Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Thanksgiving Friday I drove my son, David, to Woodstock to spend the weekend. It rained heavily all the way. On my return trip to Sarnia, I went into London and made my customary stop at Woodland Cemetery where my dad and grandmother were buried some thirty-three years ago. The rain was still pouring down heavily, emphasizing the colours of changing fall leaves and putting a glossy candy-coat on everything. I followed the winding road through the trees and passed gravestones that have been accumulating there for more than 100 years.

Suddenly, no more than 50 feet away, a beautiful white tailed deer appeared from behind a monument. Then another, and another, and more. They stopped and gave me a curious look and then began to graze. Duchess, my black Labrador retriever was sitting in the passenger seat and took notice, but just watched in her normal laid-back fashion. I stopped the car and reached back to get my camera. I rolled down the
window and began shooting photographs of this most beautiful sight, while my left pant leg rapidly absorbed the falling rain.

At this point the deer began to move away so I put the car in gear, and quietly circled around on the winding road with the hopes that they would come to me. I was not disappointed when the herd of seven does and one four-point buck came within 100 feet of me. Two of the does lay down in the rain and simply observed the scene. They almost looked like they were chatting with each other. Two more approach to within twenty feet of me and melted me with their beautiful dark eyes and peaceful, gentle faces. I continued to take about 150 photographs of this incredible scene.

Then I stopped, put down the camera, and was completely at peace. Raindrops continued to splatter in my side window but I was too entranced to notice. This is the first time in 33 years I've seen deer in the cemetery. Dad and my grandmother would have been extremely pleased.

On my way out of the cemetery I stopped at the office to thank them for encouraging the deer. The lady at the desk said that not everyone was happy about the deer. They nibble on flowers and trees planted beside gravestones. In fact they had eaten the two small evergreens planted beside our headstone. A very small price to pay for the presence of such beauty. I suggested those who didn't want to have flowers eaten should use artificial flowers or they could help provide for the deer. I stressed the importance of keeping the deer for their positive, therapeutic effects on visitors. Treasure them.

Many years ago, I took my children to Marineland in Niagara Falls. In one section, they have a large herd of deer who mingle with the visitors. It is probably the most popular place in Marineland. The deer are very gentle and patient with the children who can hug them and feed them safely. I have a lot of pictures of that encounter, one of which has been reproduced into a very large “portrait” on the wall.

Although cemeteries try to provide a well manicured environment, each gravestone represents the life of one or more people who have left others behind who miss them terribly. The cemetery is a place of sadness, longing for what was, and what might have been. For me, the appearance of the small herd of whitetail deer represented renewed life and peace. Yes, they may munch on posies and small trees, but if we're wise we will encourage them to remain with those we have loved and lost. They can be wonderful therapy for those going through grieving a recent loss and those who still feel that connection decades later.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Memories of War

On February 28, 2003, I wrote:

The casualties of war are also at home. Do you remember the Cold War, Nuclear Attack drills at school, bomb shelters, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or Vietnam? I do.

Do you remember the awful way the American public treated their own soldiers returning from Vietnam and the heartbreak of finding out years later that they died or were wounded because of huge government lies? I do.

Have you talked with the homeless men who are Vietnam vets? Ask how their government has treated them for the sacrifices they made. Have you faced the wrong end of a loaded rifle pointed at you in anger or had a buddy ripped apart by a shell that missed you? George W. Bush certainly has not either.

Have you had the experience of killing a man, face-to-face, with a bullet or a knife or taking his head off with a garrote. Have you done multiple assassinations or been part of a Tiger squad and then spent the next 20 years in the priesthood trying to find forgiveness? My friend has and it will haunt him forever.

If any of these things were within your own personal experience, you would not be anxious to go to war, or send someone else's kid there. Sometimes we have no choice but to go to war. But those situations are mercifully extremely rare. Why do you think that the Vets from any war rarely talk about their experiences? The pain and the guilt never go away.

A war in Iraq will have huge casualties in the U.S.A. and other countries, for years to come. Are they acceptable losses?

Now my eldest son is in Baghdad, Iraq in the middle of a war. His Blog is at http://fevgpuvr.blogspot.com/ .

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Tyranny of the majority

It is hardly fair when one lamb and ten wolves sit down to decide what will be for dinner.

