November 11, 2009

Remembrance Day in Canada 2009

We've lived in Canada for over a year and we're starting to experience things for the second time around -- Remembrance Day being one of them. This year we find it particularly more patriotic here. Canadians are tired of the war in Afghanistan (they took a pass at Iraq). Each and every soldier is recognized. Below is a cool video by a Canadian musician named Terry Kelly. Be sure to take a moment to read the description at the right side of the You Tube screen -- it's important. Below the Terry Kelly video is a clip from today's ceremony in Montreal which took place at McGill University.

We're heading to Europe tomorrow and a day-trip to Normandy is on our list of things to do. We're planning on visiting both the American and Canadian sites. 

Thanks to all the men and women who have served our countries, and those still serving today.

November 10, 2009

"Free" swine flu shots for all....

We've written about this before...socialized medicine is not as bad as certain US talk show jerks pundits might rant about on a daily basis. It's certainly not perfect. But overall, we have no complaints. It's good to know it's there. Everyone has access to healthcare here. And access to the swine flu vaccine.  For free.

Today the kids got their H1N1 shots. The process was simple for the most part. The government (yes, the government controlled healthcare system) announced the different populations available for the vaccine last week. They were ahead of schedule this week so our kids were eligible since they both have asthma. I picked up a "ticket" this morning with the time I requested, 5:30 pm, and returned at that time. We were assigned numbers after the kids were qualified and waited about an hour until our name was called. We then went to another room for registration where we supplied our medicare card, filled out a simple form in another room and then went to yet another room for the actual shots. We were then directed to the last room where the kids had to wait 15 minutes to make sure there were no reactions. All said, it was an hour and half and painless, sort of. And no bill since the entire program is part of our medicare (and taxes).

Because the medicare cards were presented and entered into the computer, the government knows exactly who received the vaccine. The thought did occur to me that wouldn't the government be annoyed if someone declined receiving the vaccine and later ended up in hospital due to complications? Especially when the vaccine was free and available to all residents in Canada? Most people I know are going to get the vaccine when it's their turn, myself included. I don't know of any Canadians listening to that crazy, irrational, crybaby, insane Beck on Fox news and his theories. 

The video below was from The Rick Mercer report last week...of course the vaccine program had a few glitches, as could be expected, the first week. 

We did get a laugh out of this sign on the door when we left...clearly it was a French speaking person making the translation.

November 4, 2009

Swine Flu panic

We've had a few people ask how the H1N1 vaccination program is going in Canada. Well, it's going. Slowly. The first wave of vaccines are being given to healthcare workers and there's a priority list from there. The good news is that they are FREE. Sort of.  It's called socialized medicine. We're okay with it. 

This clip is from a fantastic show on the CBC called The Rick Mercer Report. We've posted from Rick Mercer before. During each show he does a brief rant about something on his mind. His show is like a cross between SNL and The Daily Show. Comedy and satire. And at the same time we're learning about Canadian politics. Stay tuned, there's another Swine Flu clip later this week. 

November 2, 2009

There's an App for that

This past weekend Danielle had her first Canada Swimming meet. After taking a year off from competitive swimming to dive into water polo, she decided to get back into the sport she has done year round since she was nine.
The meet took place in a “French part of town.” No problem, we’ve learned to negotiate street signs and we have our French lessons to help us. I brought my French homework with me to work on for the five hours I had to sit in the hot, chlorinated pool arena.

Danielle starts her warm up and I buy the psych sheet, which is like the program and listing of events for the day. This is a swim parent ritual, you get the sheet, highlight your kid’s events and figure out how much time you have in between the events to step outside for some fresh air or run and get a decent cup of coffee. I open the psych sheet and yes, every thing is in French. How the heck do you say 200 individual medley in French? I easily figured out that Serie means heat (there’s an accent over the first e but I have not figured that out on this computer).  A good swim parent would suggest looking at the times listed and then figure out the event that way. Not in my case though. First, the events in Canada are all metres. We used to swim in 50 metre pool events in the summer in the states, but winter swimming in Canada is in 25 metres. Danielle tells me the extra “yardage” makes a difference.

So instead, I did what anyone would do, right? I pulled out my iPhone and posted an S.O.S. on my Facebook profile. Within minutes I got a message from Paul’s brother Dan who told me that indeed, there was an App for that. As it turns out my current iPhone French translator only included phrases like “where is the washroom?” and “I would like a glass of red wine please” and nothing for “what event number is the 100 metre butterfly?”

