The cost of Confederation

Michael Moore’s new movie “Sicko” favorably compares the Canadian health care system with the U.S. He reduces wait-times in our emergency rooms to mere moments, a nosestretcher equal to his claim in “Bowling for Columbine” that in crime-free Toronto everyone leaves their front door unlocked.

Despite Moore’s ridiculous comparisons, we Canadians are nothing if not morally righteous about how much better off we are compared to Americans. Behind our phony facade, however, lurks a day-to-day dilemma that should have us up in arms: how much more expensive it is to live here than in the U.S.

There’s been a lot of foofarah about keeping corporate taxes competitive with U.S. rates, but what about personal taxes? When I returned to Canada after working in Washington D.C. where I paid U.S. income taxes, my annual taxes in Canada doubled even though my income dropped.

Moreover, the stronger Canadian dollar – now at a thirty-year high – has done nothing to ease the cost of imports. Book publishers and retailers have been laughingly slow about reducing prices here. Tom Bower’s book about Conrad Black and Barbara Amiel is US$17.79 on, C$22.02 on (or US$23.56), fully one-third more in Canada. Bought a birthday card lately? The printed pricing is even more tilted against us.

Or how about a new car? The manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a 2007 BMW 328i in the U.S. is US$32,400 (or C$34,668) versus C$41,000 in Canada – 18 per cent higher here. That’s a lot to pay for daytime running lights. Gas to put in the car also costs more. In British Columbia gas is C$1.05 a liter (equal to US$4 for a gallon taking currency and different volumes into account). In Seattle, gas costs US$2.75 a gallon, 30 per cent less.

Among the worst institutional offenders is the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. I’m a beer drinker; Sandy prefers Beringer Chardonnay. The $20 price for a 750 ml. bottle of that California wine has not changed in the four years during which the C$ has strengthened by 40 per cent. Neither the importer nor the LCBO could possibly be paying the same price now to put this wine on the shelves as they were four years ago. Why am I?

Because Canadians are gray mice, that’s why. We spend half the year with our shoulders hunched, grumbling about the cold, the other half whining about a short summer and waiting on tenterhooks for the brief bit of warmth to wane. In such a place, there’s no gumption for consumer boycotts, let alone outright revolutions.

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