Canada feels… kind of foreign

I have recently moved back to Canada after more than seven years in the UK. It means I have spent more of my adult life abroad than I have in my home country.

ANYONE who has lived abroad or travelled abroad for long periods of time will probably remember what it feels like to come back to Canada.

The sense of openness and the friendliness of the people is one of the first things that will hit you. But it’s the small things that you took for granted when you lived here that seem to really stand out and seem a bit … foreign.

A friend’s Facebook status update is a case in point. On return to Canada from a lengthy tour of Europe, she wrote: “OK, why is there so much water in the toilets here?” (Fresh water is a scarce resource in Europe, so toilets are designed to flush using much less water. In comparison, many Canadian toilets use what seems like buckets of water). It’s hard not to think it’s a big waste.

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Britain is missing out on one of the joys of winter

Carefree moments are rare things – especially in the middle of winter. That’s why I don’t get why more Brits aren’t keen to embrace the cold, and enjoy the past-times winter can offer.

A CRISP, winter morning has a special quality to it. There is something wonderful about walking outside to see grass covered in frost and your breath in the air.

These kind of moments are pretty rare in the UK, with winter characterised more by rain than by chilly weather.

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Your views on green issues depend very much on how you perceive the world

Britons understand that no land is dispensable – it’s a shame that Canada hasn’t come to the same conclusion.

THERE are few certainties in life – death and taxes being notable exceptions. But I think I might have discovered another certainty to add to the list – that is, if the trend continues.

It’s become a de facto certainty that whenever Canada is mentioned in the media here in the UK,  it is the result of an environmental policy.

It’s not difficult for me to see why Britons and other Europeans are baffled by some of Canada’s policies.

The huge contrast of Canada – a country spoiled with land and resources – and Europe – a continent that treasures its few resources which have been ravaged by thousands of years of human activity – will inevitably lead to clashes.

Take the recent row over Canada’s asbestos industry. Europeans are baffled because Canada seems to be the only country in the developed world which is disregarding the serious health concerns raised by scientists and physicians. Mesothelioma is a form of cancer which has proven links with exposure to asbestos, and it has claimed many lives in Canada and around the world.

In Europe, the idea that a developed nation like Canada is continuing to mine asbestos and sell it to the developing world is anathema.

But for Canadians, asbestos is just one of the many natural resources that Canada relies on to bring money into the economy.

The Canadian government is under pressure to change its stance. Whatever decision they make, it must be based on thorough research and sound science.

Asbestos is not the only thing giving Canada a bad name in the UK. Earlier this year, I watched a programme called Arctic with Bruce Parry. BBC presenter Bruce Parry travelled to  northern Alberta, where the oil industry has changed the face of the landscape in order to extract oil from the sands. The purpose of the documentary was not to be critical of the oil industry, but to shed light on how people live in northern climates. However, Bruce Parry couldn’t mask his sadness when he toured the area in a helicopter and saw the scale of the operation.

Many Canadians will argue that Britons should not judge what Canada does within its own borders.

But living in a nation like Britain, it is impossible not to be concerned. No matter where you live in the UK, be it Wales or London, houses are small and built on a small footprint, and land for industry is nearly impossible to obtain. Britain simply doesn’t have land  which it considers “dispensable”. Britons know that there is no such thing.

I have begun to understand that view point –  anyone who has ever spent a significant amount of time here in the UK would understand.

It wouldn’t hurt for leaders – on both sides of the Atlantic – to see how easily their perceptions would change if they were forced to walk a mile in each other’s shoes.


Stampede: Not for the faint-hearted

I wrote a review of the Calgary Stampede ahead of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s visit there.

It appeared in the South Wales Evening Post on Saturday, June 4, 2011.

I went to this annual event in 2010, but didn’t have the opportunity to review it until it was announced that the newlywed royals were going to include it on their itinerary on their Canada trip.

Here’s an excerpt:


The crowds at Stampede 2010 in front of the Saddledome.

Calgary, a city of about 1 million, has some of Canada’s wealthiest and best-educated people.

Situated in the oil-rich province of Alberta, it is the Houston, Texas, of Canada, if you will.

For that reason, when I visited stampede, I expected a sort of modern-day homage to the Western cowboy culture that used to thrive in this area – a sort of city version of the Wild West.

But this folks, is the real thing, and it ain’t for the faint-hearted.