate with the most votes in each constituency wins that seat, and any party that wins a majority of seats in the House of Commons gets to govern mostly uninterrupted for four years. But because Canada has four major parties, members of Parliament are often elected with a minority of the vote in their district.
During the 2021 federal election, almost 65% of constituencies were won by candidates who won less than half the votes in their constituency — with the lowest vote share to prevail in a constituency being less than 30%.
The prevalence of election wins with such low margins heavily skews what we consider a “winning” share of votes. In 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party won 184 seats with less than 40% of the national popular vote, worse than even Trump’s win with 46% of votes in 2016. And this system has resulted in the Liberals winning more seats than the Conservative Party despite trailing in the popular vote for the last two elections.
Canada, like America, is also experiencing extreme political polarization. In January 2022, the Convoy Protest in Ottawa saw protestors blockade both Ottawa and cross-border bridges to protest COVID-19 restrictions. Rural and urban residents of the country struggle to understand each other more than ever. With the Conservative Party’s recent convention endorsing bans of gender-affirming care for minors and diversity training at workplaces, contentious policy battles are on the horizon.
Even with Canada’s internal issues, the country’s problems are often brushed aside or overlooked in American media. For example, when Canada entered a cost of living crisis last year due to severe supply and demand shocks from the war in Ukraine, many American friends I spoke with couldn’t or wouldn’t believe that many Canadians were struggling to put food on the table. Few of them were aware of this year’s wildfire season, the worst in Canadian history, until smoke drifted down into cities like New York and Chicago. Canada is not paradise. It suffers from issues that all developed countries today are dealing with.
I write this not just to dispel myths about my home country, but also to encourage people to question their judgements about other nations. In reality, no country is perfect, and our lives are more alike than different regardless of where we live. Over-idealizing any place blinds us to the reality of the issues it may be experiencing. If we do not understand the problems we face, or the shortcomings of a place we seek to emulate, we also cannot find real solutions.
Fortunately, we’re blessed to live on a campus with a great diversity of nationalities and backgrounds. There’s so much to be learned from thinking critically about our perceptions of other countries.
Lucas Guan ’27 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.