The greatest flaw in Democracy is the risk of tyranny of the majority over minority rights. Just because a numeric majority voted for something does not make it morally right. It simply makes their will enforceable.

We see this being enacted all the time, particularly in religious debates exercising political pressure over the rights of others who are not of that religion or any religion and whose followers will never be affected by the legislation. It happens in many countries. Such public debates have included issues of birth control, abortion, gay marriage, capital punishment, racial equality, First Nations' treaty rights, etc.

In Canada, the First Nations were systematically suppressed, culturally disenfranchised and their children sent to Residential Schools where they endured incredible abuse, enforced by the white majority. In the U.S.A., the white majority were able to enforce the enslavement of the black and aboriginal minorities, and they currently permit their leaders to wage a pre-emptive war in Iraq. That has placed one of my children in harm's way. The majority in Germany chose Adolf Hitler and supported the deaths of millions of Jews and others in World War II. It doesn't make it moral or right. It simply makes it enforceable. Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz called it "Might is right".?

Personally, I really like a minority government. It forces moderation and compromise that consider all the people, not just the political ideology of the current party in power. Ideology is replaced by the need to politically survive. I may vote for a particular party, but it doesn't mean I trust them. It simply means I see them as the lesser of a bunch of evils. I don't trust anyone who seeks power.

I certainly see the tyranny of the majority over the minority in dealing with disability issues. Those with major disabilities, visible and invisible, are kept at a subsistence existence below the poverty level. Many are imprisoned or homeless. There is little political will by the majority to care for our most vulnerable. As a result, we lack diagnostic and treatment facilities, rehab facilities, special education funding, proper social service supports and a humane justice system.

"I did not speak up
The Nazis came for the Communists, and I did not speak up because I was not Communist.
They came for the Jews and I didn't speak up for I was not a Jew.
They came for the trade unionists and I didn't speak up because I was not a trade unionist.
They came for the Catholics and I was Protestant so I didn't speak up.
Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Pastor Martin Niemoller (d.1984)

One of the greatest achievements in Canadian history has been the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as the supreme law of the land.
“(Human rights legislation) is often the final refuge of the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised.” - Supreme Court of Canada in Zurich Insurance Co. v. Ontario Human Rights Commission, infra note 46, at para. 18.

Politicians of the moment can enact legislation, most of it being part of the ideological platform of the majority party in power. Fortunately, the legislation must be measured against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to ensure the rights of all, including minorities, are respected. The Charter acts as a check and balance over the tyranny of the majority.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Yukon Expedition

Click here for photographs

From the perspective of the years, I look back to what was the single most defining time of my life. It was the first time I had been away from home for an extended period. It was a time which tested who I was, challenged my beliefs and courage, opened my eyes, and taught me that I could accomplish virtually anything I wanted in the future.

Many of the events do not appear here, but will be transcribed from my 1959 diary in the future. However, this small offering first appeared in the Sun Life Review, October 1959

Bruce Ritchie at Taye Lake, Yukon Territory

The 15-year-old son of Sun Life Unit Supervisor Lawrence G. Ritchie, C.L.U. (Ottawa Parkway Branch) describes how an interest in rocks and a little perseverance led to a fascinating two-month archaeological trip as guest of the National Museum of Canada this past summer.

THE TRIP which was to prove the most exciting part of the short 15 years of my life was about to begin. But first I should describe some of the events that led up to it.

Four years ago, while vacationing at Constance Bay on the Ottawa River, I discovered an old Indian campsite or at least I discovered a spot that seemed to have a number of Indian relics, such as pieces of pottery, skin scrapers and shells that had been used by the Indians. I took these for identification to the National Museum. Members of the department of archaeology showed interest, and asked me to take them to the site. The next spring a ''dig'' was organized, and I was invited to take part in lt. This activity was filmed and later a TV program was produced in which I appeared.

From the beginning I became fairly well acquainted with Dr. R S. ''Scotty'' MacNeish, head archaeologist of the National Museum of Canada. About a year ago I learned that Dr. MacNeish was going on an expedition to the Yukon in an attempt to trace the migration of the Indians from Siberia, and expressed an interest in it. Just before Christmas he invited me to go along. Mom and Dad said ''maybe''—that was one of the best Christmas presents I could receive.

