So does ANYthing suck about Canada?
November 19, 2010 12:17 PM   Subscribe

Give me good reasons not to move from the U.S. to Canada (specifically Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, or Vancouver) in 2-6 years. I especially welcome input from MeFites who have lived in both countries.

So here's the background. We are in our early thirties and have lived in the U.S. all our lives, myself in a wide variety of states and Mrs. Augustus in only one. I have a master's in English and ten years of experience teaching writing courses (general freshman comp and advanced writing for business majors) in a public university; Mrs. Augustus expects to have a B.S. in Nursing in a year and a half, and already has some work experience as a CNA. We have many friend/family ties in the U.S. but less than half a dozen are truly close; we know no one in Canada. I have traveled overseas and we have both traveled across the U.S. quite a bit. We are not wealthy, but we don't quite live paycheck-to-paycheck, which would seem to make us more well-off than most Americans.

We have decided that (read: we do not need convincing one way or the other) we don't want to live in the U.S. anymore. Apart from my wife's schooling, nothing is tying us down and we therefore seek to get out ASAP. We intensely dislike various facets of American political, social, economic, and cultural life; the things we do like about the U.S. (certain places/geographical regions, much of the food, selected movies/TV series) are enjoyable via travel or importing.

Ultimately we're trying to determine if Canada is right for us, so for the sake of context, here is an overview of why the U.S. isn't (you can skip this if you can already guess, heh):
  1. We consider it neither a democracy nor a republic, but a plutocratic empire; we recognize that the electorate is and will remain woefully uninformed, thereby ensuring that Democratic sleazebags and Republican wackos will continue to control the course of the country (their collective incompetence ensuring an ultimately destructive course); we find that the near-religious veneration of American rugged individualism has birthed a populace bereft of sympathy and humanitarianism, even in our comparatively less tooth-gnashing region—and that's not even getting into the vastly unequal class system and the myth of the "American dream" that keeps so many poor schmucks in thrall, in debt, and voting Republican. Back in 2004, when we reelected George W. Bush, we began very seriously considering moving to Canada, but at the time Mrs. Augustus was not yet on the nursing path and we judged my employability alone to be insufficient to ensure a successful emigration and comfortable Canadian life. When Obama was elected, neither of us jumped on the Hope and Change bandwagon, and our dubiousness—notably shared by no one we knew personally—has since been proven correct. And I trust we need not even get into the Tea Party movement (flash-in-the-pan though it may well be) and the number of Lawrence Britt's fourteen defining characteristics of fascism that have already been met.
  2. We are also routinely bothered by American culture. Pandering news and entertainment media that treats its audience like infants; professional sports operating on monetary scales so exaggerated as to invite comparisons to dinosaurs or moai (in ridiculousness and obvious collapse symbolism); rampant jingoism; police that'll taze you for looking at them wrong; everybody has to have a car (or two) and other drivers suck; etc. etc. We know, as Americans, that not all Americans are assholes—but enough of them are assholes that they reduce the quality of life for everybody else. (On at least three occasions I have personally been subject to verbal harassment and physical threats over sociopolitical issues, and I'm not even all that outspoken—I'm not one of these people with a hundred bumper stickers all over his car.)
  3. We also have economic reasons. In the last twenty years, wages in America have remained stagnant but the cost of everything continues to increase, especially utilities, and the odds of that improving look pretty bad these days (though obviously the big crash has had global impact too). In a country with no real social safety net, this is all the more worrisome, even for those of us who are white and educated—for example, we could not own a house for another twenty years unless we were willing to go into crippling debt, and we aren't.
  4. The U.S. isn't well situated to endure the resource shortages we're likely to see soon, for all of the above political, economic, and cultural reasons. Obviously no place is immune, but most places aren't filled to the brim with guns and competitive animosity toward one's countrymen.
I have read several previous getting-out-of-the-U.S. threads and it seems like every reference to Canada paints a rosier and rosier picture. Really what we are looking for is "things that suck about living in Canada" (specifically Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, or Vancouver) a la the "Tell me everything awful about New Zealand" thread. We welcome Memails from those of you who don't want to gripe too publicly :) ...We also welcome references to websites and communities that offer the perspective of insiders who know both the U.S. and Canada.

Other notes for context: Climate-wise, we prefer winter to summer and could handle just about anything less punishing than the Yukon. We are not big "nightlife" people; we go to bars maybe once or twice a year, usually for karaoke. We do like nature but are not huge outdoor-sports-people. I have ~$10k of federal student loan debt left to repay. We recently got the book Getting Out.

Right now we aren't looking for suggestions to alternatives to Canada. We may consider Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, or Scandinavia, but for this thread Canada is our focus (it seems to be the most practical option).
posted by AugieAugustus to Travel & Transportation around Canada (66 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Not all, but a large number of your complaints about the US are equally applicable to Canada. Concerned about overzealous tasterastic cops? Google yourself some information on the recent G20 in Toronto. Everyone has to have a car? As true in most of Canada as it is in most of the US. Economic reasons? The US and Canadian economies are so strongly tied together that it's very unlikely that anything will happen in one that won't be substantially mirrored in the other. Can't buy a house without crippling debt? I've heard exactly that complaint from people trying to buy in Vancouver and Toronto.

That's not to say there aren't other reasons that could be perfectly valid ones for heading North - a better social safety net is a very real advantage of non-US First World countries - but depending on where you are in the US, there are other parts of America that could feel more "different," culturally, compared to parts of Canada.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:28 PM on November 19, 2010 [9 favorites]

You don't mention whether you have ever been to Canada or not. If you haven't, this is a good step to take in beginning the evaluation.
posted by SNACKeR at 12:29 PM on November 19, 2010

for example, we could not own a house for another twenty years unless we were willing to go into crippling debt, and we aren't.

You might want to rule out Toronto and Vancouver on this basis, if it's a deal-breaker. You might be able to get something in the suburbs, but houses in both cities (ie. Toronto proper, rather then Mississauga or Scarborough or Etobicoke) are absurdly expensive. I don't know about Winnipeg or Calgary.
posted by torisaur at 12:30 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you even afford it? Check out the Vancouver real estate prices: Crack Shack or Mansion?
posted by desjardins at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

What makes you think that Canadians (or indeed any other country's citizens) are any more informed about their political system than Americans?

Further, all countries' politicians are corrupt to some extent. You seem to have listed everything about America that you don't like and have concluded that somewhere else the grass is greener and the unicorns fart rainbows. All countries have their problems.

On preview, Tomorrowful's comments are accurate.
posted by dfriedman at 12:33 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

professional sports operating on monetary scales so exaggerated as to invite comparisons to dinosaurs or moai (in ridiculousness and obvious collapse symbolism)

If you want to get away from that, there's nowhere in the world you'll be happy. Moving to Canada just trades Football for Hockey in prominence, and The Other Kind of Football is arguably even more popular in the rest of the world than any of our sports are here, if only because sport fandom is a little less fragmented across multiple pro sports like it is in the US. Look up the numbers on FIFA attendance and money vs American Football sometime; I think you'll find that every country loves sports, and puts enough money into it to seem "ridiculous" to people who don't understand the appeal.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:40 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've lived in both countries, and the only difference I've noticed, really, is health care. (I've lived in the liberal parts of the US, so your mileage may vary if you're moving from the deep south or something.)

The other thing that's become really clear to me after moving to the US is that, while Americans tend to find Canadians adorable (which can be mildly infuriating), a lot of Canadians really, really don't like Americans on principle. I don't know if you'd face a lot of outright rudeness or anything like that (they are Canadians, after all), but as a Canadian, I definitely get a LOT of snide comments from friends and family about living in the States. Just something to be aware of...
posted by cider at 12:42 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you really, seriously believe that the US is headed for violent fascism and crippling resource shortages, then I don't think it makes much sense to try to take refuge in a resource-rich but militarily weak country that shares a long and indefensible border with the US.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 12:43 PM on November 19, 2010 [58 favorites]

I know a lot of (usually great) Americans in Vancouver. I can't count how many times I've heard a smug and way-too-long "America's political system is so dysfunctional, thank god I was smart enough to escape to this progressive utopia" rant at a party. Please don't ever do that.