With the help of this handy App I was able to figure out the psych sheet. In case you want to know fly is “papillon” and individual medley is “quatre nages.” Danielle was the one in need of translation before she was DQ’d for swimming all papillon during the quatre nages. She figured it out and did a great job at the meet, even after taking a year off of swimming. Swimming is not the sport to take a year off without consequences. Just ask Michael Phelps.

The translation issues aside, this city of Montreal pool was outstanding. Yes, we pay high taxes up north, but the facilities are unbelievable and I must mention extremely clean --  like I had no problem sitting on the floor clean. And unlike what we have been used to, we didn’t have to pay an admission to watch our own kid swim. I wish more communities in the US could replicate this type of positive building. The pool rivaled anything we have seen in the States. Also in the same complex were  large gyms for indoor soccer, track, tennis and gymnastics and several ice rinks. The building was beautiful and filled with athletes of every age going to their sporting events. And another great benefit we have in Canada – we can submit receipts and receive up to a $500 tax credit/deduction for enrolling our kids in sports. The US has a lot to learn from Canada. 

This photo of the pool area was taken with the iPhone. There's an App for that too.

October 31, 2009

Boo! It's Halloween here too...

We've had several phone calls from "down south" asking if we celebrate Halloween here...oui!  Our doorbell has been ringing and we've enjoyed plenty of trick-or-treaters. In addition to candy, many of the kids were carrying boxes for donations of coins for the local children's hospital. Another kid was collecting for diabetes, sort of ironic. 

It's been a mild fall thus far, unlike what our friends and family have endured in Colorado. We have yet to wear our winter coats. Hopefully this does not mean that winter will go on through May. The thing about the snow in Quebec is that once it starts, it doesn't stop. After the ground is snow covered, we won't see the grass until late spring.  And that includes five months worth of Duke's land mines.

Today, the rain stopped by 5 pm (or 17h00 as we're learning to read and write) and the leaves are being blown from the trees by the bag full. This photo was taken this evening and is the first time we've seen the sunset in months from our back yard since the leaf-covered trees usually block the western sky. 

We love our yard and all the trees...but the leaves! There is a deck under all these leaves. It's common to have a lawn service in our area and fortunately in the fall it includes leaf pick up through October. Unfortunately for our yard, the leaves keep falling into November. Oh well, that's what kids are for, right?

There is a deck under these leaves

October 12, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Canada

It's a holiday in Canada, but the phone still rings from the U.S. -- even while taking a walk in the forest near our house. For our Louisiana friends, you'll notice that Paul is still representing the Bayou state

Yes, Thanksgiving is celebrated in Canada too. Unlike the traditional American holiday of remembering Pilgrims and settling in the New World, the purpose of the Canadian Thanksgiving is to give thanks for a successful harvest. Because Canada is that much further north, the harvest is earlier and Thanksgiving is always celebrated on the second Monday in October.

From a history website:

The history of Thanksgiving in Canada goes back to an English explorer, Martin Frobisher, who had been trying to find a northern passage to the Orient. He did not succeed but he did establish a settlement in Northern America. In the year 1578, he held a formal ceremony, in what is now called Newfoundland, to give thanks for surviving the long journey. This is considered the first Canadian Thanksgiving. Other settlers arrived and continued these ceremonies. He was later knighted and had an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in northern Canada named after him - Frobisher Bay.

At the same time, French settlers, having crossed the ocean and arrived in Canada with explorer Samuel de Champlain, also held huge feasts of thanks. They even formed 'The Order of Good Cheer' and gladly shared their food with their Indian neighbours.

After the Seven Year's War ended in 1763, the citizens of Halifax held a special day of Thanksgiving.

During the American Revolution, Americans who remained loyal to England moved to Canada where they brought the customs and practices of the American Thanksgiving to Canada. There are many similarities between the two Thanksgivings such as the cornucopia and the pumpkin pie.

Eventually in 1879, Parliament declared November 6th a day of Thanksgiving and a national holiday. Over the years many dates were used for Thanksgiving, the most popular was the 3rd Monday in October. After World War I, both Armistice Day and Thanksgiving were celebrated on the Monday of the week in which November 11th occurred. Ten years later, in 1931, the two days became separate holidays and Armistice Day was renamed Remembrance Day.

Finally, on January 31st, 1957, Parliament proclaimed...

"A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed ... to be observed on the 2nd Monday in October.

The Pisani family in Canada will celebrate, sort of. It's a day off school, yet Paul's business phone is still ringing with calls. Kish sent Paul and Louis to the store this morning to get a turkey, and they came home with a rabbit. "I thought we could just throw it on the grill," says Paul. "According to my Facebook friends it needs to be braised or stewed or something," replied Kish who is trying to figure out how to get this rabbit out of the refrigerator without wasting food. So, for Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, we're having steak. The rabbit is now in the freezer.

