Belonging and Borders

Stephanie Here and Now
7 min readJan 27, 2023

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Recently, I’ve gotten into a discussion about housing prices on another social media platform. For some reason probably to do with algorithms and my personal past behavior, it has largely centered around housing issues in Canada. There was a time when I was an expert researcher, writer and analyst in that field, so maybe it’s one of these occasions where the algorithm has it right.

Anyway, I don’t live in Canada anymore. It’s unlikely that I will ever live in Canada again. And the whole thing got me to thinking about housing security, national borders, and where we belong on earth.

While I lived in Canada my housing situation was consistently precarious. As a woman in a relationship, my housing depended on my relationship status. I could be affluent and live well as long as I was attached to my old-money (by Canadian standards) boyfriend. When I was single, it was very difficult to maintain an independent household. Work opportunities were unreliable, the pay for a single woman was always lower than it was for men or for married women or even for single mothers. That is because employers can and do justify hiring by contract and when they do hire, they can and do justify paying people who have families to support more money than single people. Add those social elements to the gendered pay gap and it’s not surprising that middle aged and older single women make up more than their share of the poor in Canada.

In the US, we own our home and we are not unusual in that regard. Partly, it’s because we can monetize part of our household expenses by renting out part of the house but it’s also possible because real estate prices are generally lower here than they are in Canada. I’m convinced that is at least partly by design.

Canada has a fairly rigid class system and much of it is reinforced by housing opportunities. If you were born and raised in Canada you might think that is a pretty outrageous statement but consider this: Crown land is, actually, Crown land. It belongs to the Crown, and in Canada, the Federal Government is the proxy for the Crown. You can look at that another way. You can consider the Crown, (King Charles) as the figurehead standing in for the Canadian Federal Government and you would be absolutely right about that but that doesn’t change the fact that Government is at the top of the Canadian hierarchy and Government, in Canada, is constitutionally obligated to uphold the existing Canadian class system.

Trudeau should be a poster child for Nepo Babies everywhere. He’s not PM because he’s the best guy for the job, he’s the PM because he’s Pierre Trudeau’s son and in the absence of anyone willing to spearhead the administrative duties of the PMs office in service to the major industries that actually determine the decisions taken by the Canadian Federal Government, he looks the part. He has good manners, he’s accustomed to the functions of government and he does as he’s told.

Mining interests, including oil, and, to a lesser degree these days, logging and hydro-electric corporations are the real decision makers in Canada.

But that’s a story for another day. My point is, over my lifetime, despite a lot of discussion concerning rights to housing and fairness and democracy as a principle, things have not changed in Canada, instead, they have ossified.

I think many, if not most, Canadians are okay with this. After all, the official Canadian motto is “Peace, Order, and Good Government” (look it up.) “Order” in that context means etiquette in one sense but in another, very real sense, it means maintaining the Canadian social order which has always been hereditary.

So when you make housing expensive for the working class you’re keeping the working class busy at work and preventing social climbing. Of course there was a time when it was possible to find loopholes in the system and thereby create social mobility. Education was one such loophole, investing in income-producing real estate was another. In my lifetime, those loopholes have been closed.

Look at the salary of any newly minted University Professor, it’s about what that person would be making working full time in the service industry. Tenure is all but impossible to attain. The best plan for an educated Canadian is to become part of the clerical class and work for the government.

In order to do that, you must be bilingual which is another means of reinforcing the Canadian social order. West of Manitoba, vanishingly few Canadians speak French. Upper middle class families send their children to French (and sometimes Mandarin) immersion schools to address this deficit. However, the ongoing testing in fluency required for a Federal Government position that generates a living salary still edges out most Western nominees.

So what is there to do?

Leave.

The world is a big, beautiful place. You belong on the earth, not necessisarily to one political entity on it. You are Canadian and right now, that means you are free to make your own decisions even if one of those decisions is to reject Canada for a little while, or even forever.

I don’t think this is as radical a solution as it might sound. Sure, on the surface it’s a drastic step, but the world is small. Many of us have friends who left Canada to teach in Japan, Korea, Thailand or even China and yo know what? Those people thrive.

Some of us return to Canada, some long to return. I know people who have settled in Europe, the UK, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and Mexico. I don’t know anyone who has settled in South America but I think that’s probably only a matter of time and opportunity.

I understand what it means to live in Canada. I know the country is beautiful, the people have a lot to say about the world. Canada has all the creature comforts and modern conveniences you might wish for. But Canada is not the only place on earth and earth is an interesting, beautiful place; exploring it is a worthwhile use of your life.

My point is, you can settle anywhere for any length of time. Yes, you will miss your family and your friends but you will also make new family and new friends and your life will be richer for it. The gate doesn’t close behind you. The moat does not suddenly fill with alligators. It’s easy, sometimes too easy, to return.

Choosing to define yourself by an arbitrary line drawn across a piece of geography is, by definition, setting a limitation for yourself. You’ll never know who you might be until you see yourself in a variety of settings. Roughing it, by Canadian standards, in Mexico, or learning that there are real and concrete differences between American and Canadian customs, learning the history of countries that are thousands of years old rather than countries formed in the last 300 years, these are the experiences that enrich your life and make you a bigger, stronger, better person.

And when you’ve seen a bit of the world, if you want, you can return to Canada, savings in hand, and join one of the classes that owns real estate in that little privileged corner of the world. If that’s still something you still want to do. You might decide you can live more fully in another part of the world. Your psyche might be better suited to a different lifestyle, a different team identity, a different nationality. As it turns out, mine was and it doesn’t make me better or worse, it just makes me more me-ish.

You can shake up the class system in Canada by learning it doesn’t define your future and by having the courage to ask the questions that change the way your country works. You can leave for a year, for a decade, or for the rest of your life. And when you do, you will learn how to make your own way. Maybe you’ll buy a house, maybe you’ll learn to be comfortable with renting, maybe you’ll rethink intergenerational living. There are a thousand different ways to do life on earth. If you want to be in a position to change the Canadian landscape with regard to housing, or anything else go out and learn a few first hand. Canada has a long history of respecting ex-pats and returnees, people will be more likely to listen to you if you can say you have lived an alternative to the Canadian way. Canadians value first-hand experience and they tend to look outside their own borders for proof of success. (Hello, American entertainment industry)

Traveling can enable you to change the class hierarchy in Canada, it can solve some of your immediate problems and take the pressure off Canadian real estate prices bit by bit.

It’s all possible, you just have to observe what people from other countries have learned as it happens all around you, and refuse to be a slave to borders, real or imagined. The path to a solution is rarely a straight line. Maybe you need to make your own way.

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Stephanie Here and Now

American from Canada. Writer Researcher. I'm new around here.