Why Canada Will Never Be Superpower of Any Sort

2 12 2014

My son was born in the UK four years ago. I’m a dual citizen of Canada and the UK, which means that I am able to pass Canadian nationality on to my son. Shortly after his birth, I registered my son as Canadian citizen with the Canadian High Commission in London. Registration is the first step toward applying for a Canadian passport, which is something that might be useful to him in adult life. My son has three nationalities, as his mother is the citizen of a third country, which happens to be a high-income society in East Asia.

Today, the certificate of registration as a Canadian citizen arrived by courier at our house. In contrast, the equivalent certificate from the East Asian government arrived within 10 working days of my son’s birth and he had the passport from that country by the time he was a few months old. Needless to say, my son’s application for his first British passport was very quick, although that’s not quite a fair comparison, as we were applying from within the country.

I could write a paper on cross-cultural management about this hilarious incident. I’m mainly surprised there weren’t donut crumbs on the certificate from the clerical worker in Canada. [I should explain that Tim Horton’s Donuts, which are rich in nourishing sugar and carbs, are Canada’s national food].

What is so appalling about this incident is that growing up in Canada I often heard white Canadians complaining that immigrants from South Asia and “the Islands” had “no sense of time”. I heard teachers remark that Black students were “on Jamaican time” and thus habitually late for class. That’s not a fair comparison since very poor countries can afford fewer timekeeping devices. Relative to people from other developed countries, Canadians are very time insensitive. For instance, they rank at the bottom of the developed world  by such metrics as observed walking pace in financial districts. Canadian postal clerks are also slower at selling stamps than postal clerks in most other OECD countries, although they are faster than postal clerks performing the same task in impoverished tropical nations.

I see from the paperwork that my son’s citizenship application was processed in an office located in an economically-stagnant part of eastern Canada that has, unfortunately, been largely bypassed by the waves of immigration that have invigorated the urban centres of central and western Canada. Census data for the community in question suggests to me that the workers who processed the application were, unfortunately, native-born white Canadians.

It so happened that the certificate of Canadian nationality arrived when I was writing the notes for a lecture that discusses, among other things, attitudes towards time in emerging markets.

I’m not angry with the Canadian government, since their Third-World tardiness had no practical costs for my son. I am, however, somewhat amused and disappointed at the same time.

I’m sending a letter about this incident to Gordon Campbell, the Canadian High Commissioner. As an individual who was Mayor of Vancouver during a period of rapid economic growth and ethnic transition, he may be able to understand the cultural roots of this evidently dysfunctional bureaucracy.

Don’t get me wrong. Canada has many positive features. Efficiency aint one of them.

For more background reading, see

Levine, Robert V., and Ara Norenzayan. “The pace of life in 31 countries.”Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 30, no. 2 (1999): 178-205.



2 responses

2 12 2014

I would have written a much more vitriolic commentary, actually. My daughter is a dual US/Canadian citizen, born in the US. So she needs the citizenship certificate to do anything in Canada — driver’s license, passport, yada yada. She had all of her ID stolen in Canada and went into that purgatory of can’t get ID because you don’t have ID. Her citizenship card issued 10 years ago and up until March 2013 was a nice piece of picture ID. Very useful. We had to reapply to get this important piece of ID after it was stolen and it took 10 months. 10 frigging months — this was a replacement certificate, not an application for citizenship. And when it arrived, the nice picture ID is now a useless piece of manuscript suitable for framing and of no use whatsoever to get any other form of ID except a Canadian passport. 10 MONTHS. My husband has been waiting for his REPLACEMENT permanent resident card for 11 MONTHS, and then they sent a request asking for a colour photocopy of each page of his US passport, which requirement was not listed in the application as being necessary. So now we’re probably looking at another 6 months. Bah, humbug. But actually it’s all better than the two and a half years it took me to get a US green card even with the services of a lawyer. I got it the day I moved back to Canada.

3 12 2014

I don’t think that Canada’s government realises that attracting human capital now very competitive and that it needs to improve the customer service provided by its immigration and citizenship bureaucracy. If it treats its overseas citizens as badly as you were treated, you can imagine how it treats actual immigrants. Canadian officials recognize that the quality of the immigrants Canada attracts is lower than it was in, say, the 1970s and 1980s, but they don’t realise that their crap customer service is contributing to the problem. They just assume that as long as Canada has a high HDI ranking, people will tolerate the bureaucratic BS required to move there. They don’t realise that countries like Australia offer a similar lifestyle, better weather, and better customer service to prospective immigrants. That’s why the smart PhDs from India are increasingly avoiding Canada and applying to move to Australia, Switzerland, etc.

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