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alberta summer landscape

alberta summer landscape (Photo credit: Jodene)

Yesterday I renewed my driver’s license. I have been here that long. Alberta doesn’t have an equivalent to the DMV offices down in the States. The provinces farm out as many petty bureaucratic tasks as possible to private contractors, so in The Fort, we renew our driver’s licenses at an insurer’s, which allows handles marriage and vehicle licenses in addition to registration for provincial health cards and voting.

Depending on the time of the month and the time of day, wait times range from 5 or ten minutes to literally seconds. I walked in and right up to a woman behind the counter who I vaguely know because her son goes to Dee’s school and they have been in the same class on and off since kindergarten.

She took the notification I was mailed, scanned it, asked me if my height and weight were roughly the same – so I lied about the weight part, which is a bit more now, had me sign twice and took my money. Next came the non-smiling photo in which I look grim but on a good hair day and I walked out with a temporary license and the assurance that within a week or so my new license would appear by post.

Five or six minutes – tops. Couldn’t help but remember my last trip to the DMV in Des Moines, which I had to strategically plan for minimum time suckage and it still took over 30 minutes and required me to pass through security. Everything even remotely governmentally related means passing the inspection of this or that rent a cop. Aside from the passport office, I have yet to need to run a security gauntlet for anything here in Canada. Even then, the security guards were jovial types who allowed Dee to go inside and wave to her Dad as he waited to renew his passport last spring.

As the time comes closer for me to take my citizenship test and acquire Canadian status for Dee and myself, it’s little things like these that reinforce for me that I am more home than I ever was in the Midwest state where I was born in the U.S.

While the Roman circus that is a POTUS election cycle drives the bigger discounts – among that Dee and I have more civil rights here than we did there – the smaller things have bigger impact.

Two weeks ago, our ward councillor threw an open house for those of us who live on the outer edges of our county. Rob and I attended, chatted with him and though it is obvious that he is an ambitious young guy who undoubtedly has a future on the larger provincial stage, it was also clear that he knew our area, its issues and that he wanted us to come to him when we need help navigating the bureaucracy.

Back in Iowa, whether it was Dubuque or Des Moines, ordinary people aren’t afforded access to those that make or influence the rules even at the most local level, which is where it matters most of all. Access comes with status that is acquired mostly by birth but also by wealth and network. Our councilor owns businesses where he can be found and will take the time to talk with you (and take notes while he is doing it). He answers emails personally. He usually knows about the issue before you bring it up.

Even at the provincial level, our MLA representative replies promptly to emails and follows up. I have even gotten prompt replies from our MP’s (Member of Parliament) office offering advice and assistance.

Granted, Canada is smaller and Alberta is smaller still, and maybe that’s some of it, but there is a commitment to the importance of citizens that I never witnessed in the land of my birth.

“You should have been born here,” Rob said once. “Meeting me just set the universe right in that respect for you.”

It’s difficult though to disengage from the U.S. Just stop caring about what a cess pool Congress has become and how corrupted the office of the Presidency is after Bush and now Obama.

There was an article in a UK paper this week discussing the fact that while the rest of world realizes that whoever the POTUS is, he’s nearly powerless to affect matters in his own country let alone the world (unless it is through military meddling), most Americans labor under the delusion that they and their government is a vital player and that other countries care deeply about the outcome of this election. The truth though is that while they think that Obama might be a slightly better choice, nothing catastrophic will happen if it ends up being Romney.

My concern is mainly for the state of freedom, which is losing ground daily down there. People I know, well and only virtually, vehemently believe that the American way is the freest and bestest of anywhere but it’s not. And that they don’t know this … is a bit maddening.

I want to tell people “emigrate!”. If you are young(ish) and have skills, there are countries aplenty that will welcome you. Places where health care is a healthy mix of government control and private enterprise. Privacy is a right worth prizing above all other concerns. The common good is just taken as a given. Court systems routinely side with the people in matter of government over-reach. Your vote actually counts even if you don’t live in a “swing state”.

I have to work on the letting go, but someday I plan to be just as bemused by Americans and their elections as any other Canadian. It’s a process.