Anyway, to address some of your points:

2) Canadian culture is American culture. Politics and religion aside, the differences really are minimal. Most of our pop culture is imported, and I've never seen a big difference in personality.

3) The Canadian economy is really closely tied to the American economy. Really really closely. We're an export-oriented country and the US buys about 3/4 of our exports. If America tanks, we won't be doing so well either.
posted by ripley_ at 12:44 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Canada's pretty cool, but dude, you're carrying around an odd mixture of bitterness (pretty well-justified, mind you) and a little too much optimism about how different Canadian culture is from American culture. You're going to find some things better here than in the States, but we share a lot of your sins as well. We're all human, we all suck, and we're guaranteed to really, really piss you off at some time.

Politics: the Conservatives (which include not just old-fashioned conservatives but real wingnuts and religious fundamentalists) have an apparent stranglehold on a minority government here, and have been packing the (unelected) Senate with conservatives. Recent result: a climate change bill passed by the House of Commons was squashed unceremoniously. The Liberals can't seem to get any footing against the Tories, and the NDP and Greens are not going to form a national government anytime in the near future. Toronto just elected a simple, blundering, innumerate populist mayor. (Calgary actually elected someone smart who seems to have a plan, so that's good news.)

Economy: America sneezes, we catch pneumonia. Usually. We've weathered the recent downturn better than most countries, but we still have a fairly high overall unemployment rate and food bank usage is at historic heights. If things get really bad in the U.S. next year as the states continue to slash at their budgets, we are going to feel some of that pain, too.

Culture: You have dancing with the Stars. We have Battle of the Blades. Luckily, no Canadian Palin relatives are on the latter.
posted by maudlin at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2010

You don't say how you plan to get a work visa. Without one, you won't be allowed to work. You may be eligible for some type of visa, but probably not. Even if you are eligible, you will probably need to consult with Canadian immigration lawyers ($).
posted by Paquda at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Canada is not as bad as the US in many of the aspects that you mention, but we certainly aren't immune to the same problems.

Toronto and Vancouver have very expensive real estate, Calgary has fairly expensive real estate, and only Winnipeg is relatively cheap. Quebec is, in many ways, the most progressive province in Canada and Montreal is a very fine city with a reasonable cost of living, so I wouldn't rule it out (though you'll have to be willing to learn some French). Alberta tends to be fairly conservative, so you might not be that happy in Calgary (though you should also consider Edmonton). Winnipeg is fairly isolated and not all that big of a city if you are used to city life.

In general, things tend to sell for a little more in Canada (especially with sales taxes) and food can be a little more expensive. Flights are not as cheap and other long distance travel options (bus, train) are expensive and generally not too useful. I don't think you'll necessarily feel any richer in Canada than in the US, though health insurance is a big difference, of course.

If your goal is to own a house, there are many places where houses are cheap in the US and many places where they are very expensive. The situation is the same in Canada. If you compare housing costs in the US-equivalent of Winnipeg, you'll probably find they aren't too bad.
posted by ssg at 12:48 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've lived in both countries though not in the Canadians cities you've mentioned. My US experience is both "left" (California) and "right" (Alabama) but with nothing in between.

So, with respect to the cities you've mentioned and the worst things about them (and these are exaggerations but with a grain of truth):

Toronto - centre of the universe (actually it's quite nice but be prepared for everyone to hate you for living there (plus being from the US)); crowded

Winnipeg - cold or mosquitos; and by cold, I mean really really cold; plus wind; also it's pretty far from anywhere else; how do you like football?

Calgary - if you don't hate Toronto, as a Canadian, you hate Calgary (or if you're from the East Coast (n.b. that would be East of Quebec, not Ontario like Westerners often think) you hate them both); remember the quadrant of the address

Vancouver - I actually seriously dislike this city - it's unsafe compared to anywhere else I've lived (and the police will tell you it's your fault), expensive (like big US city expensive but for lesser quality) and amazingly self-satisfied; if you like mountains you'll probably like it though (I don't like cities whose best feature is that you can leave them easily to do outdoor stuff).

But from your criteria above, I think you'll be sorely disappointed with Canada. It might be a better idea to get excited about living somewhere else, rather than being excited to leave somewhere. To your points. 1) Canadians hardly vote either; 2) US culture is everywhere in Canada and I could argue that Canadian politics/culture has been taking on an unpleasantly US-like slant lately; 3) I don't think nurses are as well paid in Canada as they are in the US (see that whole socialized medicine thing); 4) Canada is so tied to the US that we/they think about what would happen if, for example, the US wants our water but we don't want to give it to them. Health care and the funding of schools are probably the big differences (and why I want to move back) but it's not that different otherwise.
posted by hydrobatidae at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

-If you are at all averse to paying taxes, then that may be an issue for you as I believe that we pay quite a bit more on all fronts.

-If you think "big government" is bad, then you will hate Canada; there is no "big" or "small" there is just the ever expanding beauracracy created to stabalize parts of the country with little ability to sustain itself otherwise.

- The "Brain Drain" is the idea that a lot of the most talented Canadians have been lured abroad by bigger paychecks and opportunities which I feel is evidenced by a general lack of sophistication in business and politics.

- Hack politicians on all fronts made up of people you would never, ever, want to hang out with in real life. You get 2 choices, we get 3 (Quebec gets 4) which I characterize as "the entrenched liberal elite", "the crackpot conservatives", "the crackpot ultra liberals", and "the entrenched Quebec elite". The parties change names some times, but their motives stay the same. There are other parties, but they are utterly inconsequential.

- A lot of the country runs on 3rd world economics that amount to taking stuff out of the ground and selling it. When commodities are good, our economy is good. There is a lot of "they took our jerbs" mentality around making our economy less resource based. We are among the worst offenders with regards to pollution due to supporting the infrastructure of our disparate population.

- Generally quite risk averse. My brother, who has lived and worked in both New York and Toronto in business, describes a key difference between Americans and Canadians as that Americans are allowed to fail at things without being considered a failure, while Canadians view attempting entrepreneurial things as risky and that any failure will follow them the rest of their lives. I'm not sure I entirely agree, but I definitely notice a risk aversion here. Though this has also been characterized by Canada having a minimal recesion compared to the U.S.

That said, Vancouver is the bomb. Montreal is an awesome 2 week vacation in the summer. And Toronto is fine, I guess.
posted by dobie at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2010

The housing market in Winnipeg has historically lagged behind the rest of the country (i.e. the 1,400sqft bungalow my parents purchased in an mid-upper class neighbourhood for $141,000 15 years ago and lost money on in the three years they owned it) but that is no longer the case. Our housing market is now much the same as any other major city (i.e. my 1,200sqft bungalow in a mid-upper class neighbourhood being assessed at $350k).

Having said that, if you want an experience different from the American experience, Canada is not your best choice. Most TV watched here is American, we are deeply tied to the US economy, we are currently voting right-wing as a nation (boo), etc...

If you want specifics about my city though, feel free to MeMail me or just hit me up at my Gmail in my profile.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:50 PM on November 19, 2010

Oh and hydrobatidae is right. Winnipeg is feckin' cold in the winter, and hot and mosquito-y in the summer. Still, I like it :)
posted by WinnipegDragon at 12:51 PM on November 19, 2010

Canada is America without guns. Live there long enough and the cold weather is going to warm up via global warming...
posted by Postroad at 12:53 PM on November 19, 2010

Canada's primary fault is that it is full of Canadians.

