SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

A More 'Civil' Society
By Dave Kiffer


October 13, 2008
Monday PM

Ketchikan, Alaska - I recently had the pleasure of spending several days with our Canadian Cousins in Prince Rupert.

jpg Dave Kiffer

Dave Kiffer

It's always good to go "south of the border" for a while and be reminded that although their money does look a little silly and they have this odd habit of superfluously adding the letter to "u" to a lot of words, we really have much more in common with our Canadian brethren and sisteren than we do with most of the rest of the folks in Alaska, eh?

In fact, one of the most common cocktail refrains at the recent soiree in Prince Rupert was the need for coastal communities in both countries to secede and create some new sort of country. Cascadia? Timberville? Wetlandia?

The second most common topic of "tea time" was how come Prince Rupert Mayor Herb Pond hadn't run off to seek much, much, much higher office like former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin was doing? In Alaska, they only call small town mayors "Your Honor." In Canada, they call them "Your Worship." Now, that really sounds like someone should be "only a heartbeat away" from the atomic code book. But as usual, I digress.

Anyway, it was fun to see that the issues remain the same up and down the coast. How do you keep towns from shrinking as the resource industries such as timber and fishing ebb? How do we find a way to lower energy costs when transmission lines have to cover such varied terrain? Will it ever stop raining in our lifetime?

And, once again, I was reminded that even though the residents of coastal B.C. can be just as "roughhewn" as those of us farther north, they retain a "civility" that we lack.

For example, there was a herd of us Southeast Conferencers crossing the street one afternoon when a Canadian driver had to stop short to avoid impacting us. The driver rolled his eyes and gestured at us with a finger. No, it was NOT that one. It was a wagging index finger.

Ninety miles to the north, he no doubt would have leapt from his car and started foaming at the mouth. Then he would have grabbed a high powered dispute "resolver" from the back seat.

But in Canada they are a little more civil about their traffic disputes. Then again, they only get 100,000 cruise passengers a year. If they get nearer to 1 million, they may start to understand why we are less understanding.

I observed another bit of civility at one of the bank ATM's downtown. I reached for the door, just a young Canadian woman did.

"After you," she said.

"No, after you," I replied.

"No," she said. "You're the guest here. You go first."

Rather than ponder how it was so obvious that I was NOT Canadian (okay, okay so I wasn't wearing a hockey jersey or a Tim Horton's cap), I leapt into the vestibule and got my cash.

"I hope I didn't get the last twenty," I said as I left.

"No worries," she replied with a smile.

In Alaska, we elbow people out of the way to get into the ATMs first because, in all likelihood, the visitors have already drained them down to their last double sawbuck.

Another area, where the Canadians seem more civil (yes, that really is Miss Manners on the 10 dollar bill) is their political discourse.

We in America specialize in "scorched earth" politics. It is not enough to defeat your opponent, you must completely destroy them. You must call into question their heritage, their patriotism, even their right to breathe the same air that you do. We don't just disagree here, we question our opponents right to exist.

Naturally, the Canadians have a little different approach. To start off, their politics is a little more complicated than ours. Rather than having two political parties attempting to beat each others brains in, they have three major parties contending for attention.

And unlike Americans, who try to hide their affiliations behind meaningless terms like Democratic and Republican, the Canadians call a "spade" a "spade."

One of their parties in the "Conservative" party and one is the "Liberal" party. How refreshing.

Here in America we run away from such stark descriptions because we tend to seek out the voters in the middle ground who are presumed to be neither. And there is no better tar and feather for our opponents than those ultimate political pejoratives "liberal" and "conservative."

Unfortunately after that good start, the Canadian model does it get a little confusing. For example, on some social issues, the "conservatives" are apparently a little more "liberal" than the "liberals" are. And - truth be told - the "liberals" seem pretty "conservative" when compared to the third party, the New Democrats, or the NDP. Oddly enough, some NDP positions sound almost "conservative" to American ears.

So you have to actually have to pay attention to what is being said to determine whether or not you agree with a Canadian politician. That, of course, would never work in the good old US of A where you only need to listen to what is being said about someone to get the real "truthiness."

But what really stands out about Canadian politics is the lack of the "scorched earth" approach that has become so popular in modern American elections.

In Canada, there is a complete lack of understanding of the American political concept of "completely destroying a village in order to save it."

Sure, there were some American style attack ads on Canadian TV. But the Canadian idea of attack is to use of a photograph of the opposition candidate making a funny face or just looking silly. In America, you need to photoshop devil horns or the number 666 onto a similar photo get your point across.

I was watching an interview on one of the evening news programs - something they still have time for because not all Canadian television is given over to reality shows or shout fests.

The interviewer tried to prod one of the candidates by asking if he "feared" a government led by his opponent.

Now, if you watch American political coverage the discourse is always about fear. Fear that the other side is somehow going to take away everything you hold dear. In the last decade, American political parties have decided that we are not capable anymore of being "for" something. We are only capable of being "afraid" of something else.

The Canadian politician did not take the bait.

"Am I 'afraid' of them?" he said, calmly. "No, I am not. Do I think their policies are wrong for our country. Yes, I certainly believe that. But I am afraid? No. We are all Canadians and - in the end - we will do what's best for Canada and not what is best for any political party."

I was so shocked. For a minute, I almost considered turning off the television altogether..

Fortunately, good old American common sense kicked in and I quickly changed to an American cable news channel.

Two adherents of differing political views were trying to scream over top of each other, while the moderator sat back with a - dare I say it - devilish smile.



Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2008

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