“Just a good place to live”

So said Donald Creighton in an interview with Charles Taylor for the latter’s 1982 book Radical Tories. Though I can’t answer on behalf of all recent immigrants to this country, not even those from my country of origin, I can do say that this phrase best describes my impression of Canada upon arrival – and I think, by extension, of other recent immigrants as well.

What was my impression of Canada? I remember reading a holiday destination guide back home where the section on Canada occupied a single page; it mostly emphasized nature spots in its pictures and destination choices. My mom thought, and still thinks, of Canada as a better place than the United States in terms of its healthcare system and the politeness/respectfulness of its people, and I share the same opinions as well. We thought of Canada as a better place than the United States, not in terms of comparing one country’s greatness with another’s, but on how better Canada is on internal things. We saw Canada as better than the United States in terms of healthcare than on military strength or international influence.

This is the impression that my family still has about this country, and the same can be said as well for other immigrants, especially those from poorer countries. For us, Canada is a land of opportunity, a place where we can do those things and achieve those goals that we’ll never do and achieve had we remained in our homelands. This is a country where one can feel secure, that no one will just barge in on their doors or fire bullets into their houses with impunity. In terms of corruption, Canada is still better compared to the countries where many of us come from. Politically, Canada is enviously stable. Economically, we see it as a First World economy. In societal terms, Canada is populated by people who are, for the most part, respectful, disciplined, polite and tolerant of each other. This country’s tenet of multiculturalism is an envy of the world, an example for countries torn by ethnic and religious strife.

This country is indeed a paradise for us.

Not until some time later did I begin learning more about this country beyond those rosy impressions. From the media and school, I started to learn about the Canada one will never know from the immigration agency’s brochures. True, it is well-off compared to other countries, but it isn’t a reason to rest on maple wreaths. More so than in previous years, Canada has experienced stress and conflict on a variety of areas. Economically, the country still continues to rely on natural resource exports as mainstay of its economy, despite all those “knowledge economy” proclamations – retail exists side by side with oil & natural gas development and export. Politically, scandals & other affairs have gotten worse on all three levels. Then there’s also the social and ethnic tension between the well-off and not, “visible minorities” and those who’ve been here for centuries. And let’s not forget the condition of the Aboriginal peoples.

I also learned about the history of Canada, that there are many interpretations of it and each has it own implications for this country. There are those who tell the Canadian story as a gradual process of independence from Britain and friendship with the US. There are others who talk about the neglected and suppressed voices of this story from minorities of various backgrounds. Then there are those who talk of Canada as an attempt at creating a different society from the US, the opposite of the liberal individualist Union. Each interpretation has its implications about the fate of Canada, the nature of its society and the degree of its independence globally. The story that guarantees the sovereignty and common well-being of Canada must be maintained.

Still, most of us – recent immigrants and those living for generations – see Canada as “a good place to live.” We never think of this country on grand terms, that it can be more than a country of politeness, respectfulness and gentleness. Someday, that day will come, but when, nobody knows.

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