When the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” Republicans took to the internet, declaring that they were moving to Canada to escape the socialist tyranny of universal health care. I decided to go to Canada to see how it’s working out for them.
I’m bumming around northwestern Pennsylvania, camping in Allegneny National Forest and trying not to spend too much money. The heat wave is really getting to me. I actually walked around Walmart for a while just to cool off. I don’t shop at Walmart, but I’m not above using their air conditioning. Niagara Falls, surely a popular starting point for newly converted Canadians, is just a couple hours away; who wouldn’t want to start their new life beside giant waterfalls? I’m looking forward to talking to these former Americans and seeing how they like their new home.
I’m a day early. My hotel reservation on the Canadian side isn’t until tomorrow night. I decide to walk across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada: I’ve walked across the Mexican border, so I should walk across the other one, too. Halfway across I begin to wonder at my sanity, doing this in the middle of a record-setting heat wave. The sun will be down when I walk back, I assure myself.
I’m drenched in sweat by the time I reach the humorless Canadian border agent. There’s only the one guard, but it’s just me, a group from Korea, and one adventurous American family crazy enough to walk it in this weather, so there’s not much of a line.
I don’t know what these guys are looking for. Maybe if I understood the threat model I would sympathize better. On the Mexican border, it’s obvious: on the way into Mexico, no one looks at you or checks your papers at all; on the way back to the US, they’re concerned about drugs. What’s this guy interested in? Cash. How much cash am I carrying? Could he see it? How am I paying for my trip? Where am I staying tonight?
That one was the sticking point. Authority figures don’t like the way I travel; they find it threatening. Where am I staying tonight? How the hell should I know? I’ll probably sleep in a truckstop parking lot. What part of “I’m not staying in Canada” means it’s still any of your concern? What’s the problem? The cash. I’ve got a couple hundred bucks in cash. Where did I get it? What is it for? Finally, grudgingly, he allows me to enter Canada. Free from Obamacare at last!
As I walk along in the Promised Land, everything feels different. No Obamacare! No Obama at all! He wouldn’t dare authorize a drone strike in Canada, would he? The freedom, the liberty, permeates the air like humidity. Or, no, that’s actually humidity. It’s pretty brutal.
But the Republicans – they must be everywhere by now. I walk up the river into the crowd to find them. My search begins with the American family who walked over with me. “Hey,” I greet the father with a knowing smile. “Are you coming over to escape Obamacare?”
“What?” He examines me as though I’ve grown a second head.
“Obamacare,” I say. “The tyranny. Are you emigrating to get away?”
“We’re just here to see the Falls,” he says cautiously, as he guides his family away from me. Okay, not a Republican. They probably wouldn’t cross on foot, anyway. They’ll want to bring their cars.
Wow, there sure are a lot of women wearing hijabs. Doesn’t that scare the bejeezus out of the Republicans?
There are also a lot of people not speaking English. A lot of people who look European. Also, Asians. Americans seem to be in the minority. I thought for sure I’d find myself in a sea of Gadsden flags and “Where’s The Birth Certificate?” T-shirts. This place should be lousy with Republicans by now.
You get closer to the Falls on the American side, but Canada has the wide-angle view. It’s probably a mile from the Rainbow Bridge to the Canadian side of Horseshoe Falls, and I walk the whole thing, heat wave be damned. It’s no Grand Canyon, but it’s one of those things you can just look at and keep right on looking at.
I see a Canadian cop. I gather from his television-grade good looks and lack of a gun that he’s a Friendly Face For Tourists, so I say hello. “How are you doing today?” he asks, friendly as could be.
“Good, a little hot,” I reply. “Maybe you can help me. I’m American, and maybe you’ve heard that we’re just trying to pass universal health care. All the Republicans say they’re moving to Canada to get away from it. I’m here looking for them to see how it’s going.”
“Moving here to get away? We have universal health care here already. It works pretty well,” he says.
“Yeah, well, they’re not too bright. So you haven’t seen them?”
He laughs. “No, that’s a new one on me, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye out.” He says “out” with that Canadian accent. You know, the way they say aboot.
I’m nervous crossing the border into Canada the next day. Crossing on foot was such an ordeal that I’m sure all the stuff in my car will get me arrested. I’ve been camping—the car is full of all kinds of crap, and who knows what Canada considers contraband? I have an hour waiting on the Rainbow Bridge, in the record-setting heat-wave sun, in a car that overheats when it idles with the air conditioner on, to ponder all the suspicious items in my possession. I don’t have any bear spray (I thought of that one in advance), and I know better than to bring booze, but I don’t exactly pack my car with security checkpoints in mind. What will it be that lands me in the hoosegow?
Nothing. Either crossing on foot is more suspicious, or that guy yesterday was just more of a jerk, but the border agent asks me the stuff you’d expect to be asked, and sends me on my way. He’s not even interested in my surprisingly restful sleep in the truckstop parking lot. Oh, the difference: this time, I had an Authority-Figure-Approved Answer to the question of where I’m staying. I made hotel reservations like a good little sheep.
