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Why Is Canada So Poor?


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I just spent time in the US - mostly the south: North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida - but I also had a magnificent glimpse of Manhattan at night from the Brooklyn Bridge and I spent far more time than I wished in New Jersey . I was driving.

Returning to Quebec, I realized that Canada is poor. We're comparable to the poorest parts of South Carolina. (Before anyone starts Quebec-bashing, or South-bashing, I drove to the US through Ontario. IMHO, Ontario is poor compared to the US too. Hilton Head is not a poor place.)

In Canada, we have what the world wants. We have natural resources. And yet, we seem to be squandering our inheritance. While Norwegians live well and do good works around the world, we Canadians live in tenement slums in the projects. (THis is no joke. The roads in poor parts of South Carolina are better than most roads in Quebec.)

When I crossed the border from New York to Quebec, one of the first signs in Canada that I saw was a federal government bilingual billboard stating "We work for you. Improving our roads." There was no evidence of any equipment improving any road. Only the sign. It seems to me that Canada is a Potemkin Village, or software salesman. In Canada, our government puts up signs to state what it will do but nothing ever gets done. In the US, I saw equipment fixing roads, and I saw numerous "Memorial Highway" signs, but I never saw a sign stating "Your Federal Dollars at Work" in a barren field. Arriving in Canada, that's the first thing I saw.

Maybe I'm wrong in my observations. Road conditions are hardly a measure of economic success. Yet, statistics generally support the idea that Americans - on average - are about 20% richer than we are. Why? We're few in number and we've got all this land with all this stuff below. We should live well, but we don't.

Instead, our governments put up signs all over the place, telling us who we are, what we have, what we should do and what the politicians are doing for us.

Edited by August1991
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Guest American Woman

Hilton Head is a very rich area. You can't take Hilton Head as representative of the 'average U.S.' Also, in traveling, I assume you took the interstates. The interstates, as a rule, don't go through the 'poor side of town.' Taking Amtrak from Chicago to New Orleans gives one a whole different view; that gives a glimpse of the poor, run-down side of America. And while I agree with you regarding NYC, I too find it amazing and beautiful, it wasn't always that way. I was there before Guiliani 'cleaned it up' and I swore I'd never go back. But here's the thing. He didn't really clean it up so much as shove it out of sight. I talked to a few locals when I was there last, and they said all he did was shove the problems back a few streets; hidden from view. It was like that in New Orleans, too. The French Quarter was amazing (this was before Katrina), but cross the street outside of the French Quarter and the change was incredible. It's hard to believe just crossing a street could make such a huge difference, but it was day and night. So if one never crosses the street, they don't see that side of the city.

On the other hand, I've also taken Via Rail from Toronto to Monreal and the bus from Montreal to Ottawa, and I didn't see any of the seediness and/or poverty that I saw on Amtrak.

It may be true that the average middle class American has a bit higher income than the average middle class Canadian, but our 'poor' on the average have a lower income than the poor Canadian. Remember the footage from Katrina? That showed a really poor side of America, and it does exist. We have the greatest discrepancy between the 'haves' and the 'have nots.'

Edited by American Woman
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Guest American Woman
AW's points are good, but also - the US owns a lot of the world (400 billionaires) so it's natural to expect that they will be better off then us employees.

400 billionaires out of a population of 300 million means that the vast majority of Americans are "employees" too. That's why I referred to the 'average middle class' Americans and Canadians in my response. *

Canada's problem is that we have a small population spread over a large geographical area. High cost to deliever services and set up infrastructure.

This is a good point. I often wonder how Canada maintains all that land with a population of only 30 million. But then, isn't the majority of Canada not really 'developed?'

*Edited to add:

Of course those billionaires account for a lot of federal tax money, so that's a reason why the U.S. would be 'richer.'

Edited by American Woman
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two words... frost heaves.

Very few frost heaves in most of USA, lots of frost heaves in most of Canada -- hence the bad roads.

Frost heaves are caused when the ground freezes and then thaws and then refreezes.

And yes, AW most of Canada is still undeveloped wilderness.

Edited by Drea
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Hmmm...it is a matter of perspective. On my honeymoon last year we went to the US and my wife saw this house for sale and she just fell in love with it. Just for sh*ts and giggles I decided to call the number and get the price on the house. The house that was brick and by appearance and size alone I would estimate would be around 750,000+ here in Alberta was 190,000. Richer? You gotta look beyond just appearances.

Then there are the exchange rates...which until recently was not nearly matched.

Then there is the already brought up point of spanned out geography and infrastructure...and lets not forget how many dollars are spent fixing frost heaved roads that the US doesn\t have to worry about etc..

Also, you have to look at taxes...I make more than my American counterparts...but I take home less.