October 4, 2009

Race for the Cure/Montreal


It's Breast Cancer Awareness month in Canada too. Danielle's school participated in a Walk for the Cure in late September by walking around Mont Royal in Montreal.

Kish and fellow baseball moms participated in the Race for the Cure, a city-wide event in Montreal this Sunday. Over 15,000 walked and ran for this cause.

Unfortunately, statistics for this horrible disease are similar in Canada. We do keep in mind that there are fewer people in this country. It's estimated that one in every nine women is expected to develop breast cancer during her life time and one in 28 will die from it.

While walking for a cause is a great time to get together with new friends, we also look forward to the day when we don't have to participate in fundraising Canada or the U.S.

(We're watching football this Sunday afternoon and pleased to see so much pink at the N.F.L. games!)

October 2, 2009

Greetings from Edmonton

Paul's travels this week take him to the western part of Canada where he took some time in Edmonton for hockey site-seeing...not too difficult to find in Canada. He called to say it was damn cold...-15 yesterday -- (celsius). This metric system is annoying, making one family member, especially the writer of this blog, wish she paid more attention to that lesson in grade school.

September 19, 2009

It happens in Parliament too

Now that the "You Lie" dust is sort of settling, we thought we would show our American friends and family what can happen in Canadian Parliament. Outbursts are not uncommon and we have to admit, are more entertaining. You'll have to excuse the written commentary in the video -- it could not be removed. But if you listened to the Canadian political debate daily you would understand.

And for a greater understanding of how the Canadian government works, watch this video from the Rick Mercer Report on CBC. Another great comedy show where we learn quite a bit about life in Canada. (MP means Member of Parliament, not Military Police)

September 9, 2009

Tennis anyone?

Louis has a new favorite television This summer Kish and Louis had a chance to go to the Rogers Cup, or the Canadian Open tennis tournament, held in Montreal. On three different days we watched amazing tennis matches on the big courts, practice on the smaller courts and got a few prized autographs. Kish quickly learned that a tennis tournament in Montreal is not quite like a White Sox game in Chicago -- really -- at noon and no one is drinking a beer?

A quick study, Louis has picked up all sorts of tricks and uses them when we hit some balls at the neighborhood park. He has the Roddick sweat thing going while using his shirt to wipe his forehead and the "uh" grunt mastered as he hits each ball...sort of sounds like Monica Seles though.

Louis after getting Roddick's autograph. We like to think it was the chocolate covered
"Phelps Phan" t-shirt that got Andy's attention

Watching Roddick enter the stadium

Could he look more American at the Canadian Open?

September 7, 2009

Baseball is over and Paul didn't get deported

Louis and his teammate Elliot at the last game, which started in the afternoon when it was sunny, then turned into rain and a half hour delay and ended at night for a total of 11 innings

Louis' baseball season officially ended last weekend. After a rain delay, coming from behind and ultimately going five extra innings, they lost the last game of the regional championships. While everyone was bummed out about not being in the Quebec championships this Labor Day weekend, we were also happy to have the weekend free and ended up with a fantastic team party on Sunday. What an amazing group of boys and parents. We asked some of the parents at the party if all teams were this cohesive and they all responded that we were lucky to have found such a great team. We are thankful.

Paul enjoyed his first season as one of the assistant coaches. As soon as he opened his mouth, most knew he was not from Quebec and he quickly earned the nickname "USA." While taking a few plays from the Ozzie Guillen management playbook, several times we were thankful he didn't get ejected from the game, or as one parent said, "what are they going to do, deport him?" Everyone enjoyed the American influence from Louis and Paul. The opposing coaches and fans, not so much. More than once we're certain he was called a "F%#$&! A*S^)#@ in French. Every once in a while he would ask one of his coaches what that person said and more often than not they would say, "you don't want to know." In all seriousness, Paul was always sticking up for the boys and we have to all agree that there was some crrraaaazy officiating going on during some of the games. We like to think it was lost in translation.

Here's a video we put together with some highlights from the season. While there are some differences in Quebec, for the most part, baseball is baseball -- in the US or Canada. Except for the French part of course.

September 1, 2009

And they're off...

Yesterday was one of those "I know I'm supposed to be sad, but I'm really happy" days. Both Pisani kids have officially begun the 2009-10 school year in Canada. Last year Danielle and Louis started school in Naperville and we moved in early October. It was good for them to begin the year fresh and experience all that comes with the first day of school excitement. Last August was bittersweet, knowing that we were going to be moving and all.

