Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Downside of Living in Canada

My closest friend was born and raised in Ontario, moved to California in his mid twenties, and has bounced all over the U.S. He's lived briefly in Nevada and Florida and visited, well, just about everywhere, not just in America but in the world. He's had dual Canadian/American citizenship for over a decade now.
Like me, he's grown progressively more progressive over the years. Even though he loves his adopted homeland, he's much more deeply appreciative of the land he left behind.
Contrary to extremely popular American mythology, we Canadians are not 'taxed to death'. My friend reports that a typical family living in Ontario pays about as much in tax as one in California. So you fine Yankees envisioning a move to northern climes when the Republicans take control in 2012 and turn the United States into a theocracy have one less thing to worry about.

But be warned. There's a catch, and it's a doozy.

Sometimes it seems as if everything costs more up here. Forget taxes: I'm talking retail prices. With a dollar that's reasonably close to parity (and at times last year traded well above parity) with the greenback, you would naturally expect prices to be in the same ballpark.
They're not. Sometimes, they're not even in the same league.
Take books, for instance. Almost without exception, Canadians pay at least two dollars more for a paperback than our American neighbours. And hardbacks? It's either laugh, cry or scream. Stephen King's latest, UNDER THE DOME (a book, by the way, I'm salivating over the prospect of reading) is available for pre-order on for US$9.00. The same novel on C$25.19--which at the most recent currency fix translates to US$23.84. That's a 264% markup.
Groceries. Living, as most Canadians do, relatively close to the border, we often see ads on TV for American grocery stores. (Ads on TV for Canadian grocery stores are exceedingly rare, for reasons I don't pretend to understand.) Anyway, the sale prices, particularly on staples like milk and eggs, are beyond belief. Milk for $1.49 a gallon? I can't help wondering what the hell it's contaminated with, when the same stuff goes for $3.97 or more here in Ontario. Large eggs, 99 cents a dozen? Our cost is more than double that...we lose money selling them for $1.97.
It goes on. Pretty much every time my friend comes up here from the land of the nearly free and the home of the save!, we find ourselves touring various and sundry stores. Jay's a penny-pincher extraordinaire, and so he tends to balk at buying anything, no matter how good the deal might be, but the prices here on, say, clothing, make him visibly recoil. He makes it a policy not to spend more than $10 on any item of clothing...which severely limits his choices when he comes up here.
"Look at this sweater, Ken", he'll say as we're browsing Roots. "Seventy bucks! How can you justify paying that much money? And it says it's ON SALE. Yeah, right!"
I don't justify paying that kind of money, actually. I've never bought anything for myself at Roots or stores like it. When I've received such clothing as a gift, I have been overjoyed--the quality is phenomenal and damn it, it's comfortable--but I've also felt some species of perverse guilt or shame or something. Because I'm really not worth that much. Or maybe I am, but I shouldn't have to be.
Electronics,'s all pricier. "They" say it's because we're a small market...that bilingual packaging costs more...that blah-di-blah-blah blah. Whatever. The U.S./Canadian border is an artificial construct and goods don't magically increase in value as they cross it. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it even if you charge me more for it.

Jason, in San Diego, pays less than half what I do each month for media--T.V., landline, cell, and Internet. For this, he gets: many television channels the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission has decided I'm not allowed to watch; Google Voice (unavailable here); a cell package that blows mine right out of the water; and Internet access at a connection speed that I can barely comprehend.

But it gets worse. Sometimes, items or services available at a cost in the U.S. are not available in Canada--not legally, at any rate--no matter how much you pay. I noted Google Voice above. It's not alone. In Canada, we can't (legally, at any rate)

--use a Kindle
--access, and many similar sites
--watch HBO, Nick at Nite, SyFy, and who knows how many other channels (we sure don't!)
--watch Super Bowl commercials as they air (the Canadian networks substitute their own signal, even when you're not watching on a Canadian network!)

Hell, we practically just got the freakin' iPhone.

It's really little wonder this country is so rife with Internet piracy. I suspect most of us would have no problem accessing stuff legally if there was any way to do so.


Rocketstar said...

It's like Communist China up there ;o)

You can't access, what the hell? No Kindle?

What is up with all of this wacko regulation?

Unless I missed it, why is this?

Ken Breadner said...

You didn't, I didn't get into it all. The net stuff is called 'Geo-blocking", and the Canadian networks do it to (hahaha) preserve their audiences. See, if somebody's watching, that means they're not watching CTV, CBC or Global. Not watching a Canadian network is a sin. Every Canadian knows it. Few Canadians care--but we suffer anyway.
No Kindle--similar reasons. We have three telcos up here: Rogers, Bell, and Telus. Together, they're an oligopoly and they like it that way. The Kindle is tied to AT&T, which negotiated low-cost roaming agreements with partners worldwide. Not in Canada, though...because with this model you pays your money to Amazon, not Rogers, Bell, or Telus. The Big Three have decided if they can't reap the profit, no one can.
This will change--the iPhone, formerly exclusive to Rogers here, is opening up next month (in part because of Apple's displeasure with Rogers' gouging). Sooner or later this backwater will get its Kindle. But right now, we're SOL.

Anonymous said...

to access, which i watch almost daily, you need a proxy server. just google it, you'll find what you need.

as for retail pricing, what about beer. a 24 pack of Bud in cans is on sale right now for $14.99, up here it is almost $48.

-- Mark