Weekly Writing Challenge: The role of government in society, Canadian and American, from an armchair sociologist

This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: The State of the State gives me the opportunity to write about something that has long interested me: the different attitudes toward government held by Americans and Canadians. Canada is often referred to as socialist by US commentators but that is a relative opinion. When compared to the US, Canada may well be socialist in nature, we have medicare, no-fault auto insurance, equalization payments between provinces and wheat pools, yet when put up against Sweden, we are as capitalist a society as you’ll find. With that in mind, I have come to the understanding, from my position as armchair sociologist, that Canadians are more used to, and comfortable with, government playing a role in their lives than are Americans

It is most important to point out that, obviously neither of these countries is homogeneous, a wide range of opinion is held on either side of the 49th parallel, so I’ll just take a look at the major themes. Also, none of this is based on any scientific data, just on observation from my comfy armchair. But before we have a government, we need to have an election, so let’s take a quick look at the differences there.


Candidates in Canadian elections face scrutiny from prospective voters just as they do in the US. But with a lot more wiggle room. Canadians look at candidates for what they are – humans, and none of us is perfect last time I checked, so why would we expect perfection in our elected officials? We all have skeletons in the closet that have absolutely no bearing on how we do our job. If a dentist cheats on her husband, that’s between the two of them, it doesn’t make her a bad dentist. The same holds true for elected officials.

In the US, candidates are put through the wringer and dissected under a microscope to the point I’m amazed anybody would ever consider running for office. There is almost a super-human expectation placed on candidates which, being mere humans, no candidate will ever live up to.

The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation

-Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Attitude toward government

I have often been amazed by the, apparently, total distrust of government by many US citizens. The growth of citizen militias who are preparing themselves for a government take over illustrates this distrust. Elected governments, not dictatorships, not juntas or coups d’états, but good old democratically elected officials are not a threat, and if they are, why did you elect them?

Maybe because in Canada we use the British Parliamentary System and have the ability to force a government to call an early election either by non-confidence vote in the House of Commons or even significant social pressure, that we tend not to mistrust politicians quiet as much as do Americans. After all, we did elect them in the first place. As Joseph de Maistre put it: “Every country has the government it deserves”


While everyone complains about taxes, the fact is they are a necessary part of government. Many US citizens, from where I sit, see taxation as robbery of the people by the government. While Canadians see it more as a necessary evil – much like condo fees. If you live in a condo, someone has to pay for maintenance, garbage removal, gardening and the like. So everyone pays their share. The same applies with taxes; government managed programs require money; cash for streets and infrastructure, military salaries, education, and healthcare. Citizens “chip in” to cover those costs. If those elected officials squander that money, we have ourselves to blame because we put them there.

Joseph-Marie de Maistre

Perhaps my neighbors to the south would prefer to have all those things run by the private sector. Rest assured there are folks in Canada who feel the same way, yet when things are turned over to the private sector, or are “contracted out”, there may well be a cost saving, but the result is invariably poorer standards than the old government method. Why?  Because the private sector cuts corners to make a bigger profit. For instance, ask any resident of a city that once dealt with its own garbage removal, and then saved a few bucks by contracting the work to the private sector, if the receive the same quality of service  – if you buy cheap shoes, you get blisters and eventually have to buy the better shoes .

Social aspects

The debate rages, but seems at last to be shifting, about same-sex marriages in the US. This has been a long, and at times nasty struggle between those who have no problem with gay marriage and those who most certainly do. In Canada, while not unanimously embraced, gay marriage isn’t all that big a deal for most.

Former Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau stated way back in 1967: “The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation”.

In general I believe Canadians are more at ease with “big government” than our friends in the US. Maybe this is because we don’t see government as a threat, but as a management team hired by us, the citizens to run our country. But why is it many Americans feel government is a threat? Is it history? I don’t have the answer. Back to the armchair.

Published by DCMontreal

DCMontreal - Deegan Charles Stubbs - is a Montreal writer born and raised who likes to establish balance and juxtapositions; a bit of this and a bit of that, a dash of Yin and a soupçon of Yang, some Peaks and an occasional Frean and maybe a bit of a sting in the tail! Please follow DCMontreal on Twitter and on Facebook, and add him on Google+

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