Speaking from Winnipeg: Almost everyone drives, it can be incredibly provincial, there are some pretty crazy disparities in wealth, anti-American bias is prevalent while at the same time, the negative aspects of American culture are adopted and propagated, the infrastructure is shit, it can be a bugger to get a family doctor, good, affordable housing can be a drag to find depending on your income, and it has some weird smells. This list of Best Places to Live in Canada with its assortment of criteria may also be helpful to you, and this real estate directory might give you an idea about what sort of city's housing prices suits your budget.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:58 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Once Mrs. Augustus gets her nursing degree, she would be able to work more hours and earn a higher wage in the US versus Canada. Visit any hospital in a border city (Detroit, Buffalo, etc) and you'll find that almost half of the nursing staff (often more) are Canadian citizens who commute daily. Canada's national health care system puts limits on the hours that nurses can work (or, rather, the hours they can be paid for) and so many new graduates are limited to part-time work that they flock to the US where there is a nursing shortage and no shortage of overtime hourse available. No doubt that wherever you relocate you'll need two incomes in order to purchase a house, so this might be something to keep in mind.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:59 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Honestly, imho the only really significant difference between living in an arbitrary part of the US and living in an arbitrary part of Canada is the universal health care. If that alone is worth the move for you, then move. All that stuff about political ignorance and the plutocracy is just as true up here as it is down there.
posted by tehloki at 1:11 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

everybody has to have a car (or two)

This is basically true everywhere in Canada except for Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.
posted by ripley_ at 1:14 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think you'll find that in many cases, you can make a higher salary in the USA than you could in Canada. This may not be true for your teaching job -- I realize that adjuncting at a public university in the USA is just one step above sweatshop-level wages -- but it's going to certainly be true for your wife's nursing job. Housing really isn't that expensive in the USA outside of a few boom areas.
posted by deanc at 1:15 PM on November 19, 2010

I grew up in Canada (Toronto), and lived in the US (Chicago) for 10 years. The two are very similar. Canada's politics are slightly less crazy, the level of social and economic inequality is slightly less extreme. Canadians are slightly more low-key, and slightly more active, but I'm actually amazed how disconnected many Canadians have become from their politics and government (for instance, many people now think that we elect the Prime Minister directly, and that there is something unconstitutional about a vote of confidence). Things are more expensive here, the communications infrastructure lags behind the US, you begin to lose touch with American popular culture, and online shopping is a pain. There is often an inferiority complex with regards to America that manifests itself as either aloofness, or slavish imitation of some of its worst aspects. The winters are cold, summer is often too short and too hot, and you still have to deal with jerks.

That being said, I prefer Canada and Toronto. It's the culture I was raised in, and I like living in a diverse, cosmopolitan city with a large immigrant population. The health insurance system makes a huge difference as well. However, even if you were able to get residence, judging by your reasons for leaving, you may find yourself disappointed. You might as well move to Belgium.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:23 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Canada is America without guns.

While there are physically many, many more guns in the U.S., the household-to-household rates of gun ownership are about the same. Canadians just shoot less people with the guns they do have.

Canada is not utopia. It's America with better health care and slightly different tastes. Don't like nasty politics? You know they have politics in Canada, too, right?

Moreover, the farther you get outside of the three biggest Canadian cities (Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal), Canada becomes more like the rural / midwest / Great Lakes U.S. than not. Don't like yee-haw U.S. country music and rodeo? Say hello to the Calgary Stampede. Don't like the oil-driven economy of the U.S.? You realize there's a reason they're called the Edmonton Oilers, right? Don't like countrymen-vs.-countrymen animosity? Ever heard of the Quebec separatist movement?

I love Canada. I wouldn't mind living there. I'd probably like it. But I don't think I need to flee there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:24 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

All I know is that Winnipeg is a Frozen Shithole (Wikipedia)
posted by azarbayejani at 1:25 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Background: US-born, now Canadian permanent resident, one year away from citizenship.

Some of what's been said above is true; a lot isn't. Immigration is easy and, as long as you don't have anything in your history that would be a problem, you don't have to talk to lawyers. Especially as a US citizen--NAFTA makes getting across the border dead simple, assuming one of you has a job offer up here. You need a letter from your to-be employer and C$150, and you've got a work visa.

(By "anything in your history", I mostly mean criminal. If you have even a misdemeanor, it could come back to bite you.)

Almost certainly: you will work fewer hours; you will make less money. This is, to me, an awesome trade-off, as I have no interest in having my job be my life. Life, in general, seems to be a bit better balanced; it's up to you to make the rest work, of course.

If you haven't travelled extensively through Canada, definitely do that first. Don't just show up. Canadian cities are very, very different from each other, and you'll want to find which one you like the feel of. Vancouver is Seattle with even less culture. Toronto is a cleaner, friendlier New York; I just moved here (from Van) and absolutely love it. Montreal is fantastic, but I personally prefer to vacation there than live there.

As for politics, I would say that Canadians are on average less ignorant than US citizens, but that's a really low bar. There's still disappointingly low involvement. Federalism is much, much stronger here; the provinces have a lot more power than states in the US, and things actually change between provinces. (Especially Quebec and the Atlantic provinces; they're a different world from Ontario, which is a different world from Manitoba, which...)

You can absolutely live without a car in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Victoria. Interurban (i.e. VIARail) transit is awesome in the Toronto-Montreal-Québec corridor; it pretty well blows in the rest of the country, but mostly because everything is a thousand kilometres from anywhere.

For point 4, um, yeah, we've got resources! And two gigantic, unguarded borders (Russia across the Arctic and the US to the south). Guess who will be coming to take those resources once theirs run out?
posted by criacow at 1:25 PM on November 19, 2010

Add me to the chorus noting that if these are the things you dislike about living in the US, you'll need to move farther than Canada.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:33 PM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: I have lived in both. I am Canadian; I was miserable in the US and could not wait to return.

Let me point out that

Canadian culture is American culture

is silly, given things like

Canada is America without guns

...because that is a big difference. Americans DO have guns! Lots of them. They will show you their guns if you ask! Right there in their apartments, guns! They don't all have them, but this was noticeable, and at one point I lived with somebody who was a bit thick and wanted to get a gun, and there was quite a cultural divide in how absurd/not absurd it was to each of us to live with/without a gun.

The health care in Canada is nice to have, but it is also philosophically important. It is the lynchpin of our Not Like You with the Americans. On that, I would watch Talking to Americans

One thing that is nice about the US is that it has Mexican people in it, and all sorts of interesting Hispanic culture and tasty food. I did not, growing up in Canada, meet an a single person from Mexico until a couple of rich Mexican girls went to summer camp with me one year, and I have not really met a lot since, and Ottawa is a big city but it is still very hard to get an enchilada in it. This is depressing.

However, one thing the US has in great abundance that we do not have here is racism. They are not so enchanted with the good enchiladas. People I grew up with take bilingualism for granted and apart from a rude minority are unsure as to why anybody would not view knowing two languages as a good thing, but the US was cluttered with people who had terrible things to say about speaking anything but English there.

The first time I went to Washington, DC, I drove with a friend. We got lost somewhere on the outskirts, and fetched up in a "black neighbourhood." We had never seen anything like it and were totally shocked. There are wee "Little Italy," "Chinatown" sorts of areas in larger cities but segregated neighbourhoods? No.

I am sorry to speak so plainly about this stuff; well, not really, but it was certainly not OK to do so in the States, for reasons I never quite got. OJ Simpson was just teevee in Canada, not a big cultural thing... I never found a way to mention race issues there without causing offence, but I saw and heard a lot of things I found absolutely shocking.

One was an elderly dude sitting on a lawn chair at the front of a grocery store with a poorly spelled sign telling people who didn't speak English to "go home," etcetera; that sentiment was spelled out in a number of ways and I can't remember the exact words but my stomach is sinking and I feel awful just thinking about it. "Happy America Day," as it was approaching 4 July. This was inside a supermarket! A major supermarket in an unremarkable part of Los Angeles. I stuttered something at the cashier, who muttered something about how he would go away in a few days. I found the manager and complained, pointing to myself as an immigrant with a second language; was my business unwelcome? No? Then whose was... And, oh, it was surreal. There are little hiccups of idiocy in the backwaters of Canada, but that would not have lasted six seconds in a big supermarket here.

So -- yeah. I didn't like it. Wonderful food, loads of great people, far too much every man for himself and the poverty was also terrible. American poor are really poor; one can only fall so far down when broke in Canada, but in the US one can go quite far down indeed and do it with a great deal of company, and not too far away from people living at the far opposite end of the spectrum. Which I found frightening. Ironically, consumer goods are often easier to come by in the US. I just spent a bit over $100 to have a US friend ship me my orders from and and a bunch of other dot-coms that don't ship to Canada, because $25 for a king-size duvet cover is totally unheard of here, and so on. (However. Our stores are clean and pleasant, not always the case in weirder places in the US. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores were one thing I missed. Any time you buy booze here it is in a clean, safe, friendly environment. Carefully regulated, well taxed, polite and pleasant; the LCBO is very, very Canadian.)

