'Talking to Americans' Reveals Ignorance of Canada in U.S.

Los Angeles Times
June 8, 2001
by Ellen Braunstein

In "Talking to Americans," Rick Mercer, a Canadian comedian and satirist, travels in the United States "asking people ridiculous questions to exploit their ignorance about their northern neighbor."

Julie Longo, a Canadian citizen that teaches Canadian history at Wayne State University in Detroit:

"I think the show illustrates well our perceptions of Americans -- that Americans know nothing beyond their own borders and have no problem with their ignorance." (and enter name "Rick Mercer" and click "Begin Search)

Comment: It is not surprising that Canadians are quite well informed about the United States considering that the comparatively small population of Canada is concentrated along our border and significantly influenced by our dominance. On the other hand, for most of us in the United States, our understanding of Canada is limited to the exposure that we have had to deliberate information campaigns within our country. An example is the perceptions that we have as a direct result of marketing efforts on behalf of Canadian tourism, a beautiful but shallow impression of Canada.

Unfortunately, there has been a very concerted effort to spread disinformation about the Canadian health care system, a process that has been dominated by libertarian elements that wish to keep the government out of health care in the United States. Because knowledge about Canada by most of us is very limited, and because the supporters of universal health care coverage have not been adequately effective in carrying the message of the benefits of the Canadian Medicare program, the average individual in our country believes that the Canadian health care system is inferior. This misperception is not altogether the fault of health care reform activists. The message of a just, comprehensive health care system is a very complex message to deliver and exceeds the patience and desires of most Americans to study and absorb a subject that for most of them is very boring. On the other hand, the opposition can keep their message very simple by limiting the facts presented to very isolated problems within the Canadian system, while concentrating on simple rhetoric that lumps health care in with features of government that the public believes to be undesirable.

The media readily report the isolated stories of problems within health care. The horror stories of managed care in this country abound, just as the stories of the deficiencies of the government program in Canada make good copy, or at least news filler. The conclusions that our citizens draw from these reports are that (1) a patient bill of rights will correct the defects of managed care, and (2) we do not want a government system like Canada's. The members of the media reflect the same simplistic viewpoints, and most seem to lack the depth of understanding of the Canadian system that might otherwise influence their reporting stance. This is not laziness on their part but rather reflects the fact that they must make decisions on how to allocate their time effectively. The "government" health care system of Canada is simply not a priority for them.

Our efforts should be directed to informing the media of the realities of the Canadian health care system. We can never tell them what stories to cover, but we can encourage them to base their coverage on a background of comprehensive knowledge of the Canadian system. An excellent beginning source for them is a 251 page report by the Canadian government on the status of their health care system, released February 2, 2001. It can be downloaded at:

For those in the United States that wish further information about our Canadian neighbors, a wealth of such information is available at the website of the Canadian government: