Oct. 31 means different things to different people. For many Canadians, it’s simply Halloween. For others, it’s All Hallows’ Eve, the day before the traditional Christian feast of all saints. And for me? Well, as of today, and for the rest of my life, it will always be known as the day Canada chose my family and me to become citizens.
In early 2003, I bought a publishing business in Canada and moved my wife and four children from Massachusetts to Penticton, a sleepy, small town in the South Okanagan in British Columbia. I then spent the next few years building the company and learning all about life in rural western Canada. In 2009, we decided to seek Canadian citizenship and filled out all the forms, paid all the fees and, eventually, took and passed the citizenship exam. And today, we proudly become Canadian citizens.
When I left the U.S., there was a conservative Republican in the White House and a left-wing Liberal in 24 Sussex Drive. Today, there’s a left-wing Democrat in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and a right-wing Conservative in Ottawa. Strikingly, the world is now looking to Ottawa as that “bright, shining city on a hill,” setting an example for all of fiscal discipline and measured-yet-effective foreign military action, while maintaining a significant — and expensive — domestic social safety net.
Poll after poll suggests that Canadians are more secular, more liberal, more concerned with the collective good and more risk averse than Americans. These generalizations have a kernel of authenticity to them, but the truth is that the Canada — and the Canadians — I have come to know and love over the last few years simply don’t conform to any of these stereotypical caricatures. They — you — are warm, generous, multi-talented and complex bundles of contradictions … resembling more than ever your —our — American cousins.
And my own views on American-ism have evolved. I have much less of a stomach for exporting democracy and force-feeding our values to communities and cultures more concerned with figuring out where the next meal will come from. And I’ve learned to appreciate — all over again — the almost-priceless value of strong, consistent political leadership. Be grateful for what we now have, my fellow Canadians; for the alternative — weak, vacillating and uninspiring — can be found just south of the 49th parallel.
Since arriving in Canada, I’ve been able to volunteer on behalf of some of Canada’s most capable national, provincial and local political leaders; I’ve spent five very rewarding years on the board of our regional hospital foundation, where we’ve raised millions of dollars for new, state-of-the-art equipment for the benefit of our older-than-average Okanagan communities; I’ve watched three of my children graduate from Canadian public high schools; and beginning next May, I hope to watch an economist, then a registered nurse, and then an electrical engineer graduate from some of Canada’s finest universities. And when they go forth into the world, my children will do so as Canadians for the rest of their lives.
Thank you, Canada, for choosing us.
Mark T. Ziebarth