So, Louis is off to Grade 6. Many have asked how the special education program in Quebec compares with what we were receiving in Illinois. Basically, there are good and bad points. In Illinois, we had loads and loads of paperwork and calculations of "minutes" of therapy, consultations and more. Louis had a full-time aid and was integrated into the regular classroom and pulled out for one-on-one teaching and therapy. It was a good system, yes. He received 90 minutes of speech per week and lots of other services. We don't miss the lengthy, political I.E.P. meetings, Paul especially. We do miss the kids at his school and the familiarity of Kendall Elementary, as it was also Danielle's elementary school.

Here in Montreal, Louis also attends our neighborhood school. As you can see from the photo above, we walk through a small forest to get to his school, which happens to be called Sherwood Forest. It's about half the size of his Illinois school and only two classes per grade. We do like the size. It's what's called an "English" school, however, it's confusing since half of his day is in French as well. He's integrated into the regular classroom and only has an aid a couple of hours a day. We're realizing that quantity of services is not always quality and he seems to be getting a good education. He's picking up quite a bit of French, probably more than we realize. In a way, many of the French words are easier for him to articulate than English. It's safe to say that Kish and Louis are probably on the same level and it's supposed to be Louis' job to come home and teach Kish some words each day. He seems to have adjusted well to school and his new surroundings, made some nice friends (boys are WAY easier) and has never once complained about school. He receives speech therapy at school and has a lot less "help" with his work which is both good and bad. There's a lot less paperwork as well. Also, while the school year is longer, going until the third week of June, they do have a full hour for lunch and recess and an additional recess during the day. That full hour break seems to work well for teachers and the kids. Kids can come home for lunch, but most parents pay the extra fee to supply the lunch supervisors and keep the kids at school for that fun time. Elementary school goes until Grade 6 in Quebec and then the kids move on to the high school incorporating grades 7-11. We'll likely be looking at a private, special education school for Louis next year.

This year we will be supplementing his speech outside of class and getting a tutor. But thanks to a 48% tax rate, what is not covered by our private insurance (we have Medicare and an outside employer-supplied company) is tax deductible. Even the mileage to and from these appointments can be deducted from taxes. The same nice tax deduction applies to all of his medical appointments, assessments and basically anything related to his disability. Yes, Canada has high taxes. But, with that comes a lot of services for those in need AND just as important, the family. We recently learned about a government program we will be eligible for after living here for 18 months. Basically it's a stipend, open to anyone with a child of a disability regardless of income level. Today we learned that we can also apply for this stipend for Danielle because she is the sibling of someone with a disability and the funds are to be used for counseling or anything that benefits her well being. As we've said in previous posts, it's shocking to look at the numbers, but in return we believe we're getting more than our "fair" share in return. Canada puts a lot of emphasis in health and family.

Speaking of health -- Canada also has a $500 tax deduction, per child, as a "Child Fitness Credit." When in enrolling in any qualified sporting activity -- hockey, soccer, swimming, karate, whatever -- parents receive a receipt and can take up to a $500 deduction. They encourage sports and exercise and give parents a nice incentive. Might be good for the U.S.?

So, while it's been a fantastic summer, with lots of family time, everyone is excited school and getting back into a routine. Even Duke seems to be enjoying the quiet house. He knows it's the calm before the storm when the kids come home, throw backpacks on the floor, complain about homework, need something signed now, need a check for something, grab a snack and need to be driven someplace. Just like the U.S., eh?

August 28, 2009

New school year, new experiences

Danielle's first full day of school was today (Friday). Once again, we find ourselves thinking about the differences in our lives compared to a year ago. This year marks Grade 10 or Sect IV as it's called in Quebec -- instead of 10th grade or sophomore year. Along with the uniform comes "rules" Danielle certainly didn't have in Naperville. No make-up, only two ear piercings, very limited jewelry, no nail polish, only natural colored hair and specific shoes and socks. It all sounds a bit harsh, but even Danielle admits it makes life in the morning very easy. Mom agrees. This year Danielle is taking public transportation into the city for school each day....she rides the train near our house to the metro (subway) and then a city bus to the school itself. It's a good experience and something most Montreal kids do each day. Even if Danielle could get her license at age 16, which she can't, the girls are not allowed to drive and park a car at her school. What a relief. And in case you're wondering, they are required to wear green boxer-type shorts under those kilts.

August 27, 2009

A Canadian perspective on the death of Ted Kennedy

Edward M. Kennedy, 1932-2009

"Ordinary people reacted to his death as if they had lost a personal friend."

