Canada: thoughts from two Canadians abroad.

By Steve and Jenn

Between the two of us we’ve travelled in dozens of countries on four different continents. We’ve experienced the rule of many governments; from ruthless dictatorships to monarchies to communist regimes to “pure democracies,” and everything in between. Looking back at Canada through the lens of so many countries has, hopefully, given us some perspective…it has at least been thought provoking. Where does Canada fit into the spectrum of world governments? At what end of the spectrum do we want it to be, and how do we get there? People around the world think of Canada as a dream country, a promised land…why?

Through a concerted effort to not get too ranty, we present a summary, in no particular order, of what we have seen Canada representing to others around the world. These are things we can not afford to lose, things we need our government to continue developing to keep us special, a crown jewel in the crown of the planet.

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No, we didn’t take this picture, it’s a composite showing Asia’s cities at night. Thanks NASA!

Freedom of speech: We have been in several countries where people disappear. We aren’t talking about Spinal Tap’s drummer here, we mean dead. This is currently the situation for people who get into the habit of speaking their mind in both The Gambia and Laos. In China these days disappearing isn’t permanent, instead folks get “taken out for tea” by the police, and worried family members are left with no idea of when they will be returned. These examples are one extreme on a spectrum, but does Canada remain a shining example on the other end?  Does our government let us all speak? Does it listen?

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Jenn and her Gambian namesake cuttin’ a rug
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Walking through a village along the Nam Ha river in Laos

Health Care and Social Services: Yes this makes Canada special, very special. We have been too many places where if the family provider gets injured, sick, can no longer work…the family has nothing and relies on their community for help, if any is available.  If a miner in Lesotho can’t work he’d better have a family member who can fill his boots, ASAP.

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Hitch hiking in Lesotho

Treatment of First Nations: Canada’s shameful treatment of its First Nations is unfortunately not unique on the planet. “Majority rules” is applied with a too heavy hand in too many places. Travelling  in South Africa as a Canadian was revealing. The parallels between our common colonial roots and present day treatment of First Nations, between South African Apartheid and Canadian residential schools, between South African Townships and Canadian Reservations, and the racist hangovers in our political law and social systems are all too real.

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Xhosa girl we met hiking near Coffee Bay, South Africa

Care for Those with Physical Disabilities: Disabled access to buildings? This is a foreign idea in many places. For the majority of people on the planet sit down toilets aren’t even available if you have bad knees.

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Want to take your wheel chair down a street in Hanoi? You had better strap on the hockey gear…

Care for those with Mental Disabilities and Disorders: People everywhere are born with Downs Syndrome, Autism, Parkinsons… but you don’t see them. They can be hidden by families, shunned by their communities and education system. We saw thousands and thousands of Chinese during our six weeks there, and only once did we see someone with a disability do anything other than beg … and it was on the top of Mt Huashan! One family was standing up for their loved ones rights in a big way, supporting them all the way to the top.

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At the top of Mt. Huashan

Nature and the Environment: Once someone has figured out that Canada is a different country than America, the next thing they come to know about Canada is we’ve got nature, and lots of it! Wide open spaces, beautiful scenery, clean water, clean streets, and fresh air…Canada justly has a reputation for these things. In any country government has the central role in protecting the environment, and our recent track record is not the greatest, though it could be worse…

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Stumbling across a fresh kill. A 400 year old tree cut by poachers in the jungle of Namtha National park, Laos.
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Locals dumping their garbage into the Yellow river, Quinghai province, China

Clean Drinking Water: We have now been travelling in Asia for three months, and with the exception of a few fresh water springs have yet to come across a place where we do not have to boil or treat our drinking water.

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Fresh water! This freshwater spring in Laos not only made for a great swimming hole, it was the water source for a whole river and series of amazing waterfalls.

Ok, hopefully that wasn’t too ranty. Hopefully it was a bit informative, you at least got to see a nice picture or two. And most of all, hopefully we can see progress in these very important areas with a NEW Canadian government forming this fall.

Happy voting!

Steve and Jenn

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