I recently returned from ten days in Alberta, Canada visiting the small town of Stettler where my hardy and adventurous relatives settled in the early 1900s. People from all over the world came to the area in droves, attracted by cheap land grants offered by the Canadian Pacific Railroad that was hoping to create new towns (and presumably customers) on the vast and largely unpopulated prairie.
The contrast between what I saw in Alberta and what we are currently experiencing in the U.S. is stark, particularly when it comes to infrastructure. Even though I live in the beautiful, but some what ostentatiously upscale county of Marin in Northern California, the road to my house has only been paved once in the 30+ years my husband and I have lived there—and even then, for some inexplicable reason, the city failed to pave the part of the road that connects my street to the main thoroughfare of our town. It is only a bit of an exaggeration to say that the potholes get so big in the winter that you could take a bath in them. In Alberta, all of the streets we drove on were smoothly paved with nary a pothole in sight. Even in very small communities with only four or five thousand inhabitants, the roads were well-maintained whether paved or, in the outback, neatly graveled.
Public infrastructure reminded me of my childhood
Other types of public infrastructure were also impressive and reminded me of my childhood when the Greatest Generation was still in charge of making public policy decisions. Imagine this: All throughout the places we visited in Alberta, there was soap in every soap dispenser and paper towels and toilet paper in every public restroom. There was no trash on the roadsides and they even had tidy bear-proof garbage cans in the National Park.
Banff, the National Park where we spent three days was stunning, with sparkling lakes, majestic mountains, and lush forests. We even had a rainbow fest (with double and even triple rainbows) on our drive back from Lake Louise to Canmore. Again, the infrastructure to support visitors was excellent with free parking and shuttle services, clean plentiful public restrooms, and, are you ready for this, park rangers who were actually teaching nature to kids and adults. The last park I visited in northern California not only had no Rangers, but the historical sites of the first people, the Miwoks, were falling apart.
One particularly interesting bit of infrastructure was Quarry Lake near the town of Canmore. Prior to becoming a lake, the area was an open pit for coal mining. After the pit was no longer profitable, instead of leaving it as an ugly scar, the community raised money to fill in part of the pit and transformed it into a recreational lake for swimming and floating with nearby biking and hiking. Now that’s a good idea!
And they have universal healthcare
I didn’t see a single public road, building or stadium branded AT&T or Oracle or Bank of America. In fact, our trip was remarkably ad-free compared to the constant barrage of billboards and other advertising bombarding us every day in every place and every way in the U.S.
The people we met were all civil, in fact, kind and—did I mention this?—everyone has healthcare in Canada. For all of you who still believe the U.S. has the best healthcare system in the world, let me ask you the last time someone in America spontaneously told you how great their healthcare was? Here is how one woman in the small town of Bashaw in central Alberta described it to me. Her husband had had multiple medical problems, having suffered a heart attack in the 90s. Everything he needed after this serious illness was covered by Canada’s national healthcare system. As was all of their care throughout the ensuing years. She said he would be dead and she would be destitute if they had to pay for all those services themselves. She also said her Province (Alberta) has a commitment to helping seniors age in place so support services and resources (e.g., wheelchairs, etc) are also free. This is not an elitist urban Province, it is a primarily rural agricultural region—similar to areas in the U.S. that voted Trump—and yet, the people who live there told us by and large they feel secure knowing their healthcare needs will be covered. They also wondered how we were holding up under our new administration. And, they said they felt sorry for us that our healthcare system, such as it is, is such a mess.
Honoring their diversity
Perhaps you are thinking, yeah, Canada can do all that because it is a relatively small country compared to the U.S. and the population is homogeneous. But, what we saw in Alberta was an unexpected amount of cultural and racial diversity. The parade at the famous Calgary Stampede was a grand celebration of that ever-growing diversity; there were myriad groups marching and floats driving that honored populations from all over the world who now call Canada their home. There were people from many different parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. We saw Sikhs, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and, who knows, probably even some Atheists. The restaurants in Calgary reflected this diversity so we were able to feast on steaming bowls of Pho before heading out to Banff.
Most people we talked to were happy with their lives and proud of their history. Every little town we visited had a museum that chronicled the town’s history since the turn of the century. The only complaint we heard on the trip was from one Uber driver, originally from Africa, who told us he used to be a bad boy but is now born again. He said he didn’t like it that there was little tolerance for him proselytizing in the streets!
I realize this story is only based on anecdotes from my brief stay in Alberta, but still, I couldn’t help thinking that if President Trump or anyone with any power in our government really wanted to “Make America Great Again,” they would send a delegation to Alberta and copy everything they are doing. We certainly could be, and in fact, we are, in many cases, doing much worse.