August 27, 2009

News of the death of Senator Ted Kennedy, the only one of the fabled Kennedy brothers to reach old age, flashed around the world Tuesday. Obituaries and analyses followed, pushing other elections and other politicians off the front pages and TV screens. Ordinary people reacted to his death as if they had lost a personal friend.

In the U.S., many felt that a great champion of public health care and education, civil rights, workers' rights and a woman's right to choose had passed from the political scene, with no obvious replacement in view.

His impact on foreign affairs was substantial, his voice heard around the world. He worked hard for peace in Northern Ireland and against apartheid in South Africa. In 2002, he voted against the Iraq war. He told CNN's Larry King that his vote not to go to Iraq was "the best vote I've made in my 44 years in the United States Senate."

At the start of Kennedy's political life, all this would have seemed very unlikely. Charges of nepotism were levelled when he first ran for a Senate seat at age 28.

Political opponents vainly protested that he was riding on the coattails of his older brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Attorney General Robert Kennedy.

Their deaths at the hands of assassins - John in 1963 and Robert in 1968 - put their younger brother under relentless pressure to take up the family standard and run for the presidency.

The 1969 drowning death of Mary Jo Kopechne, a former aide of Robert Kennedy, made presidential ambitions moot. With Ted Kennedy at the wheel, the couple drove off a bridge into eight feet of water. Kennedy did not report the accident to authorities for nearly 10 hours. He pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident.

Kennedy nonetheless mounted a perfunctory campaign in 1980, challenging the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to the Democratic nomination, and ultimately withdrawing.

In the decades that followed, Kennedy's influence extended far beyond the Senate. He was, in the words of New Yorker magazine writer Peter J. Boyer, "a kind of anti-president in the Senate ... often standing alone in his battles for the liberal cause."

Kennedy backed President Barack Obama at a pivotal point in Obama's campaign for the Democratic nomination, believing the younger man represented the possibility of reconciliation in a country still crippled by racism.

He died before the health-care legislation he fought so long for became a reality. It would have been his final gift to the nation he loved.

© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

August 7, 2009

The American Representing Quebec

Danielle left this morning for the Canadian National Rugby Championships in Toronto. She'll be the American representing Quebec. This U17 Quebec team is very spirited -- and very good. She has really enjoyed this experience, especially her coaches and teammates from all over Quebec. And, it's made us learn about a new sport. We're headed over to Toronto to catch some of the games -- although the entire "festival" as it's called -- lasts six days. We're taking Duke with us. First we need to get past convincing the hotel that he weighs 30 pounds, not 90. Should be interesting. And entertaining.

We had the pleasure of hosting two out-of-town players, Amelia and Sam.

Duke grew quite fond of our out-of-town rugby girls and intended on going with them to Toronto.

August 4, 2009

Canada vs. U.S.

Several days ago the U.S. women's water polo team defeated the Canadian women's water polo team by one point in a very exciting and obviously close game. Imagine the chit-chat at Danielle's water polo practice after that game. We hear daily chatter about Canada vs the U.S., including the usual sports competitions, daily dollar comparison and of care. It's interesting to be on this side of the border during the U.S. health care debate and other U.S. news like the government spending. We do get all the U.S. news stations by the way -- unfortunately, oops, we mean, including Fox News -- so we're up to speed on the debate on television from the fair and balanced U.S. media. However, we also enjoy the news perspective from some of the Canadian comedy shows like This Hour has 22 Minutes on CBC.
In talking with several Canadians and Europeans, they don't understand why the U.S. does not have a universal health care plan. Kish was recently at a doctor's office for a routine visit and he summed it up..."the Canadian system is great if you are healthy, not the best of you are a little sick, but very good if you are really sick. You're not going to lose your home if you can't pay your medical bills, because you don't have to worry about that."

A neighbor's daughter recently had an emergency surgery. The daughter has a seven week old baby at home and had some non-birth related complications. After a day of testing, surgery and a night of post-op in hospital (Canadians don't add "the" before hospital, it's just "hospital"), she was released and sent home to focus on healing and taking care of her baby. She won't be getting EOBs, co-pay notices, deductible calculations, bills, calls and collection notices for her procedure, because she won't be getting any bills. Everything is covered under her Medicare.

Yes, most Canadians do have an additional coverage plan through an employer. And yes, you can also talk to Canadians with horror stories about medical care in Canada. As with any issue, not everyone is going to be happy. Everyone knows that non-emergency procedures may take longer and there may be waiting lists. That's where the "little sick" part comes in. Canadians who can afford it can pay for a procedure to take place sooner, yes. So in that respect, it's still a two-tier system in Canada, despite what the media and Michael Moore may portray.

