Night and Day

Having spent a week in British Columbia and a week in Alberta, I’ve observed how different the two provinces are. Part of the problem with living in Canada is you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Aside from higher taxes in exchange for socialized health care, a GST that raises the price of your Starbucks latte by about 89 cents and the metric system that’s not completely used in consumer products, certain things are strikingly different depending on where you live in this enormous country. In the spirit of the now defunct David Letterman show, here’s my Top 10 List of differences between Alberta and British Columbia.

I shortened it a bit.

1) Gas Prices

Diligently filling the gas tank In the border town of Blaine, Wisconsin, Diane and I happily enjoyed watching the pump click full way short of fifty bucks. Escaping out of California’s ridiculous premium gas prices inflated by special obsolete emissions taxes that do absolutely nothing to reduce pollution, it’s always nice driving almost 800 mikes without paying more than the other 48 contiguous states. Highly recommended for most Americans crossing into Canada with little or no knowledge of the metric system, having a full tank as you enter beautiful British Columbia helps prepare you for the shock that awaits not twenty feet past the border. Before resuming full speed (not advisable anyway for metric-challenged tourists), travellers are greeted by a familiar gas company sign with strange numbers:

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For the benefit of my American readers, this price is basically insane. Observant Americans can figure out every time the USA has one of its famous 45% gas increases in two weeks for no reason whatsoever that the media doesn’t even try to explain anymore, it reaches a peak. Generally, there’s a threshold that corporate America understands is the largest amount they can charge Americans before the Fed and the government decide to curb it so it doesn’t affect all those lovely economic reports. Controlled by a handful of traders around the world, it peaks and then always drops back off and settles in a hit higher than it was before the increase.

Oblivious to this game of consumer roulette, Canada plays by a different set of rules that works something like this: Beautifully scenic, those unfortunate souls born in places like The Maritime Provinces, the Far North and occasionally Ontario (known as Onterrible to any Canadian not from there) get stuck paying insanely high prices simply because Canada doesn’t have a lot of roads and it snows a lot, making deliveries costly for the gas companies. Conversely, those lucky enough to live in the one snow free zone of Canada get bombarded with prices even higher than California, proportionately speaking, simply as a penalty for not using plug-ins, never having to shovel and putting up with weeks of gray skies but liquid precipitation. Then there’s Alberta.

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Home of the oil-sands and the province that provides America with most of its natural gas despite what both Democrats and Republicans want you to believe, driving east across British Columbia brings a steady decrease in gas prices until you finally hit the big sign welcoming you to the Wild Rose Province and prices dip under a dollar per litre. Almost reasonable, it seems only fair for putting up with the annual May Long Weekend Snowstorm (usually the last snowfall for about 100 days) and enduring minus 30 degree days for weeks on end. But The times are a changing and Albertans just voted our their conservative government that’s been in power since Nixon was president so who knows what’s to follow? I’ll take the low prices for a month and then choose the buses and taxis of Malaysia for a while .

2) Driving Habits

Habitually spoiled by courteous drivers that are so chicken shit they take fourteen minutes to make a right turn on red or merge into traffic, living in suburban Contra Costa County for enough years turns you into a very mellow and generous motorist. Unfortunately, nothing resembling pedestrian courtesy applies to British Colombians. Not really remembering aggressiveness as the primary driving trait the last time we visited Vancouver, my assumption is the population increase combined with horribly inappropriate infrastructure turned them all into a bunch of rushed commuters oblivious to anyone crazy enough to cross the street by foot.

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Aside from refusing to let other drivers in at an intersection or any type of merge, I learned that unlike what I’m used to in Alberta, no driver slows or God forbid stops to let a pedestrian cross, even when a signed intersection institutions to them to do so. Reminding me of the first time we crossed a big intersection In Bangkok, crossing the street requires a bit of patience and a lot of waiting.

imageCompletely contrary to the aggressive style of get out my way driving, Albertans stop for all pedestrians in a cross walk,  traffic intersection and basically anywhere else one might be crossing. Regardless of how late someone is for their meeting, rest assured that once you step into the street, dodging oncoming traffic never becomes an issue. Seeming almost overprotective of children, Alberta has hundreds of school zones that stretch blocks beyond the school itself. Slowing down to 30 KPH (18 MPH) seems reasonable enough until you drive more than 50 feet at a speed slower than the passing joggers run at. Enforcing the school zones with half the city’s police force, it doesn’t take long to get pulled over for the unaccustomed. Sure enough, they recently increased the school zone near Diane’s patents house to include the four lane artery that feeds to the main street. Driving to the store one morning the Edmonton Police Service flagged me down while Diane cursed, sighed and gave me endless grief for my stupidity. Fortunately, most Canadian peace officers probably don’t feel like attempting to write tickets for cars with California plates due to the red tape. Instead of checking my credentials he explained why the school zones are so important and asked me to “please tone it down”. Ah, Canada.

3) The Weather 

This one is a pop quiz that almost anyone can solve. Observe the two pictures below and see if you can figure out which city represents the whether in British Columbia and which one is Alberta.

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Even those unfamiliar with the skylines of Vancouver and Calgary probably figured out that the dreary overcast is British Columbia and the perfect sunny blue sky is Alberta. Averaging over 300 days of predominately sunny skies, Albertans enjoy more sunshine than most North American cities.  Of course this fact is a moot point to anyone that doesn’t enjoy three seasons: cold, colder and short summer. Providing a small reward for enduring  snowstorms while camping during the first long weekend of summer, Alberta’s sunshine drives me nuts because I love it but obviously we both hate cold or we wouldn’t be off to Malaysia in three weeks, one of the hottest nations on Earth. Debating which is better, mild dreary with California prices or cold sunshine and a reasonable cost of living could take up an entire blog. Suffice it to say mid June is a good time to enjoy the sunshine in Alberta as it’s been perfect but the fast approaching and never-ending thunder showers remind you this is not the West Coast.

Not me and never will be

Not me and never will be

Transition month marches on and Diane and I head to Calgary later this week to squat house number three. Intending to stay about 10 days, we’ve already blown through my budget of Monopoly money which is quite easy in a country with high taxes, GST and a dollar 20% weaker than the almighty Empire. Fortunately we planned the trip partly as a reminder why early retirement for anyone age 50ish is not practical in North America without having accumulated a small fortune of ten million dollars or more. Yes, I know you can live like a college student but why would I want to do that? Wanting to experience new cultures, eat awesome food and experience new things, staying in Canada or the USA remains an option best left for those lucky enough to sell their start-up tech company to Google. We’ll take Southeast Asia for now.

Yes we’re still leaving for Asia on June 29th and still seeking new friends to help set up our new life in Malaysia. Sharing is caring so please do contact us or comment

 

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