On the down side, we have done awful things to the Aboriginal population here, some Canadiana may strike outsiders as...tacky, and every so often Tories are elected. Tories are only about as right-wing as your Democrats, though; it's not so bad, they're booted out, and very little really changes. It is a wonderful thing living in a country that rarely makes international news, and people are generally very welcoming to immigrants. You will like.
posted by kmennie at 1:34 PM on November 19, 2010 [23 favorites]

American poor are really poor; one can only fall so far down when broke in Canada, but in the US one can go quite far down indeed and do it with a great deal of company, and not too far away from people living at the far opposite end of the spectrum.

When's the last time you were in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver?
posted by ripley_ at 1:38 PM on November 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm originally from Toronto but went to Winnipeg for some higher learning. When I was in Winnipeg one of my dearest friends was an American who pretty much thanked the FSM every day that he was no longer living in the USA. I'm still not sure what was so bad about life in the States, especially as he had lived in Boston and NYC - cities I'm sure most Winnipegers would rather live in, but here's a bit about Winnipeg:

Lots of sun, all year round (in summer the sun doesn't go down until 10 and in winter it is too cold for clouds to form).
Traffic is non-existent compared to most other places.
The city is fairly small and quite bikeable.
The people are friendly.
Lots of good, inexpensive restaurants.
A 30 minute drive in any direction will take you out into farmland and/or "nature".
It's big enough to have at least one of every type of business you may want except IKEA, no IKEA in Winnipeg.
It has an identity (something that Toronto lacks IMHO).
Once you get over the weather, there are things to do outside year-round.
The bus system is pretty good for a city of it's size.
Property is still quite cheap, especially relative to Toronto, Vancouver or Calgary.
It's a pretty diverse city.
Pretty good library system.

Mosquitoes in the summer.
-40 degrees or colder in the winter.
Crime. Car theft is widespread and almost expected. Also a fair bit of violent crime, but that isn't a big worry if you won't be involved in illegal activities yourself (ie more directed attacks against "enemies" less random attacks against innocent parties).
The drivers AND pedestrians are terrible. So many stupid accidents.
You are an 8 hour drive from the closest big city (Minneapolis).
The popular culture is almost identical to the USA's.

I really enjoyed my life in Winnipeg, but I enjoy life in Toronto as well. One thing I think they both have in common is that they are much better places to live in than they are to visit.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:42 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I live in the US instead of where I am from in Canada because of one big thing: employment. Won't you need to find a job and then be sponsored for immigration or collect a certain number of points 'to get in'? (I'm not sure of details in reverse- us->canada). Wouldn't that be the number one factor- you can't collect the 'good' things about canada without immigrating/emigrating and eventually becoming a citizen. It seems like you have your idealogies down- what about the practical stuff? Or did I miss that?
posted by bquarters at 1:45 PM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: I've lived in Canada all my life (East (or "central" to easterners) and West) as well as in the UK, but I have family in US and spent a lot of my childhood in the western US (west coast, really). I'll try to make some comparisons.

1. I think the Parliamentary political system is better from a republican model in many ways relevant to your complaints about USian politics:

a) not having an elected Head of State keeps the royalty and celebrity aspects of leadership somewhat removed and guard against the worst aspects of populism
b) the concept of Responsible Government means that if someone running in Canada were to have earned the level of popular vote and cross-regional popularity as Obama did would have had the mandate and mechanism to both implement his agenda virtually unimpeded and probably would have had the latitude to be more progressive and aggressive in that agenda (but for reasons related to (a), no leader since Trudeau, and arguably even him, has recieved that level of support and celebrity - we elect wonks, not charismatic juggernauts)
c) there is less stark individualism here
d) if you make a point by point comparison of their platforms, Conservative PM Stephen Harper is arguably more progressive than Democratic President Barack Obama

That said, you'll have a lot of complain about here. A lot of us feel our government isn't sufficiently independent. While I hold to my above-state opinion that Parliamentary systems work better than republican one, you'll find that in contrast to places like New Zealand and the UK, our Parliament these days functions on about the same intellectual level as a first-grader with FAS and severe behavioural disorder. Also, Canadian politics has suffered inordinately from all parties putting communications strategies ahead of policy development, which has rendered much of the political dialogue irritatingly superficial. There are no political utopias, just places you can tolerate to one degree or another.

2. Culturally, anglophone Canada and anglophone US are as close as you can get without being the same. Yes, I believe on a number of subtle ways, we're intrinsically different (listen to CBC radio long enough and there will be a talk show in which we beanplate endlessly on our identity and count all the ways we are different from Americans and anyone else!) But we import almost all of our popular culture from the US, most cities (particularly the western ones that developed after the advent of the automobile) suffer from much of the same car bias, and you'll see a fair number of noxious bumper stickers and the like. On the other hand, the idea that everyone has a right to health care is unspoken, basic assumption (except for a very small fringe) and culturally, we are far more secular.

3. Economically - your wife (if you were to go after she completed her studies and certifications) could be employed on the very day she arrives here in almost any city and even quicker in a small centre. (At least in Alberta, but I'm guessing this is similar in other provinces.) You'll probably do OK, too, but it will take more effort to find a good job. If you decide to make the move, I'd probably base the city choice on which post-secondary institution offers you a suitable job, because chances are she'll be in demand anywhere. can give you an idea of home prices, especially since currency is at par these days. My understanding is that they're higher, because home prices tanked to much in the US. There's a lot of media stories about the challenges for new buyers to get into the property market. Cost of living can be very expensive in the large cities (Toronto and Vancouver are probably the worst). It's possible to live more cheaply in rural areas, but that also means giving up a lot of culture (and your description makes me think that the rural, prairie life is not up your alley).

4. We have the same problems re: resources, because we sell all our energy, don't manage it well, and have to use a lot more to heat our homes in the winter.

In general, I think I have a great life in Edmonton - I get to mountain parks a lot, I have a great community of friends and live in a pretty neat, progressive niche within the city, which is one of two big cultural, economic and intellectual centres of the province. I am 30 was able to afford to my own (old, fixer-upper) house in a central but quiet neighbourhood. Yes, I have Conversative premier and we have patethically low participation and a fringe of idiots, but overall, our governing party is a managerial sort of conservative, and benign. I didn't fare as well in Ottawa, but I wouldn't generalize my experience there too much. And while I love Vancouver and am forever grateful I spent five years and got my education there, it's an exceedingly large city, and can be stressful and anonymous. I wouldn't recommend any place over the other necessarily, and if you're looking for a job in a post-secondary institution, the degree of competition for those jobs may make the decision for you. If you end up in Alberta, though, I'd be happy to answer any region-specific questions via MeMail.

I suspect you'd enjoy most things in any Canadian city, as long as you don't come in with the expectation that everything will rosy. You will still have many complaints. This is why politics exist. (Avoid most of the outright cynicism I see upthread, though. It is possible to change things, I've worked on campaigns in the past and will again. One of my best friends here is a USian immigrant (here over 10 years) - she often frames the difference in the sense that she still feels it's mostly worthwhile to be politically active here, but did not see the worth in it in the US.) The blog, We Move To Canada (especially the older posts) might be informative for you. The author is a woman who moved from NYC to (I think) Toronto some time ago, and there's a list of posts on the side that refer more specifically to her experiences.
posted by Kurichina at 1:46 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

When's the last time you were in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver?

1992. Okay, not too recent. But I dunno if junkies with access to health care and social workers really compare to people living in US 'projects' or in broken-down RVs in the middle of the high desert; poor, but very different flavours of poor.
posted by kmennie at 2:10 PM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: I know I've written a long-winded answer to a question like this before, dad gummed if I can find it!

As someone who has spend equal chunks of time in my childhood and adult years in both countries, and as a dual citizen who is currently living in Toronto, I am MORE than happy to be a windbag on this one.

To play devil's advocate here, I will give you first the things you (probably) won't like.