Our experience in the last almost 11 months has been fine. No complaints here. In fact, it's been the easiest medical experience our our married/child raising years. Before finding doctors we did make a trip or to to the "clinic" with our Medicare cards in hand. Did we wait? Yes, one time for four hours. Was it acceptable? Yes, there were people in the clinic with more severe illnesses and they did warrant getting to see the doctor sooner. We accept that, and we've waited that long in a U.S. emergency room in the past. This winter, Kish took Louis into the clinic for a sinus infection and casually mentioned that he also has asthma and was complaining that his chest hurt. He was seen in the clinic within minutes.

We do have peace of mind and far less paperwork. We simply hand over our Medicare card at each visit and don't pay anything unless a procedure is not covered by Medicare. Yes, there are things not covered -- like local anesthetic if you have a skin sample removed at the dermatologist. If you want it numbed, you pay the $20 or use private insurance. In our case, because we have the extra insurance, we simply pay the bill, submit it to the insurance company and get reimbursed. It's so much easier and cuts down on the piles of EOBs and bills. There are no co-pays or deductibles. Oh, vaccinations are free if you go to the clinic or have them done at school like we used to do as kids. If you don't want to go to the clinic, simply pay extra at the doctor's office. There's talk of vaccinating everyone in Canada for H1N1 this fall --all covered by the government. That said, we do understand it's easier to manage government health care for the 33 million people in Canada as opposed to the population (documented) in the U.S. We also admit that thankfully, we have not had to endure a catastrophic illness in Canada so we don't have any personal experience and hopefully will not be able to elaborate on that topic. We only know what we know from talking to the Canadians we have met along the way. As Kish's doctor brother recently said, "comparing the U.S. and Canadian medical systems is like comparing apples and kiwis." He's right, there are millions less people in Canada. Canadians are used to higher taxes. And the medical system, while it has gone through revisions, has been around for a while. No system is perfect. We're just saying that for now, we're happy with our universal health care system in Canada.

Do we pay higher taxes even though we are Americans in Canada? Yup. A lot more. We pay the same rate as any other Canadian family. But we are finding at the end of the year it all balances out. We do get a lot in return from a medical perspective. Plus, if we live here long enough Danielle could go to a top-notch university for about $3,000 a year. We're finding Canadians tolerate high taxes and for the most part admit that they do get a lot more in return. The roads and highways may not be the best, but most health care is covered, college is affordable and we have yet to mention the family benefits like child fitness tax credits, one year maternity leave for moms, several months for dads, paid leave for taking care of an elderly parent -- and $7 a day daycare.

Following is an interesting article appeared in the Montreal Gazette on August 3 on the Canada vs. U.S. health care debate -- from a Canadian perspective.

The Bluffer's Guide

Everything you need to know for a dinner conversation about ... Public health care: Canada vs. United States


So, what's going on? Canada is denying health care to its elderly and sending them out on ice floes to die because they're too expensive to treat.

Seriously? No, but that's what some Americans are starting to believe after the scare tactics in TV ads.

Why on Earth would they spread such awful stories about Canada? Because they don't want our health care system in the United States.

Why not? Because such a system would disrupt the profits of the giant health insurance industry. So their lobbyists are launching television campaigns and meeting with lawmakers to get proposed health care reform law changed.

So it's all about greed? Not entirely. One worry is that in a government-run system, eventual cost-cutting will reduce the quality of care, without leaving people the choice of going to another provider. This argument has some logic behind it, looking at cuts to health care in Canada in the 1990s.

So Americans don't really want Canadian-style health care. That's not even what they're proposing. What President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have put forward is a health reform package that has the following major points: preventing health insurance companies from denying coverage to people who have pre-existing medical conditions; forcing all Americans to be insured (which prevents them from gaming the system by only getting insurance after they get sick); saving money through preventive care and by digitizing medical files, among other things; allowing people to keep their employer's health insurance plans even after they lose their jobs; and creating a government-run insurance provider to compete with private providers. It's still a big step from that to Canadian-style single-payer plan, where it's illegal to have private insurance for health care covered under the public plan.

Well, it was illegal, anyway. That's true. Jacques Chaoulli got the Supreme Court of Canada to rule that preventing a private insurance system violated the rights of patients to receive proper medical care without excessive delays.

So what does the industry have against the Obama plan? Conservative think tanks like the Cato Institute say a government-run health insurance system would compete unfairly with private health insurers because it would be funded by taxpayers. They agree that reforms are needed, but want ones that push for individual health insurance instead of employer-provided insurance, and that provide more tax incentives for people to get health insurance plans.

