The signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1775 severed the Thirteen American colonies not only from Allegiance to the British Crown, but also from its neighboring colonies to the north. Having declared their independence, Americans were then required to win it on the battlefield in what became known as the Revolutionary War. This was a turning point in North American history, for until this time, the two nations, now known as Canada and the United States, had both shared common occurrences.
It was not until Confederation in 1867 that Canada loosened their ties with Britain and followed the American lead in becoming an integral part of North America. With both Canada and the United States sharing similar roots, one may question if Canada’s distinct identity is real or imagined.
Through careful examination, it becomes obvious that Canada, its people and their ideals are indeed unique from those of the United States. To begin, the formative events of the two countries were very different, displaying varying national values and perspectives. Also, the United States and Canada exhibit differing approaches towards social security and health care. Finally, the two nations display distinct attitudes in regards to cultural diversity, with the portrayal of Canada being that of a “cultural mosaic” and the United States as a “melting pot” society.
Although Canada and the United States may share similarities, there have been consistent patterns of difference between the two nations. Many of these distinctions originate from the formative processes of each country. The American Republic was born from Revolution while Canada followed a different, more negotiated path to political maturity.
Americans tended to be suspicious of state authority. This attitude led to the adaptation of the Bill of Rights, which put a strong emphasis on due process and judicial power. Canadian society is quite different. Due to a difference in values, Canada did not achieve sovereignty in the same revolutionary manner as the United States, but instead through evolution and allegiance. Canadians valued security, and where the Americans displayed a belief in “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, the Founding Fathers of Confederation defined the values of the Canadian Parliament as “Peace, Order and Good Government”.
Unlike the United States who developed the Bill of Rights, Canada followed the West Minster Model in which power is centered in a cabinet and is based on parliamentary majority with no limits on the authority of the state. Canada was founded on the principles of tradition, respect for authority and good will with Britain. In contrast, the United States was founded upon strength, independence and fortitude. Therefore, it is obvious through examining the differences in the founding processes of Canada and the United States, that Canada has a unique identity.
Not only do the early events of Canadian history display Canada’s individuality, but so does the country’s approach to social security and health care. The Great Depression of the 1930s sparked the emergence of the modern welfare system as the government assumed a more active role in the income payments and services to the old, poor and unemployed. The Canadian government, urged by social-democratic parties, has spent more money proportionally on social security than the United States.
For many Canadians, the nation’s compassionate attitude towards all citizens reflects deeply held values of the entire populous. Canada’s universal social programs amount to what former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, termed as “a sacred trust” between the Canadian people and the government. The same Canadian values of mercy and care are carried into modern society. Canada’s health insurance programs remain more extensive in coverage and in benefits than American programs. All Canadian residents are covered for “medically necessary” hospital and physician services out of general tax revenues.
Unlike Canada’s system, America’s consists of privately paid health insurance, Medicare for seniors and Medicaid for low-income earners. Such privatized health care has resulted in an estimated 37 million American citizens living with no health coverage at all. In contrast to the American system, universal healthcare is widely seen in Canada as a symbol of community values and the government’s desire to take responsibility for the wellbeing of society as a whole. Therefore, it is evident that Canada’s community-oriented approach to social services and heath care sets it apart from the United States.
In addition to having different social programs, Canada’s cultural diversity and tolerance separates the nation from the United States. Throughout time, the American commitment to liberty, equality, material progress and the melting of diverse ethnocultural groups into one culturally unified whole has not only persisted, but grown stronger to become the “American Mission”. Canada’s adoption in 1982 of the Canada Act, with its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been accused of representing a step in the direction of Americanization.
However, despite similarities to the American Bill of Rights, it does not have the same American style emphasis on individual rights. Instead, the Canadian Charter protects traditional language and rights of minorities such as Native people. In Canada, these values have resulted in an ethnic and regional diversity in Canada, while the Americans simply fit into a “prescribed” culture.
Those living in the United States are American. They pledge allegiance and fly the flag. Be they African-American, German-American, Indian-American; they are still American. This American attitude has existed in the United States since the late nineteenth century, while in Canada there has been less pressure on immigrants to assimilate into the predominantly Anglo-Saxon culture. This tolerant attitude first became evident in the 1960s when the United States and Canada experienced a wave of ethnic revival. Canada and the United States handled this situation in two different fashions.
Canada, with its firmer tradition of accepting ethnic differences, encouraged immigrants and Francophones to maintain their own cultural identities more so than did comparable groups in the United States. The introduction of the Meech Lake Accord by Brian Mulroney was an attempt by the government to help Francophone Quebecers maintain their culture and heritage. It was ultimately a reminder of Canada’s acceptance of differences in society. Again, the difference in societal outlooks and expectations sets Canada apart from the United States.