People both outside and living within North America have the tendency to view the United States and Canada as one uniform region with homogenous cultural and political structures. The ecology of Canada and the US alone, demonstrate a great contrast, with the US having more diverse climates and ecosystems. Ice is a larger part of the Canadian landscape with the permafrost in the northern portion and more temperate climates toward the US-Canada border. The Canadian tundra and the Mojave Desert of the Southwest US receive fairly equitable rainfall but have vastly different temperatures. Mediterranean climates also make up a larger portion of the United States than in Canada. With the ecological differences in mind, it is also essential to point out the societal divergence between the US and Canada.
Canada is considerably larger than the United States, but contains only 1/10th of the population, with Canada housing more than 36 million inhabitants, and the US having a population of more than 325 million. While both countries reflect many of the values of western culture, the differences between the embodiment of these characteristics can be seen as soon as one crosses the border. Overall, the distinctions between
Canada and the United States can be categorized into three spheres: the political sphere, the economic sphere, and the socio-cultural sphere. Political Sphere With the recent political climate in the United States and the controversy surrounding America’s federal government, the political differences between the United States and Canada have become even more apparent, not only in structure but ideology as well. While both countries have a federal system, The United States has 50 states and 14 other territories, while Canada contains 10 provinces and 3 other territories. As Canada continues to be a nation under the British Commonwealth the head of state is currently Queen Elizabeth or the British monarchy. The prime minister of Canada, currently Justin Trudeau the 23rd Prime Minister, is the elected head of the federal government and acts as both the chief executive and a leader in the legislative branch. (Hardwick, Shelley & Holtgrieve, 2013).
One may say the separation of powers is of greater importance to US political ideology with the President of the United States being the head of the Executive Branch soley. While the president does have veto power as a check on Congress, he is often criticized when he steps out of his predetermined role in the executive branch and further into the legislative sphere. The process through which the head of government is elected is also somewhat different from each country demonstrating forms of democracy but different party systems.
There are a plethora of pros and cons to the US two-party system. While it makes for more concise politics, the divisive Republican and Democratic parties experience a large amount of gridlock because of the vast political chasm. Canada, on the other hand between four and five parties in the legislative body and even more than lobby for certain initiatives. In this system, voters are even more strongly tied to their party than specific politicians. However, because party leaders gain power through plurality and not an absolute majority like the United States, coalition building is a major part of the legislative process, making compromises more representative of the public’s opinion.
Canada and the United States political ideologies contrast with greater emphasis on different portions of governmental influence. While the precepts of democracy are still evident in both systems, and political freedom is a great source of pride for citizens in each nation, that sense of freedom seems to be founded in diverging practices. A laissez-faire attitude toward economic and political control is more prevalent in the US, with many citizens seeing that their personal freedom begins at the ends or limits of federal government. This can foster greater distrust and resentment toward national government, particularly when the opposing party has a greater disbursement of power. On the other hand, Canadians, on average, demonstrate greater trust in government, relying more on government services, namely healthcare. This leads into the distribution of federal funds. In the US, a larger amount of federal taxes go toward the department of defense and there is an overall greater emphasis on military power while in Canada a greater amount of federal funds are allocated toward socialized healthcare.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook, in 2016 3.29% of the United States’ gross domestic product was allocated to military expenditures while 0.99% of Canada’s GDP went toward spending on defense programs. ("The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency", 2018) These differences in spending speak to the greater power wielded by the United States in world affairs, with the US having a permanent membership in the United Nations and NATO. Institutionalized violence is another topic of controversy between the United States and Canada. Canada has, in general, established stricter gun laws than the US. With the prevalence of mass shootings in both countries, gun laws have come to the forefront of the news and public policy. “Handguns accounted for 21 per cent of the total homicides [in 2016], and 58 percent of the shooting homicides. In the United States, by comparison, the report notes there were 7,105 homicides committed with a handgun in 2016, accounting for 47 percent of all homicides south of the border that year.” (Fletcher, 2018) Americans stress the protection of the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution, and often describe the United States’ more lenient gun laws as a source of liberty. Another example of the way institutionalized violence differs is with capital punishment.
Canada has abolished the death penalty for all crimes, including capital offenses, while in 30 of the 50 state there exist valid death penalty statutes. Finally one of the greatest contrast between the two countries is their differing ideologies surrounding immigration. Canada is recognized for its very open immigration policies. Canada’s largest immigrant populations come from Asian countries, while in the US, Asians make up a large portion of those immigrating, but the largest percentage is those from Latin America. It is interesting that going forward with immigration policy the US is known as the ‘melting pot’ while Canada calls itself a ‘mosaic’ Economic Sphere The differences between the US and Canada are most apparent when comparing their economies and capital. According to the World Bank’s 2017 report, the United States has a higher gross domestic product per capita at $59,531.7, while Canada’s is $45,032, and the exchange rate between currencies in s about $1.30 of Canadian dollars for every US dollar. ("GDP per capita (current US$) | Data", 2018; "Convert US Dollars to Canadian Dollars - Exchange Rates", 2018).
