So You Want To Move To Canada

It's not so easy right now.

Best place in the world!
Canada during Prohibition.


About an hour into the recent United States presidential debates there was a huge spike of Google searches for "move to Canada" and "how to move to Canada." It's a bit problematic now because the border is closed to keep out the coronavirus, but according to the Canadian government website, they are still accepting permanent resident applications and focusing on "work permits for people who perform or support essential services." Some tech companies are hiring like mad and even with the coronavirus happening are getting their new employees into the country within a month. Express Entry can even work for those who want to be self-employed. Get more info here.

Canada is not coronavirus-free, but has had significantly lower numbers of cases relative to population and way fewer deaths. David Frum writes in The Atlantic that "On one side of the border, almost everybody took the virus seriously – and few people had it. On the other, the reverse." Most people do take it seriously in Canada, but you still see a lot of people without masks and even a few anti-mask protests.

How Treehugger Correct Is It?

Governor General
Astronaut and Governor General Julie Payette.  Office of the Governor General

In the recent speech from the throne, Prime Minister Trudeau made some serious promises of a green recovery of the economy. "Climate action will be a cornerstone of our plan to support and create a million jobs across the country. Canadians also know climate change threatens our health, way of life, and planet. They want climate action now, and that is what the Government will continue to deliver."

Trudeau also promised to create jobs retrofitting buildings, investing in resilience, delivering more transit and active transit options.

"This pandemic has reminded Canadians of the importance of nature. The Government will work with municipalities as part of a new commitment to expand urban parks, so that everyone has access to green space. This will be done while protecting a quarter of Canada’s land and a quarter of Canada’s oceans in five years, and using nature-based solutions to fight climate change, including by planting two billion trees. The Government will ban harmful single-use plastics next year and ensure more plastic is recycled."

He will not get everything he wants, because the provinces have a lot of power, more than the states have in the U.S., and Alberta isn't happy. The Alberta energy minister says "If we are treated unfairly and our largest sector in oil and gas is left out of it, then there will be a fight – and it’s a fight for fundamental fairness." Ontario also has a conservative government that is ripping up wind turbines and fighting federal carbon taxes, and the City of Toronto is run by conservatives who pander to suburban drivers.

Before the 2016 election I wrote in greater detail: So You Want to Move to Toronto.

Where Should I Live?

Survey of Canadian Cities
Survey of Canadian Cities.  Macleans Magazine

Macleans, a national magazine, does an annual survey which you can play with by sliding the weightings on the side, but these are weird choices, with mostly sprawly Ontario suburbia in the top 10. The only major city here in the top is Ottawa; it's home to government and Shopify, but when former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was asked what he thought was the nicest thing about Ottawa, he answered "the highway to Montreal." To be fair, that was a long time ago.

Explore Magazine, an Outside clone, lists the 10 best adventure towns and real estate consultancy CBRE lists the best cities for tech talent, with Toronto on top, followed by Ottawa, Vancouver, Waterloo Region and Montreal.

Is it Expensive?

Everything is relative. People think housing in Toronto or Vancouver is expensive, but it is a lot cheaper than New York or San Francisco, especially if you have U.S. dollars. But some big expenses are much lower; public schools are good, the best universities are far cheaper than those in the U.S., and health care is covered by taxes. Drugs are not covered by the health plan, but they cost a lot less than in the U.S.

Ken Rother, an entrepreneur who once was the CEO of Treehugger, used to say that Canada was a great place to set up a new business because nobody worried about their health insurance and were much more willing to take a chance on a small new venture.

Is it Fun?

Bar Raval
Bar Raval. Jonathan Friedman/ Partisans

Yes, before the Covid-19 hit there were wonderful new places opening everywhere (like my favorite interior, above, in Bar Raval), vibrant arts communities, and theaters – it was busy. How many will survive is unknown.

How Cold Is It?

Ready for winter biking
Ready for winter biking. Lloyd Alter 

Depends where you are, but most of it is no colder than you get in the U.S. nearby. Ninety percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border, so Toronto is like Buffalo with a bit less snow, and Vancouver is like Seattle, and everything in the middle is like Minnesota. I ride my bike all winter and with a good pair of Black Diamond mitts I am perfectly comfortable.

Forget About the Clichés

Old Mountie Postcard
Old postcard. 

The police are not Dudley Do-right, Tim Horton's is terrible and it's not even Canadian anymore, poutine is mostly disgusting goo. But there are very few guns and people are generally polite, and maple syrup is nice. Some things are weird, like getting milk in bags.

Perhaps the key difference between Canada and the United States can be seen in the unalienable rights in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, and the Canadian version from the Constitution: Peace, Order, and Good Government. Definitely different priorities.