A headline announcing Barbados is the hottest country to field an ice hockey team is not as far fetched as you might think. Finding that Canadians are the second largest group of ex-pats has been the biggest small rock surprise. Oh, really? Well, yes really. Their influence is such that any day now I expect our resident Canadian billionaire, Mr. M., to open an ice rink. Of course there is a logical explanation why these wholesome folks, who must never be mistaken for Americans, have traded maple syrup and corn on the cob for mangoes and breadfruit. Two things make the earth move: money and sex. Being a rather repressed lot it turns out to be the benefits of a double taxation treaty between Canada and our tiny coral outcrop as well as our favourable corporate tax regime that has lured them here. Snore…
Canadians are easy to spot. Like most ex-pat groups, they operate within the confines of an uneasy alliance with the local population and so find safety in numbers. Pick a hockey game night and rock up to Bert’s Bar (owned by the aforementioned Canadian billionaire) on the south coast. You will find the entire fraternity present - drinking Molson and getting all worked up in the way only polite people can. May I suggest if it’s passion you seek then skip Bert’s and watch the Christ Church parish dominoes league in action pon a Saturday night. The Canadian brand of passion is organized and serious. Without them there would be no super-competitive Barbados Hockey League that has successfully toured the Caribbean. It wasn’t always so. Some elders who baby sit banks here can recall a time when the guys used to gather in the parking lot of Big B’s supermarket after it closed on a Tuesday evening to play terrible hockey, drink beer and toast the good sense of those tax lawyers who insisted they move their companies to paradise. But those days are gone.
Canadian women are equally organized and serious. New arrivals are pointed in the direction of the Canadian Women’s Club, which offers the solace of other women who also miss skiing, proper shopping malls and Tim Horton’s coffee. Often these women have left behind successful careers and suddenly find themselves with too much spare time and often much richer husbands. Being Canadian they try to use these extra resources to do good deeds. Their fund raising events have resulted in huge donations to charities like the St. Vincent du Paul Society and the Dyslexia Society. Recently two ocean swimmers swam around the island to raise money on their behalf for several children’s charities. There is no dignity in poverty. Ever. But if you have to receive charity perhaps the best person to get it from would be a Canadian. After all, Canada is economically developed but politically low down the food chain. They have empathy in abundance.
Of course the real contribution to Bim would be if there were lots of Canadian companies based here but not necessarily lots of Canadians. That would come about if they had successfully trained the locals to replace them over time like they do on other small rocks like Singapore. It is a current condition of their licenses that they train and employ Bajans but this is not enforced. The government turns a blind eye and the companies hide behind the rather de haut en bas attitude that good help is so hard to find. Maybe if it were mandatory for these companies to stick to the principle of “one in, one out” we would make progress. For every Canadian employed they must employ and train one local. And the training must be in Canada. Surely then good help will be easier to find – and not just to make the coffee and do the photocopying.
Canadians are also influencing the education of our youth. Bajan kids are now such a lucrative source of income that all the major boarding schools in the greater Ontario area pitch tent on this tiny island to display their wares. Want Little Johnny to do Grade 12 and then move onto a Canadian university? Well, he can sit the entrance exam for Upper Canada or Ridley etc. You then hand over your pension and before you can say apples are the only fruit he is on his way to being part of the great Canadian experience. Yes, of course just going to boarding school and freezing your arse off for four months of the year doesn’t make you feel part of this famously multicultural society. So they promise a holistic experience where your sprog also learns to build a bonfire, paddle a canoe and eat Asian food.
I think I like Canada but nagging doubts remain. It’s a tough one. What is there not to like? Liberal democracy? Check. Breath taking scenery? Check. Indeed Canadians are happier than their NAFTA partners. A recent study out of Leicester University ranks them as the 10th happiest in the world (with happiness closely connected to perceived health, wealth and education). The USA ranks thirteen places below at number twenty-three and Mexico somewhere much, much, further down the list. Maybe my doubts relate to this: Canadians are becoming quietly smug bastards. But not yet. Just when you want to hate ‘em Sarah McLachlan’s beautiful voice rises out of Vancouver and pleads,
Cast me gently,
For the night has been unkind.
I believe you Sarah, but the night has been even more unkind to so many - especially those in Burundi – the least happy of the survey’s 178 countries.