Bad things:

- Canada isn't as enlightened as you would probably choose to believe. While it is certainly more progressive on paper, all the rest of the country that's not the cities you've named is pretty much buttoned-up conservative. Even here in Toronto we just elected a total bonehead mayor based on the preference of the suburban drive-in types. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, both institutional and individual are HUGE problems here and only look lessened in contrast to the tea-bagged nightmare of the US.

- Taxes are absurd and you won't get a break from them on any sides. Presuming you're a middle-ish class person, you will likely not find direct benefits from the social network they fund, other than the obvious health care, which does not cover everything you want, just the basics (no drug plan, etc). You will still likely rely on Extended Coverage from your employer to keep you healthy.

- All the little luxuries will be gone. Seriously, you like a certain candy or restaurant or the cheap consumer goods or affordable cell phone/internet plans or having your vote count for reality shows or whatever the fuck else? Gone. Traveling here is WAAAAY more expensive and so are most other luxury goods which are plentiful in the US , to the effect that Canadians often willfully cram themselves into $60 charter coaches just to shop their brains out across the border.

- Film and TV here mostly sucks (unless it's American). The culture you are immersed in, in terms of media, will be roughly the same as it is in the US (everyone's watching Jersey Shore), but the episodes won't air on YOUR tv until five days after everyone on the other side has seen it. Likewise things like Hulu and aren't for you! Those are for USian enjoyment only!

- People here will talk about musicians, authors and tv shows you have no frame of reference for because only Canadians know who they are.

- You will be mocked for things like not using the metric system or knowing what 20 Celsius is.

- We might be getting our own version of Fox News (mighty beaver save us all).

- You will be in the role of having to defend America in weird ways that never occurred to you. Because even though you left, you're still that guy who lived through it.

- Our political system is convoluted and no one really cares. Political power is still spread out among the rich plutocratic types (look at provincial appointments in Ontario, for one). Quebec and Alberta always make everything impossible. People love to complain and hate to vote. Etc, etc.

- EVERYTHING is done by crazy amounts of bureaucracy, paperwork, consultation and fucking endlessness. Wait for a public works project that matters to you, or to get hired by the Federal government (ha!ha!ha!) and see what I'm talking about.

- The economy sucks and is deeply tied to the US economy. We kiss the US dollar's ass and do a little happy dance when our dollar goes up despite the fact we end up getting fucked when it does (example - a magazine that's $5 US and $8 Canadian stays the same price even when our dollar outperforms the US dollar). We don't have all the goodies but we definitely pay the price.

- Booze and cigarettes are CRAZY expensive (because we all pay for your shitty liver, in the end).

- People will ask you (especially starving artist types) with a feverish look in their eyes WHY WOULD YOU EVER MOVE HERE? and WILL YOU MARRY ME SO I CAN BE A US CITIZEN?

- All of our weather blows.

Good things:

- Reasonable political climate, conservatives mostly being the "small c" sort.

- No one really cares about God too much to really trouble anyone else about it.

- Gays are just folks for the most part

- Canadians truly do celebrate diversity, even on an official, institutional level. And it's delightful.

- There are tons of immigrants here, and while the system can be a bit tedious in terms of getting them settled in a timely way (doctors driving cabs etc), there is some headway being made to get international professionals up and ready to work here, and overall a much more welcoming and inclusive vibe around immigration.

- People have their own opinions but not in the guns and liberty sort of way. People will just as soon try to find something they agree with you on as something that is different.
- Health care is a thing and while people bitch about it they don't have any goddamned clue how lucky we are. For example, today Public Health gave out flu shots to anyone who came to my office complex, no ID needed, not even your health card.

- The employment insurance/maternity leave type stuff is great and while the system is a slow behemoth it tends to work out in the end.

- Individual rights are looked at with a grain of "greater good" salt and this can lead to a lot of wise and forward-thinking policies and programs.

- I find people on the only (other than your US "Vermont" types) care WAY more about things like the environment, sustainable farming, recycling, emissions, public transit, etc.

- You can go to Cuba (where there are beaches, cheap rum and no American tourists)

- The beer here is so much better.
posted by SassHat at 2:11 PM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Oh - the most important one - weed is no big deal.
posted by SassHat at 2:12 PM on November 19, 2010

One thing for sure is that you will not make as much money in Canada as you would in the USA. And pretty much everything is cheaper in the USA. I don't know how health care costs factor into things but I would imagine you would feel relatively poorer if you moved here.

Also, our networks (radio and TV) are required to broadcast a certain amount of Canadian content. This leads to some pretty poor programming as for every gem like Less Than Kind there is a Heartland, Little Mosque on the Prairie AND So You Think You Can Dance: Canada.

There is no good Mexican food in Canada.

Our politics are almost worse than America's because we have a large group of people who can clearly see the problems the USA but are still doing their best to steer the country in exactly the same direction. Can't they try to take the good and leave out the bad?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: Several of the responses above (mostly along the lines of America minus guns plus health care) are simplistic to the point of being insulting both to the original questioner and citizens of both countries. If you want the situation boiled down to its essence, someone once observed that Canadians and Americans are fundamentally indistinguishable, and the only surefire way to tell them apart is to make that observation to a Canadian.

But your larger question, in the title of the post, stands. Does anything suck? Yes. There are regional differences like you do not see in the US. There are language issues that surpass what you see anywhere but perhaps deep in the southwest. There is a fundamental difference in mindset that I can only attribute to your nation being born out of rebellion and ours out of compromise. I think you could live here for a long time and never feel very much like you had left (same movies, same TV, same chain stores, same food) but there are a thousand small differences that you might need a lifetime to articulate. For what its worth, a lot of the litany of criticisms you have above (jingoism, police brutality, Manichaean political partisanship) seems to be less in evidence here.

I may drop you a memail after I have had a chance to think about this more.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:56 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Thank you, AugieAugustus, for this post. I had been wondering similarly.
posted by cool breeze at 3:02 PM on November 19, 2010

Don't underestimate the importance of the maternity leave thing if you're planning on having kids. I find the policy in the U.S. to be truly shocking, and can't imagine not having had my full year off with job security and EI (which isn't exactly huge money but is better than a kick in the pants). And I also wouldn't focus too much on the salary stuff. Sure, you earn more money in the U.S. but once you factor in how much you end up paying for health care and stuff like that it all evens out. I would definitely argue that standard of living here is the same as the U.S. or even better.
posted by Go Banana at 3:18 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: In response to many of you, the home ownership aspect is not a dealbreaker. More like a long-term, would-be-nice thing.

Thanks to all of you who have replied with specific negatives (I didn't know about the mosquitoes... but I'd rather deal with them than roaches or june bugs!). Keep 'em comin'.
posted by AugieAugustus at 3:25 PM on November 19, 2010

I have to correct a couple of characterizations above re: Winnipeg.

It is cold, but in a typical year you can usually could count the number of -40 days on two hands (and lately the winters have been progressively milder.)

Much more to do than football, as someone above said. Active theatre communities of different types and sizes, a vibrant local music scene, a number of successful DJs, lots of amateur sports leagues. Depending on the community you live in you can find quite a few active community groups.

Other than that everything that any portmanteau in a storm says is on the money.

Reasons I don't like living in Winnipeg: We're pushovers. We let big ticket items be bought with little or no consultation; we let our civic and provincial governments do questionable things in the name of expediency and get bullied by our politicians to continually let bad things slide without inquiry or oversight. This city just signed an almost-billion-dollar deal on sewer services with some multinational corp. and had almost no proper input or consultation. There are lots of other examples, but if you're looking for an engaged and aware city this is not it. We let big-box development happen willy-nilly, yet stifle creative business development.

Reasons I like living in Winnipeg: We celebrate things. The Folk Festival is one of the biggest in North America and it's a 4-day party blast (even if you don't see a single band.) Cultural festivals abound. In the past we've had city-wide street parties, and depending where you are there are yearly block parties too. It's diverse enough that I don't feel the odd man out for having secular humanist beliefs; though a small city it's socially aware enough to have had 5700 people show up for the Feb. 15, 2003 protests against the Iraq war.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:31 PM on November 19, 2010

Best answer: Just to correct a misconception in the thread here, nurses are on average paid better in Canada than in the US, but maybe it's a wash because the cost of living is higher here.

