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Reflections on Labo(u)r Day: Immigrating to Canada

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Immigrating to Canada may seem curious within the context of women navigating challenges. However, many women understand sacrificing their career trajectories and leaving their birth families for love, marriage, and the promise of future family. My journey included emmigrating from the U.S. when my husband received a job offer in Canada.

Prior to the Trump administration, not many Americans thought about immigrating to Canada. Most Americans view Canada as that cold place up north where the map ends. And most think Canadians are just like Americans, but nicer. However, the differences between Americans and Canadians are subtle, yet fundamental. The differences weave deep in the fabric of each society.

Labo(u)r Day

Since immigrating to Canada 15 years ago, I send my dear former frolleague a note the first Monday of each September. “Thinking of you on Labor Day. You gotta’ love Canada, we put the ‘u’ in Labour.”

Canada has a statutory holiday just about every month. And the U.S. has several, but the only national, non-religious holiday celebrated by both on the same day is Labor/Labour Day.

Origin of Labo(u)r Days

Both the U.S and Canada trace the roots of their respective holidays to the late 1800’s. Both countries use the holiday to celebrate the contributions of workers. And workers in both countries enjoy the day off with family, friends and end-of-summer picnics and barbeques.

Canada’s Labour Day dates back to 1872 to the printer’s strike in Toronto in which workers protested 12-hour work days. The first American Labor Day parade was organized in New York in 1882, and the U.S. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894.

The commonly named holiday causes me to reflect on a few differences of the two societies.

You in Labour

One of the first differences I noticed between Canadian and American societies is the socialistic, unionized workforce, especially in Vancouver, British Columbia. For example in 2014 when BC Teachers’ Federation went on strike to protest continuing violations to their contracts, 10 other unions pledged financial support for the unpaid, striking teachers.

Full-time hours average between 36-37 for Canadians compared to 40 hours in the U.S.

Canadians receive a minimum of 10 paid vacations days and nine statutory holidays—a total of 19 days each year. The average American worker receives 10 days of paid vacation per year, and 23 per cent receive no paid vacations or holidays.

Taxes

Part of the difference in labor focus, I believe, dates back to the two countries’ origins and their perspective on taxes.

The Boston Tea Party, a colonial fight against unfair taxes levied by Britain, demarcates the beginning of the American Revolutionary War, the Bloody Revolution. Fighting against taxes represents an elemental thread of American fabric.

Canada, on the other hand, succeeded from England peacefully in the 1960’s almost 200 years after the U.S. There was no fight for independence or against taxes.

Taxes, deemed fair or not, are accepted by Canadians. As a country with socialistic roots, Canadians recognize taxes go towards the common good.

Guns or butter…

Butter

Don’t get me wrong, Canadians don’t necessarily enjoy paying taxes. However, most Canadians recognize they receive valuable social programs through their taxes.

For example, Canadian parents typically enjoy a one-year parental leave from work. The time can be split between the two parents or taken by the birth parent. American mothers are not guaranteed any paid maternity leave.

Canadians have access to Universal Healthcare and view it as a human right to have medical needs treated free of charge.

Americans often pay hundreds of dollars a month and huge deductibles before their private healthcare insurance kicks in—if they are fortunate enough to have private insurance.

Military

The U.S. Senate approved $716 billion in military spending for 2019. First in the world for military spending, the U.S. accounts for over 35% of the world share. Canada ranks 14th. Its $20.6 billion represents 1.2% of the world’s share.

Canada, along with the rest of the world, depends on the U.S. to defend freedom and human rights. Americans pay for this extraordinary and important service through their taxes.

I am extremely grateful for the brave and honourable people who serve in the Armed Forces in both the U.S. and Canada. And as an international citizen, I am grateful for Americans prioritizing this service and tremendous expenditure.

My property

Shortly after I moved to Canada, I realized I viewed my new life through my native lens.

Late in the afternoon, I took my recycling out to the lane for Wednesday pick-up. That evening, I noticed a scruffy man on the edge of my property, digging through my recycling. He took the bottles and cans marked with a return deposit.

I was shocked that he would be trespassing on my property, taking my trash.

My trash.

The neighbors didn’t care, but I did.

My trash.

At that moment, I recognized my American bias of possession and property. Even though I wasn’t going to return my recycling for a refund deposit, I felt it was mine and no other human should claim it.

U in Human and Labour

For me, the “u” in labour represents a value of “you” as in a person, a human. The “u” as in humanity and humane.

The human who has permission to redeem my recycling; the human who receives healthcare when needed.

As I navigate the journey my life path beholds, for now I prefer a society that puts the u in labour. And I feel fortunate for the blessing of dual citizenship.