This topic is very much based on a short sighted and seemingly covetted point of view

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Guest American Woman
Hmmm...it is a matter of perspective. On my honeymoon last year we went to the US and my wife saw this house for sale and she just fell in love with it. Just for sh*ts and giggles I decided to call the number and get the price on the house. The house that was brick and by appearance and size alone I would estimate would be around 750,000+ here in Alberta was 190,000. Richer? You gotta look beyond just appearances.

Where in Alberta and where in the U.S.? That makes a huge difference in real estate prices.

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two words... frost heaves.

Very few frost heaves in most of USA, lots of frost heaves in most of Canada -- hence the bad roads.

This is false, as frost heaving is common in many northern US states. Building codes reflect this reality. The degree of frost heaving may be less, but some of Canada's dense population centers do not experience as much either.

I drive over the impact of frost heaving every weekday in a major US metropolitan area. My local building code requires 120 cm frost footings.

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We are a quasi Socialist country. Socialist countries do not look too good. I see many similarities between Canada and what I saw in Eastern Europe in the early '90s. We pay huge amounts of taxes, and see very little for it. And the point of a large country with a small population also plays a huge role.

You want to clean the place up, reduce taxation, attract business, create good jobs, keep the unions out so we do not stiffle creativity and the workers do not price themselves out of a job, invest in infastructure. In other words change the priorities of the government from a social safety net to lets all get to work!!!

You cannot tell me there is no work to be done in Canada.

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It is utterly amazing the amount of poverty I see on a daily basis.

Canadians driving two, even three, four and FIVE year old vehicles! OMG I've never seen such despair!

Canadians living in houses and condos! The horror! It boggles the mind! You won't even believe this one... there is (GET THIS) a trailer park (that's right folks a mobile home park with 15 trailers in it) right down the road from me! I cannot imagine the hell of living that way. Gosh I feel for those people, stuck in mobile homes! I feel even worse for the ones that drive SUVs into the city every single day. Must be hell on them. And you should SEE the grocery store -- my god, they have produce from around the world! How horrible is that? I wonder how any of us survive at all in this poverty sticken hellhole that is Canada.

LOL

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300 sq ft house? Why that's huge compared to my igloo!

Of course, living in this extreme level of poverty has been very difficult. I missed out on cafe latte's yesterday at work (where they pay me in health care vouchers-- really! That's all I get -- my healthcare paid for. For everything else we use the barter system. We trade back bacon for maple syrup.)

My igloo is top of the line though. It's made with real snow trucked in from up north. (the truck runs on chicken poop and bacon fat as Canada has no other means of energy. Most of the time though, we just huddle around the bacon-fat fire and hope for the best. :P

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Has anyone ever seen the documentary "The One Eyed Jesus" that was before katrina and It sure opened my eyes to an American south that is evidently not apparent from the free ways. The man who it was about had to go out and buy an old 80's car because no one would talk to him if he took in his good car.

Oh yes just thought of two other documentaries that were rather shocking, on showed a small town south of Chicago where the houses had mud floors and broken windows, the same with a documentary from England where it showed the St. Louis that few people see.

Edited by margrace
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Has anyone ever seen the documentary "The One Eyed Jesus" that was before katrina and It sure opened my eyes to an American south that is evidently not apparent from the free ways. The man who it was about had to go out and buy an old 80's car because no one would talk to him if he took in his good car.

Nope...never heard of it. Ever seen the documentary about Davis Inlet?

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Guest American Woman
Has anyone ever seen the documentary "The One Eyed Jesus" that was before katrina and It sure opened my eyes to an American south that is evidently not apparent from the free ways. The man who it was about had to go out and buy an old 80's car because no one would talk to him if he took in his good car.

I've never seen it, but will have to be sure to watch it if I ever see that it's being aired. Sounds interesting.

As for St. Louis, it definitely has it's high crime areas. I found this out after I'd been there, as it's not apparent from the areas tourists generally see.

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Has anyone ever seen the documentary "The One Eyed Jesus" that was before katrina and It sure opened my eyes to an American south that is evidently not apparent from the free ways. The man who it was about had to go out and buy an old 80's car because no one would talk to him if he took in his good car.

Oh yes just thought of two other documentaries that were rather shocking, on showed a small town south of Chicago where the houses had mud floors and broken windows, the same with a documentary from England where it showed the St. Louis that few people see.

I took a tour of a large old hotel just east of the Don River in Toronto - I have never seen such conditions - less than third world. The people were hidden away from public sight..total hopelessness and raging poverty....in the center of the economic engine...what the hell is that about - and I will not get into the "harm reduction programs" Where on a street corner a well dressed governmental worker hold the hand of an convoluted and almost convulsing crack addict - a girl of sixteen at the most - while a creep steps up and sell her crack...This is the great Canadian shame - and almost all were white folks. The grand children of the poor Irish, Scottish and English labourers that generated the original wealth for our elite - now abandoned as they bring in more immigrants - who they in time force to work for minimum wage - this is a travesty - such poverty...and suffering - and condoned by the leftist city state of Toronto.