Cost of housing -
Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto are all expensive, but Vancouver is really a whole other level of expensive if you want a house. Winnipeg is cheap.

Climate -
Winnipeg has terrible weather, like Minneapolis but worse on the cold side. Calgary does get cold but it's dry and has chinooks every so often. If you live in Calgary or Vancouver your house will probably not have air conditioning.

Public transit -
If you don't want to use your car, Vancouver and Toronto have great public transit. So does Montreal, incidentally. Calgary and Winnipeg have better transit than comparably-sized US cities, but that isn't saying much.

Other -
You might be shocked at the cost of things like repairs to your house, yard work, etc. There is no cheap labour here.
The postal system is better in the US.
There is no interstate system in Canada.
We have TV networks that show US shows, but aren't the original US network, so shows are late. Or, when we do get US networks, they're poorly edited with Canadian commercials (no US superbowl commercials!). Corporate radio is even worse here than in the US.
Alcohol is more expensive, and highly regulated - it varies by province, but you can't just buy a beer at a convenience store (except in Quebec). Alberta has probably the most lax laws overall but you see funny things like a Safeway liquor store on the other side of the parking lot from the Safeway grocery store.
NY pizza is practically nonexistent.

Things you might think are bad but I like -
Taxes are higher. Alberta has probably the lowest tax rates.
Cigarettes are more expensive.
Fuel is more expensive.
You will get less food at restaurants.

Other stuff that's just plain different -
Cuts of meat and dairy products are different. We get different cuts, or they're named differently, and there's a different array of milk available. Anyway, you will find lots of US recipes online/on TV, and could be confused.
Schools are different. No homecoming, no prom (well, there's "graduation" in May before the year ends). No school lunches. There is no spring break tradition of getting wasted in Mexico. Sports are less integral to school life. These are all things I only know from TV.
The university system is totally different. There's no SAT, and the difference between schools isn't that great so more students will go to university close to where they grew up. 'College' usually means a 2-year school here.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:41 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

One other thing about transit - the US has federal funding for highways and transit, and Canada never did. I think that no federal funding for highways has saved our cities in some respects, but I'm a little jealous at how little cities in the US have to pay for transit improvements that are often lightly used.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:49 PM on November 19, 2010

If you don't want to use your car, Vancouver and Toronto have great public transit.

I wouldn't say Toronto has great public transit. Nothing near as good as Chicago or DC. Living without a car in Toronto would impose nontrivial stresses on your life unless you commit to both live and work in the downtown core or along one of the few subway / streetcar lines, either of which would add more $ to an already expensive cost of living.

The beer here is so much better.

Not in Ontario, it sure as fuck is not. You can only get what the LCBO decided to get that year, which puts real limits on the microbrews and imports that are available. *looks* They don't even stock Spaten, for God's sake, and that's as basic an import as you can name.

Thanks to all of you who have replied with specific negatives ... Keep 'em comin'.

Toronto-specific: the Toronto metro area is growing *very* rapidly, and it's not growing well. Lots of really gross metastatic suburbs springing up like mushrooms. It's rapidly outgrowing its transit system, and to make matters worse there's not really anywhere to put additional highways.

If you decide to look further into it, you should add Ottawa/Hull to your list.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:17 PM on November 19, 2010

I recently left the USA, though for different reasons than you and not to Canada (Canada?).

I read your question earlier today and was about to answer it, but I couldn't find a way to do so without sounding mean. Unfortunately, I still haven't thought of a way, but I think this is an important point so I'm just going to chance it. Remember: I don't know you, I'm not saying this is the way YOU are, just that some things you are saying remind me of some other people I've come across recently.

There are a lot of expats that sound like you wherever you go. Many of these expats are still miserable. The reason is they sit and stew for years in the USA or wherever with all these resentments, and fantasize about leaving, and when they finally do leave, they are stuck with the awful realization that they are still themselves. You change everything in your life, life still sucks, what's the last constant standing? I'm sure there's some Expat-in-Canada messageboards where you can see this in action.

No matter where you live, there are going to be people you think are stupid, politicians you despise, people who make poor decisions, operators who manipulate people by inflaming their passions and fears, and the whole mass of humanity will lurch around awkwardly doing lots of dumb stuff and occasionally squeaking out the occasional victory. That's pretty much been the deal forever, as far as I can tell.

If that reality makes you miserable in EBF USA, its probably going to make you miserable in WBF, Canada, so you might as well save yourself the trouble and stay. I'm actually about to run out the door and meet up with some of these miserable folks, mostly because there will be some non-miserable people there too, but man, it is draining to deal with these people, and the reason I am sitting here still looking at Metafilter is mainly avoidance of those dudes.

I don't know you, it is more than possible that the USA is not an ideal fit for you and you will genuinely be happier somewhere else. I guess, on some level, countries are like colleges. Its just that the way you are writing, especially on points like the sports thing. Do you seriously think the economics of athletics is a uniquely American phenomenon? That's just ridiculous. Anyway, its just that the way you are writing SCREAMS 'soon-to-be bitter expat.' I am not trying to be a dick here, I'm just trying to save you the trouble if there's a chance you are this guy, or maybe point you in a direction that will be more productive for you.

Again, sorry if this comes off offensive.
posted by jeb at 5:54 PM on November 19, 2010 [15 favorites]

I wouldn't say Toronto has great public transit. Nothing near as good as Chicago or DC. Living without a car in Toronto would impose nontrivial stresses on your life unless you commit to both live and work in the downtown core or along one of the few subway / streetcar lines, either of which would add more $ to an already expensive cost of living.

Given that the GTA has about 60% as many people as Chicagoland, the fact that the Toronto subway has over 40% more riders than the Chicago L seems to indicate that living without a car is easier in Toronto. Washington is about the same size and the Metro sees about 1% more ridership.

You can go to Cuba

Americans still can't.

The comments above about the relatively slow and expensive postal system, the expensive and/or unavailable consumer goods, and the lack of good Mexican food are correct, though.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:45 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: American ex-pat now a Canadian citizen, living in Kitchener (an hour west of Toronto). Here's what's important to me and what makes living here better.

Canada: peace, order & good government
America: life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness.

The Canadian triple motto recognizes that an ideal country isn't founded on the wishes or desires of ONE person, but instead those of ALL people. Did you notice that all of the American objectives are individualistic, whilst those of Canada can only be applied to a collection of people? Yeah, it sinks into the culture, way down deep.

Canada: mosaic
America: melting pot

Americans want everyone to become the same: to become Americans (based on their own private definition of what it is to be American), and only then are you allowed to have some kind of heritage. Canadians in their infinite diversity recognize each other's differences are as important as the things they have in common. This is another thing that is foundational to the national psyche.

What will you hate that is specific to Canada vs. the US? Taxes (have to pay for that safety net). Shopping (price and selection are worse). Connectivity costs (more) and speeds (lower). Bureaucracy (infuriating at times). Apathy (perhaps even more than in the US).

For maximum Canadian goodness, pick a moderately sized city, from 100K to 600K or so, and move into the core, renting if you must, and do without a car. Get involved in something social (clubs, hobbies, theatre, etc), and get involved in some kind of activism (arts, education, charity), and make connections with people. (Moderately sized cities are big enough to allow you to avoid the inevitable idiots, but small enough so that you can actually get to know most everyone with similarly keen specific interests.)

Also, it's "sorry" not "sari", and no one says ABOOT.

I like it here!
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:12 PM on November 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

Given that the GTA has about 60% as many people as Chicagoland, the fact that the Toronto subway has over 40% more riders than the Chicago L seems to indicate that living without a car is easier in Toronto.

I don't see what ridership has to do with it. The DC Metro system is far more extensive than the TTC, and Chicago's CTA and Metra add up to a system more extensive than either: Toronto has two north-south lines and one and a half east-west lines, and that's it. Moving to Toronto with the intent to live car-free would be way more limiting in where you can live (and work) than it would to move to Chicago or DC.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:16 PM on November 19, 2010

Hi, I'm a nurse that just moved from NY to Vancouver. It's not that easy to get a job here.

> Economically - your wife (if you were to go after she completed her studies and certifications) could be employed on the very day she arrives here in almost any city and even quicker in a small centre.

