Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Province of Florida

NPR’s Greg Allen had a report on Friday’s All Things Considered about how Canadians are snapping up Florida real estate in record numbers thanks to the housing crash here and the strong economy in Canada.

The cars in a parking lot at Walmart in Hallandale Beach, near Fort Lauderdale, tell the tale. About 1 of out every 10 vehicles is from Canada. It’s February; the weather is warm in Florida, so many are visiting tourists. But other Canadians are putting down roots.

One recent transplant, Doug Flood says, “If there ever was an 11th [Canadian] province, it probably would be Florida.”

That got me thinking; with the U.S. economy in trouble and people from other countries willing to invest here, maybe Mr. Flood is on to something. In order to balance the books, maybe we could do what a lot of people do when they’re in financial straits: sell off property. So maybe we could put out feelers to Ottawa: how much would they pay to buy Florida?

It would take a couple of appraisals, but I’m willing to bet that it would go for at least $10 trillion. That would put a big dent in the deficit, and it would save the U.S. a lot of money in the future by not having to defend the southern border against flotillas of boat people coming from Haiti and drug smugglers coming in from other places. And since Canada has full diplomatic relations with Cuba, the exile community here could travel back and forth to see their friends and families any time they wish instead of having to jump through all the ridiculous hoops that the State Department and Treasury make them go through just to get their abuelita a cell phone.

Going Canadian has some other advantages. Their economy is stable, thanks to strong banking regulations that would have prevented the housing crash. Their Charter of Rights and Freedoms is just as strong as the Bill of Rights. For the liberals, Canada is a paradise with marriage equality for all people, strong gun-control provisions, and a foreign policy that basically says, “Hey, we’re a big country but we’re not obnoxious about it.” And for conservatives, there’s a long tradition of hunting and fishing for the rednecks, and for the country-clubbers there’s that link to the British heritage that still makes a big deal about class differences. Canada is a part of the Commonwealth, and Queen Elizabeth II is the Queen of Canada. Most Republicans are secretly monarchists, anyway; they’ve always believed in the divine right of elderly white people with lots of property being in charge of the masses. And when Fantasy Fest rolls around in Key West, we could invite the Queen to participate in the festivities; a Queen among queens, as it were.

Canadian politics are generally more liberal than they are here; the farthest right-winger up there would be a moderate Republican here, and they have such things as single-payer healthcare administered by the provinces (which amounts to Medicare for all, regardless of age), along with private doctors and insurance, too, so there’s the best of both worlds. They also have a parliamentary system. It’s a lot like our system, with a lower house elected by the people and a senate (although their senators are appointed by the government and basically do nothing), but in their case the leader of the political party with the most seats is the Prime Minister, and he or she can be voted out any time by a vote of No Confidence. Imagine doing that to John Boehner.

Other good points: the Canadian national anthem is much more singable and the lyrics are pretty easy. The flag is simple: red and white with the maple leaf in the middle. (The Florida provincial flag could have a palm frond.) Both English and French are the official languages, but I’m sure we could work Spanish in there somehow. They have different holidays than we do, but they’re close to ours; Canada Day — their Fourth of July — is July 1, and instead of Memorial Day in May, they have Victoria Day around the same time. They have Labour Day when we do, and their Thanksgiving is in October instead of November. Retailers would love that; it adds six weeks to the Christmas shopping season. Their money is the same as ours with dollars and cents, and their bank notes are very colourful. The only thing we’d have to get used to is calling the dollar coin a “loonie,” named for the bird on the back of the coin. (The two-dollar coin is called, naturally, the “toonie.”) They have a form of football like we do; in fact, a lot of Americans have played in the Canadian Football League. The rules are a little different — three downs instead of four and 110 yards instead of 100 — but it’s football, not soccer, so the Dolphins, Buccaneers, and Jaguars could easily adapt, and they might even win a few games. For those of us who love the arts, Canadians have always been strong supporters of theatre, art, and music. Oh, and they do know how to make really good beer and whiskey. As for technology, Waterloo, Ontario, is the home of the company that came up with the BlackBerry. (But we won’t hold that against them, I suppose.)

There are some downsides: Canada uses the metric system, so there would be a lot of confusion for those who still don’t know a meter (or a metre) from their foot. Taxes are higher, depending on the province. But I’m sure we could work things out; most of our cars already have metric speedometers (look at the little numbers inside the gauge) and buying gas by the litre wouldn’t change how big your gas tank is. You could also go 100 on the Palmetto…assuming you know that it’s only 62 mph, and assuming the traffic isn’t bumper-to-bumper.

But the really big question is whether or not Canada would take us. Sure, they’re buying up all the land and vacant homes and shopping at Wal-Mart and we provide a winter refuge for most of the provinces of Ontario and Quebec; in Hollywood, Florida, you see as many signs that say Ici on parle français as you do Se habla español. But would they want to buy this distressed property? It’s a nice place to visit, but it’s a real fixer-upper if you’re going to buy.