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Maybe I'm wrong in my observations. Road conditions are hardly a measure of economic success. Yet, statistics generally support the idea that Americans - on average - are about 20% richer than we are. Why? We're few in number and we've got all this land with all this stuff below. We should live well, but we don't.

I think you're right that the U.S. is richer than Canada. However, it is also poorer according to OECD standards.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Poverty_Index

The U.S. is an incredibly dynamic economy open to great innovations and has a number of category killer industries in entertainment, retailing, technology and manufacturing. The very large population creates a huge domestic market and it is where businesses can grow fast if they are smart enough, fleet foot enough and financed well enough. The U.S. federal government is involved in some key areas such as transportation which helps support the just in time supply line that keeps productivity high.

The above is what keeps the U.S. economy coming back time and time again. I think many Americans would probably be the first to tell you what some of the big problems their country faces. The rising costs of health and education are impediments to everyone enjoying the good life. The level of indebtedness is starting to be a big concern.

Canada faces a lot of the same issues in terms of health, education and indebtedness. Some of the problems of health are mitigated by Medicare, some of the problems in debt are mitigated by better regulations by CMHC and internal financial practices of finding out the credit worthiness of mortgage and loan applicants. Education has shown some steady gains in international standings at the primary and secondary levels. Post secondary education has some excellent schools and programs but remains a weakness in terms of turning out dynamic and innovative grads.

The Canadian government at one time made eat-west links a priority as a nation. The Canadian railways made Canada a nation. They continue to play a major role but Canada has not made highways a key economic lever for long term growth. In the 1950s, Eisenhower made the Interstate highways a major responsibility of the federal government. It was a project that only recently achieved its goal of linking almost every community with a sizable population to interstate highway transportation.

In my view, the Feds should eliminate Western Diversification fund, Atlantic Opportunities and a host of the other funding agencies that hand out money for infrastructure projects. The whole thing should be folded into a Trans-Canada Highway program to create safe and swift transportation links to every sizable community in Canada. It would go a long way to achieve many of the goals of national unity and contribute to east-west mobility which is important to prosperity.

There are other things that can be done and being close to the U.S. will always involve comparisons to what is happening south. Sometimes it is important to adopt what other nations do that works well. Other times, it is important to look beneath the surface at what is actually happening.

When you look at a duck on a smooth surface, it is often difficult to remember that they might be paddling like made below the surface.

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Hilton Head is a very rich area. You can't take Hilton Head as representative of the 'average U.S.' Also, in traveling, I assume you took the interstates. The interstates, as a rule, don't go through the 'poor side of town.'
I drove on Interstates and on local roads. (A GPS makes it much easier to be adventurous!) I mentioned Hilton Head merely because one often thinks that South Carolina is poor. In fact, I generally found the South to be well off. IME, the poorest parts of America are in the north in Pennsylvania.

I was basing my conclusion on general observation which of course is biased and non-representative. But I think it's accurate. Moreover, I suspect the difference is more striking now than, say, 20 years ago.

Canada's problem is that we have a small population spread over a large geographical area. High cost to deliever services and set up infrastructure.
In the areas where Canadians live, our population density is comparable to Americans.

The fact that Canada has broad swathes of territory should make us richer since it means we have more land to exploit. The few Canadians can benefit from all the riches beneath and on our soil. Norwegians, for example, are among the richest people on the planet because of their natural resources. We on the other hand are poor stewards of our resources and our governments tend to waste what royalties they receive.

IMV, Canadians should have significantly higher incomes than Americans and yet we lag behind in general. As economists say, we misallocate resources and this leaves us poorer even though we have potentially more.

After poking about in the US, when I returned to Canada, this struck me. The bilingual federal government road sign added insult to injury.

----

I wanted to avoid statistics or at least, I wanted to use them in a different way. Here's a random example (from 1999):

*The beginning teacher’s average salary in the U.S. is $37,573 (that’s $5,892 more than the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) pays a beginning teacher)

*The average beginning salary for the three states that value teachers the most is $44,129 ($12,448 more than the TDSB)

*The average U.S. teacher salary is $57,446

*For the six states that border the Great Lakes region (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York) that average (not maximum.) increases to $65,107

*The three states with the highest average salaries are Connecticut ($75,521), New Jersey ($73,414), and New York ($71,119)

*An average of the salaries for teachers at the top of the grid for the top ten highest paying cities in the U.S. is $93,888. $146,000 for Long Island teachers in Yonkers, N.Y. a teacher at the top of the grid makes $115,931, while in Long Island, N.Y. the highest teacher salary surpasses $146,000

Link

Teachers in Toronto (TDSB) are considered to be among the best paid in Canada because they have a strong union and the provincial government is inclined to give into them. Canadians pride themselves on a public school system and believe that we put much money into it.