I really don't think this is true at all.

The nursing shortage, both here and in the US, is a bit of a myth. Plenty of new grad nurses, both here and in the US, can't find a job. Hell, with two years of critical care experience it still took me well over a year to secure a job in Canada. Vancouver Coastal Health has no current job openings for nurses. Providence Health Care's listings are all for either casual positions or for highly specialized areas. I started looking for jobs in Canada when I was in school three years ago, and the outlook hasn't changed at all since then. A lot of BC nursing programs are now closed to new applicants due to huge enrollment numbers. There is absolutely no reason for Canadian hospitals to hire entry-level nurses from other countries when Canadian nursing schools are cranking out plenty of their own, many of whom are crossing the border to come work in the States because there are NO RN JOBS HERE.

Other things that shook up my idyllic preconceived notions of Canadian life:

Class disparity. Vancouver is full of very very rich people and very very poor people, and never the twain shall meet. God forbid the affluent be exposed to such unpleasantries. My boyfriend I were walking around Gastown one evening when a cop chased us down, on foot, to warn us that we were perilously close to the Downtown East Side. "Excuse me, are you from here?" We affirmed that we were. "So you know what neighbourhood that is, right?" Uh, yeah dude, this is the patient population I work with every single day, thanks for the warning though. The whole interaction left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Cost of living. I thought New York was expensive. It's worse here. My rent is higher, and I die a little inside every time I buy groceries, because damn it's expensive. My income is approximately the same here as it was in NY, but a paycheque doesn't seem to stretch as far here. It's pretty stressful.

Aside from all that though, I love the people here and I'm glad I moved. But that's not what you want to hear about!
posted by makonan at 7:16 PM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Someone mentioned cell phone plans. You will pay more for a cell phone in Canada. You will get screwed on long distance, and your data plan will probably suck. Roaming charges, especially data roaming, will make you want to murder the phone company.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:31 PM on November 19, 2010


The CTA may have more lines, and go more places, but it does so much slower, less efficiently, and sometimes not at all. I would argue that in Toronto, the surface routes compensate for gaps in subway coverage much better than they do in Chicago (have you ever tried traveling on the south side?). The TTC is not perfect (and the GO is about as effective as the METRA), and ridership is beginning to exceed capacity, but I can get to most places I need to go to in Toronto faster than I could in Chicago (and the TTC hasn't had any recent derailments). That being said, the TTC will need some serious improvements in the near future, and I'm not sure if the new regime has the courage or sense to make the correct decisions in this matter (new subways may not be the answer, and suburban LRTs work very well in a number of similar sized European cities, thanyouverymuch).

Of course, London, Paris and Tokyo all have better transit systems, but there are always trade-offs.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 7:39 PM on November 19, 2010

I don't see what ridership has to do with it.

It tells you what proportion of the population it actually works for. The TTC alone has more ridership than the CTA and Metra combined. Relative to the size of their respective metro areas, GO Transit has more riders than Metra.

The Washington Metro isn't that much more extensive than the TTC, and that's not counting Toronto's streetcars.

Moving to Toronto with the intent to live car-free would be way more limiting in where you can live (and work) than it would to move to Chicago or DC.

In terms of the sheer number of places you can live without a car, sure. In terms of the proportion of the city you can live in without a car, absolutely not.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:03 PM on November 19, 2010

However, one thing the US has in great abundance that we do not have here is racism. They are not so enchanted with the good enchiladas. People I grew up with take bilingualism for granted and apart from a rude minority are unsure as to why anybody would not view knowing two languages as a good thing, but the US was cluttered with people who had terrible things to say about speaking anything but English there.

My two cents: racism still exists in Canada. It's not very visible, but it still exists. If you're white, it's not going to matter much, but for the love of god, it still exists. In different parts of Canada I've had varying amounts of stupid assumptions made on account of my ethnicity, and in Vancouver there's a real undercurrent of 'asian drivers suck'/'Never go to Richmond, it's full of Chinese people'/'If you don't speak English, don't live here'. I have literally heard these things spoken by some otherwise very nice and sweet Vancouverites, much of this sentiment preceded with the 'I'm not racist, but...' tag, and I think that's pretty terrible, especially because people seem to think these aren't racist views. I've heard some pretty nasty things about those of Indian descent, and there's some pretty bad stereotyping of the First Nations in the area too. This whole idea that Canada doesn't have racism in it is both ridiculous and blinding - racism is pervasive. It's not going to stop just because of a border.

Canada in general hides it better, or doesn't make it as visible. The point being is it's still here. That being said, I've felt much more welcomed in general in Canada, and it feels like Canada's made more of an effort in accepting ethnic differences compared to the United States and Europe.

Canada's a wonderful place overall, but it's not some maple-syrup-covered utopia where beavers sing the national anthem and everyone rides bikes to work. It's just another country, and there's good things and bad things about it. Wherever you move, you're still probably not going to escape American influence, especially in Canada, especially with the current political climate. If you can accept that, Canada might be a good fit for you. Good luck!
posted by zennish at 8:25 PM on November 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

I'm surprised at the lack of votes for Quebec, if you want to go to Canada and get away from a lot of America then your best bet is Montreal or if you want to go even further from American influence and deeper into a Euro feel then move to Quebec City, sure you need to learn French but you absolutely would get that different cultural immersion you are looking for.
posted by Cosine at 10:00 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I grew up in the southwestern US and moved to Toronto for graduate school and now work. I have been living here for 2 years. I've never lived anywhere else in Canada so many of my points are probably more Toronto-specific.

Bad things:

1. There is a noticeable lack of consumer choice. Groceries will lack many things you are used to being able to find and it will bite you in the ass when you least expect it. Online shopping sucks as many US sites will not ship to Canada, or you will pay through the nose for shipping + customs. No Netflix or Pandora or Hulu.

2. In practice, the Canadian 'mosaic' vs the American 'melting pot' means that a lot of people tend to stick to their own kind. Toronto is a very diverse city but a lot of people self-segregate by ethnicity and have little or no meaningful exposure to other cultures. I mean, we're talking people who live in Brampton (a predominantly Indian suburb of Toronto) who have never eaten Indian food.

2a. Re: racism, it's not much better in Canada. I have heard a lot of ignorant/hurtful things said by people born and raised in a city where 50% of the population were born outside of Canada.

2b. Toronto is a very diverse city and the downtown core is metropolitan enough, but at times it feels very provincial at heart. The recent election of Rob Ford is a testament to that. The funniest thing are the people looking around, shrugging their shoulders, and saying things like "I don't know a single person who voted for Rob Ford." They're all around you.

2c. More of a personal rant than anything. If Toronto is so multicultural, then why does the default "safe" choice for work outings always end up Jack Astors or Real Sports or the Bottom Line? Why is white Canadian culture taken as the default? One of these days I'm taking everyone to New Bilan and they are going to eat the fucking goat stew in the corner of the freezing internet cafe and LIKE IT, goddammit.

3. You will not make as much money, but in many cases work just as long hours as your neighbors to the south.

4. You still need to get insurance for things like prescription medicine, vision, and dental care.

Things people complain about but I've never noticed:

1. Cost of things. Maybe I'm just not very price sensitive but I've never noticed things costing substantially more here. Compared with NYC, the rent is much lower, and you pay roughly the same or less for eating out.

2. Taxes. I did some comparative calculations and found that if I lived in NYC I would actually be paying more in income tax. For sales tax, you unquestionably pay more in Ontario (although you tip less).
posted by pravit at 11:14 PM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: ... However, one thing the US has in great abundance that we do not have here is racism. They are not so enchanted with the good enchiladas. People I grew up with take bilingualism for granted and apart from a rude minority are unsure as to why anybody would not view knowing two languages as a good thing, but the US was cluttered with people who had terrible things to say about speaking anything but English there...