What do ordinary Americans think? A recent poll from CBS and the New York Times showed that 72 per cent of Americans support a public health care plan alongside the private health insurance system.

And doctors? Physicians for a National Health Program represents 14,000 health workers and supports universal health care.

That's a lot. What has the industry been saying about us to change their minds? More like what have we been saying about us. A group called Patients United Now uses Shona Holmes of Waterdown, Ont., in a television ad. Holmes remortgaged her home so she could spend $100,000 to get a growth near her pituitary gland treated at the Mayo Clinic. The alternative would have been months on a waiting list in Canada.

Is this kind of thing common? Common enough that they've given it a name: medical tourism. But it actually happens in both directions. Americans come across to Canada mainly to save money (they still have to pay for care here, but in many cases it's less than what they'd pay at home without insurance), while Canadians with money to spare travel to the U.S. to avoid long waits for surgery.

Sounds like Canadian health care isn't as good as in the U.S. Depends on how you look at it. Proponents of universal health care point to statistics like average life expectancy and infant mortality, which show Canada and other Western countries slightly ahead of the United States.

But that's because we spend more on health care than they do. Actually, it's the opposite. The United States spends almost twice per capita on health care than Canada, and more than any other Western country.

So how is the U.S. system better than ours? Well, they have more stuff. The U.S. has more expensive MRI and CT scanning machines, and they pay their doctors more, which has resulted in a brain drain from Canada to the U.S., and chronic labour shortages north of the border.

Is that why they say we can't choose our own doctor? It's a common claim, but nothing prevents Canadians from getting a second opinion or choosing their family doctor, assuming they can find one. A lack of general practitioners is a big problem here.

So they don't ration care here? Well, we certainly don't leave our seniors to die. But you could argue that long waiting lists for non-urgent treatment constitute a form of care rationing.

Open-ended discussion question: If you took the best of both worlds, what kind of health care system would you have?
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette

July 25, 2009

Wide world of sports in Canada

Danielle is somewhere to the left in this mass of rugby players

Paul coaches Louis at first base wearing his White Sox jersey on honour of "the perfect game" the day before

Summer is flying by and we've been busy with travel, company and of course sports. So much as changed from last summer's sports lineup. Danielle is playing rugby in Montreal, which is something new and exciting for everyone. She's also playing water polo at the neighborhood pool. It's been a great way to meet other kids and it can't get any more convenient than right in the neighborhood. Swim team is limited to the neighborhood team as well and it's extremely laid back, which has been great. No 5 a.m. practices this summer. Rugby practice can be five hours, but they rarely start before 10 am. We're enjoying this schedule!

Louis is playing baseball. While not that different from playing in Naperville, it does amaze us when we hear other teams conversing in French and parents don't think twice about bringing bottles of wine to the games. It's a long season and runs until the third week of August. Canadians make the most of summer and it's okay to take off for vacation from time to time. What is different this summer is that Louis is trying swim team, something he never did in Napervile. For an almost 12 year old to START swim team in Naperville would be like an almost 12 year old deciding to START playing hockey in Canada. (Kish's opinion). It's been very fun for him. You know when there's the kid in a race who comes in last and everyone is cheering him/her on? That's our Louis. He comes out of the pool grinning from ear to ear and doesn't care that he's last.

Tomorrow we head to Quebec City for a rugby tournament at the Plains of Abraham. Now, that's something we never thought we would be saying a year ago.

The thing on her head is not a sweatband. We found out it's to protect her ears from getting ripped. This is news to us too.

July 1, 2009

Fête du Canada

It's Canada Day in Canada -- or as they say in French -- Fête du Canada -- a holiday similar to 4th of July in the U.S. Once called Dominion Day (French: Le Jour de la Confédération), this day celebrates the anniversary of the July 1, 1867 enactment of the British North America Act, which united Canada as a single country. This act joined the British North American colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the Province of Canada into a federation of four provinces (the Province of Canada being divided, in the process, into Ontario and Quebec).

Ironically, even as Canada Day is celebrated today, there's a movement in Quebec called the Quebec Sovereignty Movement. The "Separatists" as they are called, want the province of Quebec to separate from Canada to become a country of its own. They are rather upset at the continued infusion of English in Quebec and want to preserve this heritage, and other things. Danielle has run across members of this movement in her sporting events and it's somewhat awkward, especially considering the fact that we speak little French, yet contribute to the economy in Quebec on a daily basis and at a pretty hefty tax rate. Canadian politics can be interesting at times, almost as interesting as what's going on in South Carolina.