Yet, Toronto teachers earn less than comparable American teachers. Bear in mind too that income taxes are higher in Canada than the US so the difference in after tax income is even greater.

Here's another example. The maximum monthly US social security payment is about $1350 whereas the equivalent maximum CPP payment is about $900.

Edited by August1991
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I drove on Interstates and on local roads. (A GPS makes it much easier to be adventurous!) I mentioned Hilton Head merely because one often thinks that South Carolina is poor. In fact, I generally found the South to be well off. IME, the poorest parts of America are in the north in Pennsylvania.

I was basing my conclusion on general observation which of course is biased and non-representative. But I think it's accurate. Moreover, I suspect the difference is more striking now than, say, 20 years ago.

----

Here's another example. The maximum monthly US social security payment is about $1350 whereas the equivalent maximum CPP payment is about $900.

Oh, of course you wanted to avoid statistics.

You would prefer to rely on your personal anecdotal evidence method of inquiry that is unworthy of proving anything other than you drive as selectively as you cherry pick statistics.

Now, I'll let the others on here come up with stats which show one thing or another.

The only nonsense I want to point out here is regarding the US SS vs CAN CPP:

1) They pay more into their system than Canadians do - 6.2% up to $102,000 of earnings for 2008 whereas in Canada we pay 4.95% on up to $44,900 (note - for both instances the employee matches the employer deduction effectively making the rates 12.4% and 9.9%).

One would expect higher benefits when people are paying more into the system.

2) Canada started to overhaul its CPP system in the mid-90's and there have been reports in the media for years that it is actuarially sound.

The same cannot be said for Social Security in the US where some have claimed that it needs huge changes:

Just one example of many if anyone were to choose to research this: Greenspan urges Social Security cuts

Clearly, if one were to dig further than some superficial drive-by look at benefits, the situation is much more complex than you make it out to be.

Edited by msj
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I wanted to avoid statistics or at least, I wanted to use them in a different way. Here's a random example (from

Here are some more current numbers.

http://www.educationworld.net/salaries_us.html

Average teacher salaries. California had the nation's highest average salary in 2002-03, at $55,693. States joining California in the top tier were Michigan, at $54,020; Connecticut, at $53,962; New Jersey, at $53,872; and the District of Columbia, at $53,194.

South Dakota had the lowest average salary in 2002-03, at $32,414. The other states in the bottom tier were Montana, at $35,754; Mississippi, at $35,135; North Dakota, at $33,869; and Oklahoma, at $33,277. Also in the lowest tier were the Virgin Islands, at $34,764; Guam at $34,738; and Puerto Rico, at $22,164.

Average beginning teacher salaries. Alaska had the highest average beginning salary in 2002-03, at $37,401. States joining Alaska in the top tier were New Jersey, at $35,673; District of Columbia, at $35,260; New York, at $35,259; and California, at $34,805.

Montana had the lowest average beginning salary in 2002-03, at $23,052. The other states in the bottom tier were Maine, at $24,631; South Dakota, at $24,311; North Dakota, at $23,591; and Arizona, at $23,548.

http://www.aft.org/salary/2003/download/2003Table2.pdf

http://www.aft.org/salary/2003/download/2003Table1.pdf

Here is a recent list from Canada.

http://www.educationworld.net/salaries_cda.html

Ont. Metro Toronto Elem. 1999-00

starting 31,681 highest 55,044

Is the difference that much? There is a big difference with the lowest paid states to lowest paid Canadian provinces. It is probably one reason why Alberta and Manitoba teachers don't run to teach in Montana and North Dakota.

Edited by jdobbin
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Guest American Woman
I drove on Interstates and on local roads. (A GPS makes it much easier to be adventurous!) I mentioned Hilton Head merely because one often thinks that South Carolina is poor. In fact, I generally found the South to be well off. IME, the poorest parts of America are in the north in Pennsylvania.

I was basing my conclusion on general observation which of course is biased and non-representative. But I think it's accurate. Moreover, I suspect the difference is more striking now than, say, 20 years ago.

I"m glad you enjoyed your trip in the States. :) I think the U.S. is beautiful, and can never understand the "I'd never take a vacation to the U.S.!" mentality. I've never understood the need to tell me that, either. I would never tell someone I have no desire to visit their country even if I did have no desire to visit it.

As for north Pennsyvania, I've also noticed that it's a rather 'poor' area. When referring to the 'poor South,' however, it generally doesn't include the Carolinas. When you say you generally found the South to be well off, what states are you referring to?

Edited by American Woman
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