Niagara Falls on the American side is a state park. Niagara Falls on the Canadian side is a tourist trap of biblical proportions, a monument to raw, unbridled capitalism, a concentration of neon and flashing lights and souvenir shops and family-friendly attractions the likes of which you have never before seen. It’s got a Hard Rock Cafe, a Planet Hollywood, and a Rainforest Cafe. It’s got a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum and a Guinness Book of World Records Museum, across the street from each other. The sidewalks are crowded, and there is nowhere to park that won’t cost you. The idea, I gather, is to leave your car at the hotel and risk the tourist mayhem on foot.
It’s just as well. The speed limit signs are all in kilometers, whatever they are. That would land me in the hoosegow for sure.
I’m staying at a cheaper place a few blocks in. According to Google Maps, the walk to the Falls is 1.5 kilometers. Et tu, Google Maps? 1.5 kilometers turns out not to be very far – or at least it wouldn’t be, were we not in the midst of a record-setting heat wave. Ah, well. I’m not paying a hundred bucks or more a night for a hotel, not to avoid a few kilometers, whatever they are.
Perhaps some Republicans have used this fine hotel as a first stop on the way to their new life? Not that the attractive desk clerk has seen. “We have universal care here,” she points out, in what I suspect is going to become a familiar refrain. “It’s pretty crazy that it’s taking you this long. I don’t know what all the controversy is aboot.” I know, I know.
The tourist epicenter of Niagara Falls is a place called Clifton Hill. There you’ll find cheesy restaurants featuring competent guitarists singing acoustic versions of familiar pop songs just loudly enough to be annoying; the arcade, bowling alley, and Ferris wheel; the Ripley’s museum and the Rainforest Cafe. There are several “4D” theaters, because I guess everyone is over the whole 3D thing, and they need another ‘D’ to stay interested. Haunted houses. Casinos. Cuban cigars—they’re legal here, since Canada never launched an invasion of Cuba that ended in humiliating defeat. There’s a Starbucks with no WiFi. All the stuff you would associate with the natural wonder of giant waterfalls. Did I mention that the American side is a state park?
I wander into Yank’s Old Niagara Bar and Grill. Every review on Yelp gives the place five stars. All five star reviews? Come on. No place gets reviews like that without gaming the system.
I take a seat at the bar, enjoying the pub atmosphere, fully intending to be the guy to set all this right with a bit of Yelp-style tough love. Then the friendly bartender brings me what could only be described as a five-star burger. It was a burger you don’t soon forget; a burger that could make a good dog break its leash. I make little noises while eating it. Just down the street there are lines awaiting tables at the obvious tourist restaurants. Suckers. What are they thinking?
More to the point, where are the Republicans? I ask the bartender, after extolling the virtues of the burger I’d just been moaning over. “We have universal health care here,” he points out. “Yeah, I’m not sure they grasp that,” I reply. He hasn’t heard from any emigrating Americans, and he’s a bartender at what has to be the best joint in town.
“Are your pizzas this good?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah. That’s what we’re known for, actually. That and the wings.” This burger isn’t even what you’re known for? I’ll be back.
I see a guy walking on Clifton Hill with a T-shirt that says “Don’t steal—the government hates competition.” Ah-ha! I found you! I’ve got a couple drinks in me from Yank’s, so I walk up and nod at his shirt. “Are you here to get away from Obamacare?”
“What?” There’s that two-heads look again.
“The Republicans say they’re moving here to get away from it. You know, the tyranny.”
He shrugs. “I voted for Obama,” he says. “Anyway, don’t they already have Obamacare here?”
Yes, I suppose so, in a way. A story that scrolled across the TV behind the bar at Yank’s: average net worth in Canada now exceeds that in the United States.
It turns out that Canadians are healthier and have a longer life expectancy than Americans, too. But the USA is the land of opportunity, right? Well, not so much: Canada also has better upward social mobility. In fact, that whole “land of opportunity” thing is outdated: upward mobility is worse in the USA than quite a lot of the developed world, a couple decades after Ronald Reagan assured us that “government is the problem,” and we were dumb enough to believe him.
And did you hear about the Republican woman who actually moved to Canada? She decided universal health care isn’t so bad after all.
Then there’s the pizza. I’m back at Yank’s to try it, and it doesn’t disappoint. I’m from New Jersey, so I know a thing or two aboot good pizza, and this is damn good pizza.
If you walk down by Horseshoe Falls, the water spraying into the air will get you wet. But it’s not refreshing, it’s just more humidity added to the already-crushing July heat wave. Isn’t Canada supposed to be a frozen tundra?
There are plenty of locals aboot, working at food stands, selling tickets for things, even one hitting up tourists for spare change. But I can’t find the Republicans. Most of the people I see aren’t even American. None of the natives I speak to have seen this surge of northward migration. The spare change guy hasn’t had any tell him to get a job: I asked him. They said they would be here! Maybe I’m in the wrong place. Maybe someone told them aboot Canadian health care, or that Canada legalized gay marriage, or something. Maybe they’re all in Tijuana instead.
Wait till they find out Mexico has universal health care.