It's been an odd day though and doesn't seem as "Patriotic" as the 4th is in the U.S. We're thinking it's because there are so many darn holidays in Canada that the day off is taken for granted. Paul still went into work, we had a swim meet tonight and it seemed like business as usual for some, especially in Quebec since last Wednesday was a different holiday. We have not checked out the calendar to see what holiday we have to look forward to in August.

This year's Canada Day also marks the opening of the CFL (Canadian Football League) or for Quebecers, the LCF (Ligue Canadienne de Football) and a game between Calgary and Montreal. It's not as popular as hockey around here, but the Pisani's enjoy a bit of football in July.

Kish found this interesting opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times today...

It's Canada Day! And Canadians forgot why...
Today, July 1, marks Canada Day. "America's hat," as some have referred to the lovely North American behemoth, celebrates its 142nd birthday.

In honor of this special occasion, Ipsos Reid conducted a poll on behalf of the Dominion Institute to see just how many Canadians recognize their important political and historical figures.

Turns out not too many.

I'm imagining this playing out like Jaywalking, former late-night (now prime-time) host Jay Leno's signature segment where he interviews passers-by about basic facts that they get horribly wrong. While only four out of every 10 Canadians knew who their first prime minister was from a picture, nine out of 10 could pick out 90s pop sensation Celine Dion and eight out of 10 recognized hockey star Wayne Gretsky (the only two people I could identify as Canadian off the top of my head).

Granted, some of the "top 10 Canadians" included the man named the Father of Medicare and 2004's Canadian of the Year, as well as the guy who won the Nobel Prize for discovering insulin. I wouldn't be able to recognize the faces of the American equivalents of those historical figures either.

But not first Prime Minister Sir John McDonald -- whose face is on the $10 bill -- and your current ceremonial leader, Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean (whom only 50% recognized)? That's a little sad. I would seriously hope that most Americans could pick out George Washington and Barack Obama from 10 photos. But then again, the Jaywalkers could (and often do) prove me wrong.

All joking aside, Canadian leaders seemed a bit dismayed by the results.
"We put their faces on stamps or put statues up, but if the majority of Canadians don't recognize them, what good is it?" said Marc Chalifoux, executive director of the Dominion Institute.

Some Canadians attribute these less-than-stellar polling results on the country's lack of storytelling, crediting the United States for having a great deal of national pride that has not immigrated north.

Perhaps for its 143rd birthday, Canada's goal should be to tout more of its history so its citizens can learn the stories behind the figures they celebrate on Canada Day.

June 18, 2009

School's out...almost

Danielle's last day of exams at Miss Edgar's and Miss Cramp's school (June 2009). Prep time, ten minutes.

We have always taken photos on the first and last days of school, and it's amazing to see the difference from beginning to end. This year of course was particularly different considering both kids started the year in Naperville and will complete the year in Montreal. Danielle finished writing exams (that's how finals are referred to here) last week. Louis' official last day is June 23rd, making for a long school year and short summer.

Danielle has become a huge fan of the uniform. So has mom. She can literally get up and out of the house in ten minutes if need be. Her school has lots of rules, which we actually like. No make-up, no nail polish, only natural colored hair, very limited jewelry and of course specific shoes, socks and the works. It limits morning doesn't eliminate all of it though, as many parents of teenagers can appreciate.

We continue to have those wow, life is different from a year ago moments as we get closer to our first summer in Montreal.

Danielle's first day at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville (August 2008). Prep time, 45 minutes.

June 13, 2009

Dog of many names

Louis has renamed our dog. He's now known as Duke Urlacher Gretzky Crosby. No hyphens. Photo by Danielle.

June 12, 2009


One of our favourite weekend places is Tim Horton's. Okay, sometimes we go there during the week too. For those of you who have visited us, you know that there's nothing that Louis likes more than Timbits. They are donut holes, but let's just say they kick as$ over Dunkin' Donuts. And the coffee is quite good, and much more affordable than Starbucks around here. And a lot more convenient. Finding a Tim Horton's in Canada is like finding a Starbucks or McDonald's in the US -- they are everywhere. Here's a link to an interesting news feature story about Tim Horton's.

And speaking of Tim season comes to a close tonight. We're watching the game right now so we obviously don't know the outcome. In honour of our Pittsburgh friends the Kirstein's, we're of course cheering for the Penguins. And Crosby is well-liked in Canada, obviously. Tim Horton's is a big sponsor of youth hockey programs in Canada. Crosby has a natural connection to Timbits Hockey and at the age of 5, in 1993, played for the Cole Harbour Timbits in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. Standing at 3' 11" Sidney wore jersey # 8 and played centre, clearly a sign of things to come. We thought this was a great video.

Now to cheer for baseball...before we know it will be football season.
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