Honestly, that really reads like a wishful thinking comment, and I'm sort of surprised it got as many favorites as it did. Seconding the sentiment that while racism may not be quite so belligerently blatant here - though I've witnessed my share of old eastern European women bawling out cashiers for having the temerity to speak not-English, or recent immigrants saying truly vile things about Native people, or Francophones recounting how they were told to 'Speak white' - it certainly exists in a subtle form articulated in smug, patronizing, or condescending tones, and in no small amout.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:45 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Further clarification:
It seems my original post was perhaps too...sociopolitically emphatic? (Sometimes I get on a roll, what can I say.) So for those of you who suspect, however understandably, that I'm a strange combination of inherent misanthrope and naive Pollyanna, rest assured that I had already considered the "grass is greener" and "maybe the problem is you" possibilities. And I do appreciate those of you who have tried to communicate that politely.

All the same, as my original post mentioned, I'm not looking for "reasons to stay where you are and suck it up," but more precisely "reasons why Canada, as opposed to someplace else, maybe isn't what you're looking for." This isn't entirely about "fleeing" however much the tone of my original post may have suggested it; it's also about seeking to attain a higher quality of life, not to mention the sheer adventure.
posted by AugieAugustus at 3:33 AM on November 20, 2010

I'm surprised at the lack of votes for Quebec, if you want to go to Canada and get away from a lot of America then your best bet is Montreal or if you want to go even further from American influence and deeper into a Euro feel then move to Quebec City, sure you need to learn French but you absolutely would get that different cultural immersion you are looking for.

Quebec is difficult to immigrate to if you're not already Francophone -- they're the only province that has its own immigration laws separate from the federal ones.*

Personally I would imagine that living as a non-culturally-Francophone American in Quebec City would be very uncomfortable; in Montreal less so. That said, a lot of the Montreal economy moved to Ontario when the political climate was unstable. I love the city but I'm much happier living in Toronto than Montreal.

(* any other province COULD have their own, Quebec's the only one to do so thus far.)
posted by mendel at 10:06 AM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Toronto has INSANELY better transit than Chicago with the sole exception of ORD access, but that's because ORD is in the city limits.

All of you replaying the "Canada is just like the US" line are tiresome and full of shit, and you're moreover looking at it from the perspective of heterosexuals who moved from urban liberal American outliers (places like NYC, Boston, or Portland) and moved to either Toronto or Vancouver. As well, it's painfully obvious that many of the posters here aren't American emigrants at all, but born-in-Canada Canadians, and as much as you think that you're experts in life in the US from watching CNN, taking vacations in Florida, shopping at a Buffalo outlet mall, or even spending two years working on an MA in Ann Arbor, YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.

I'm the guy you want to talk to. I emigrated in '97 to join my same-sex partner, in Toronto at the time. I did not emigrate from Boston, but from Mobile, Alabama. I had seen the best (Portland for college, Madison for grad school) and the worst (Alabama and 18 years growing up in a steel town south of Chicago, a racist polluted crime-ridden shithole) of the US.

I spent three years in Toronto (and many visits prior of course) and we moved to Calgary in 2000 when I took a position at the U of C. We've lived here ever since.

The most important differences between Canada and the US?

Positive things:

1. SAME SEX MARRIAGE is legal coast to coast to coast and is a matter of FEDERAL recognition and definition. It is not meaningless symbolism as it in everywhere it's "legal" in the US. My partner and I have every single right accorded an opposite-sex married couple, TO THE LETTER. And we retain those rights everywhere in the country. We file federal taxes jointly. We have, I have to repeat for the umpteenth time, greater equality as gay persons and as a gay couple than in any jurisidiction in the world, and our legal position is in- remember- the city and province stererotyped (ridiculously but still) as "the most conservative in Canada."

2. HEALTH CARE: Universal, single-payer, not without its flaws or critics, but you will likely never go bankrupt after a cancer diagnosis or whatever. Access can be a bitch but the system works magnificently once you're in (past the emergency room gatekeepers and such but that's how they've designed it). I can switch jobs, work for myself, quit- one thing I never have to worry about is losing my health insurance. That's a weight off comparable to not having to worry about nuclear attack.

3. RELIGION AND POLITICS DO NOT MIX HERE. We just elected a Muslim mayor in Calgary- maybe you heard about it. First big-city Muslim mayor in North America. Unthinkable in US cities (and I don't mean places like Takoma Park or Bloomington so don't even go there); totally unproblematic in "conservative" Calgary. No politician anywhere runs on a religious platform unless you count the Catholic school boards (and even that seems to be more about, you know, education). I have no idea what my MP, MLA, City Alderman's religions are and nobody gives a shit. You will never- NEVER- see a move to have the 10 Commandments displayed in a courthouse here. Religion plays next to zero role in civic life here and zero role in politics and political campaigning.

4. THERE IS FAR LESS VIOLENT CRIME. Especially comparing urban areas and most especially murder rates, the US and Canada are two separate planets. Our "murder capital" last year was Winnipeg (it almost always is) with a murder rate in 2009 of 4.2/100k. New Orleans had a rate FORTY TIMES that. Yes, that's 4000% higher. Canada isn't crime-free but the relative paucity of guns, of racial segregation, of an enduring subculture of violence in certain ethnic and racial communities, of social inequality in all of its senses, and who knows why else, we have much less violent crime than in the US.

5. SIX OF THE SEVEN CITIES IN NORTH AMERICA WITH THE HIGHEST RATES OF TRANSIT USE ARE CANADIAN. 1. NYC; 2. Montreal; 3. Toronto; 4. Ottawa; 5. Vancouver; 6. Calgary; 7. Winnipeg. Calgary is often compared to Dallas for idiotic reasons, but it has more than TEN TIMES the rate of public transit as does Dallas. Canadians ABSOLUTELY are less car-dependent than are Americans, in major cities. This is indubitable.

I'll leave it at that. I have to add that in some industries (like mine, post-secondary ed, in the humanities and social sciences at least) salaries are much higher than in the US on average. The average associate professor here makes around $110k. School teachers make more as well. And taxes aren't that bad seeing as you pay so much more for SSI and other things than we do. We also don't have to pay for health insurance and we do see value for our taxes in lots of ways. I don't consider taxes that bad at all.

With the dollar almost at par, your student loans won't be too much of a burden. I had to repay $26k with a dollar at 62 cents for a period- you're lucky.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:46 AM on November 20, 2010 [12 favorites]

I didn't list negative things- sorry- here they are:

1. We have far less consumer choice.
2. We only have one airport with rail connections to the city (Vancouver). This matters is you travel a lot, trust me here.
3. Canadians absolutely suck at attempting any sort of American regional food, from Tex-Mex to BBQ to Cajun to gyros, they completely suck suck suck. Check out Southern Accent in Toronto for the most monstrous joke of attempts at soul food.
4. Too much inter-city, inter-regional sniping and hatred. I was never dumped on for coming from, say, Chicago as I have been for living in Toronto, and the amount of ignorant, malicious stereotyping heaped on Calgary is ulcer-inducing.
5. A lot of what you can say about US race politics and what it's done to black people there is applicable to Natives in Canada. I never saw this in Toronto because they have almost no Natives there. In western cities it's a recurrent tragedy.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 10:52 AM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

NO had a murder rate about twenty, not forty, times higher than Winnipeg's. Sorry- the "forty times" is comparing Canada's national rate to NO's. Still damn dramatic.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:31 PM on November 20, 2010

It's true that Canada generally doesn't know what BBQ is. Also iced tea is just another flavour of pop here, something mixed from a syrup or from a can, not made fresh and unsweetened.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:29 PM on November 20, 2010

Coming back to this: it's true what everyone says about Mexican food, but in my own city there's been a bit of an explosion of really excellent Salvadorean restaurants. Which is just as awesome, perhaps more.
posted by Kurichina at 5:46 PM on November 20, 2010

there are excellent BBQ joints in the three major Canadian cities (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver) that rival anything I've had south of the border.

if i were you, I'd just be concerned and saddened moving to a place where I couldn't vote.
posted by custard heart at 11:32 AM on November 22, 2010

BBQ to the average Canadian means "grill", not "slow-smoked". Of course there's a few good BBQ restaurants in the major cities, but people in average towns aren't making it in their backyards.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:20 PM on November 22, 2010

This is very late, but I can't believe I forgot it: depending on what measures you look at, Canada's health care system is better than America's but still awful. You'll find better public health care systems in almost all other first-world countries.
posted by ripley_ at 3:43 PM on November 26, 2010

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