At first glance, one may say that the US economy and standard of living is higher but in taking a closer look there are pros and cons to each country's economic status. Canada supports a much less diverse economy from oil and lumber, while US is a manufacturing powerhouse, and in spite of growing similar grain-based crops, 44% of the land in the US is viable for agriculture whereas in Canada it's only about 7%. The US exports $1.4 trillion goods. Canada’s imports and exports are fairly equitable while US imports way more than it exports. Canada has a higher unemployment rate, but the US has higher rate of people living under the poverty line. As is evident in many of these statistics, both countries’ economies exemplify strengths and weaknesses.
Now looking at the markets and labor forces in Canada and the US, we observe that there are distinguishing factors of each country. This is particularly true in e-commerce and internet laws in Canada. Because of heavy licensing restrictions, Canada does not allow Spotify or Pandora, and has a very limited selection of programs on Netflix. E-commerce, in general, is less developed, with few stores even offering websites for online shopping, and Canadian Amazon holding a more limited selection of items. The US, on the other hand, has an ever-growing online economy. “During an April 2017 survey, 40 percent of internet users in the United States stated that they purchased items online at several times per month, and 20 percent said they bought items or services online on a weekly basis.” (Facts, 2018) As far as the labor force is concerned, Americans are known for working longer and later than Canadians. In the US, the average workweek is 47 hours and in Canada the workweek is 36-40 hours and at the minimum 2 weeks of paid vacation.
Canadian women in the workforce receive at least 15 weeks of paid maternity leave mandated by the government. In the United States many states mandate vacation time and maternity leave but don’t require that this time be paid and, in some cases, don’t require this time at all. As mentioned previously, socialized healthcare is a major distinguishing factor that sets Canada apart from the United States. The Healthcare Act of 1984 aimed to ensure that all residents of Canada have access to necessary hospital and physician services based on five principles: universality, portability, public administration, accessibility, and comprehensiveness. ("The Canada Health Act", 2018). Canadians do still have to pay for things like prescription drugs, home care, and prescription eyeglasses.
Canadians also live an average of 2 years longer than Americans, with average life expectancy for Canadian women at 82.3 years and 79.3 years for men. American women, on average live to be 80.8 years and 75.6 years for men. While there are many compounding factors that could contribute to this, like lower levels of obesity, or increased physical activity, socialized healthcare has been reported to be a contributing factor in the longer life span. Sociocultural Sphere Lastly, the sociocultural sphere can be used to contrast the United States and Canada, with differing traditions, dialects and colloquialisms, and subtle cultural nuances.
A nation’s overall culture can be broken up into many subcategories, but the following will discuss how language, and cultural celebrations and traditions distinguish Canada from the United state. First, Language is one of the most infamous ways Canadians and Americans claim they can tell each other apart. While the majority of each population speak English, the second most popular languages in each country are distinct and point to different colonial and immigration histories. The US technically does not have an official language, however in every state majority of government sponsored programs use English. Depending on the area of the US one is in effects the other languages that are present. For example, in Clark County, Nevada, (where Las Vegas is located) voter ballots are available in English, Spanish and Tagalog because Las Vegas contains large populations of Hispanic and Filipino residents. For the most part, Spanish appears to be a common second language with the high volume of immigrants from Latin America. In Canada on the other hand, English and French are both official languages, representative of the colonial background of Canada, as well as the federal government's relationship with the province of Quebec. Along with the languages spoken, come the differences in dialects, accents and slang relative to the English spoken in each country. Canada use different spelling for words that contain an ‘or’ sound: colour, favourite, labour.
The second cultural facet that distinguishes Canada and the US are the celebrations and traditions. Thanksgiving in Canada occurs on the second Monday of October however, most people celebrate it on Sunday and take the Monday off school and work. The holiday celebrates the harvests and blessings of the past year and is celebrate earlier because of Canada’s shorter growing season and earlier harvest. American Thanksgiving it is the fourth Thursday in November and celebrates the harvest and the legend of “peace between pilgrims and Native peoples”. Another interesting facet of national celebration is that Canada Day and US Independence Day are only three days apart (July 1st to July 4th) and are both celebrated with traditions like barbeques, parades, and fireworks. (Youtube, 2018).
Food is an essential tenet of not only celebrations but life in general. While the food in both countries is fairly similar accounting for a few distinct delicacies like all-dressed chips, and poutine in Canada, there is one major difference between the US and Canada-- the legal drinking age. In Canada, the drinking age is determined by the local government, with legal age being 19 in the majority of the country, but in Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec young adults can start drinking at 18. In America, the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984 and is a federal policy that establishes 21 as the legal age. (Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, 2018). In short, Canada and the United States, while they have a long history of peace, are distinct in government, economy, and culture.