The few days before June 22nd were a turmoil—not only did we have to organize my clothing and transportation, but I had to finish my school examinations. Finally, I was all packed and ready to go. Travelling with me was another 15-year-old Ottawa boy, Bill Baker, who was also interested in archaeology. We were to travel the 4,000 miles alone, neither of us was a seasoned traveler so you can imagine our feelings of excitement and uncertainty. Of course there was also a feeling of importance—after all, hadn't the Canadian Press sent along a reporter and a photographer to interview us? Our pictures and write-up were to appear in papers across the country!

The journey to Edmonton was uneventful. At both Edmonton and Dawson Creek we were met by representatives of the Boy Scouts. We arrived in Edmonton on June 24th. There Mr. D. R. Milne, Executive Commissioner of the Edmonton Regional Council of Boy Scouts Association, showed us as much of that city as time allowed.

"Klondike" Paddlewheeler, Whitehorse, Yukon 1959

At 5:30 that afternoon we caught the Northern Alberta Railways train (nicknamed the ''Muskeg Express'') for Dawson Creek, B.C. not quite as comfortable perhaps as the Super-Continental' but It got us there.

I was surprised that Dawson Creek was as large as it is. We were entertained by the Scouts representative, M. A. Dale-Johnson, and his son, Bob. That night we slept in a motel and had breakfast at a diner across the road. It was then I first realized that all cooks can't necessarily cook.

Travelling by bus the 917 miles of dirt road which is the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Whitehorse is not exactly luxury travel, but the scenery is magnificent. An enormous amount of forest has been ravaged by fires, and anyone who has seen that sight is sure to be careful with fire in the future. The highway runs for 1,527 miles from Dawson Creek through to Fairbanks, Alaska. Each mile on the road is marked off, and Burwash Landing, our destination, is mile 1,093.

On June 27th we arrived at Whitehorse and were met by Dr. MacNeish, who had along with him Charles Martijn of Montreal and Dennis Kelly of Toronto, a couple of college students working on the expedition.

Whitehorse is just as I pictured it would be, rough and ready. The best-decorated places were the numerous bars and the lounges. The people were the finest. The long hours of daylight were also something new to me.

Kluane Lake, Yukon 1959 across from Burwash Landing, Mile 1093 Alaska Highway

The next day we drove to Kluane Lake, which we had to cross to get to our camp site. The location of our camp site was perfect. We were on a small ridge overlooking the lake. The water was as clear as the air after a spring rain, and smooth as glass when we first saw it. Our tents were pitched about 500 feet from the diggings.

If I started out with the idea I was on holidays, the next day I soon learned differently. We began work on a schedule of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with one hour for lunch, six days a week.

An archaeological site is excavated by digging holes five feet by five feet and as deep as the layers go. Each layer normally indicates a culture or occupation. This digging is usually a delicate operation performed with trowels and brushes, each bit of dirt being examined for relics. Each square is numbered and each relic found is marked to indicate the exact location of the find.

After a day of work and before we took off across the lake for supper we had a ''skinny'' (clothesless) dip in the 40-degree water of Kluane Lake to rid ourselves of the dust of past centuries! Fishing, an after-hours recreation, was good. My first time out I caught a Great Northern Pike 31 inches long, weighing 8 pounds. I took a picture as proof of delivery.

The greatest shock I had on the trip was my introduction to work. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. was something new and strange for a boy just turned 15; I took poorly to it. As I look back now I must have been a bit of a headache to Scotty thank goodness he proved tolerant and a good man to handle discipline.

Although there was a sameness to each day's work, it became more interesting as my knowledge of what I was doing increased.

Burwash Landing, Kluane Lake, Mile 1093 Alaska Highway, Yukon, 1959

Crossing the lake often proved exciting. One evening we started across the lake to go to Burwash Landing for supper. The waves were unusually high and the boat was taking in a fair amount of water. It was only through the grace of God that we did not attend our own funerals that day.

July 3rd was a cloudy, cold morning. At 6:30 I was awakened by an alarm clock that was placed at my ear by Dennis and Bill it was my turn to cook breakfast, the first time I had been required to do such a thing. I made bacon and eggs but the eggs were frozen stiff in two minutes -- it took three minutes to freeze the bacon. Since I knew how well I cooked, I had Pablum. Fortunately for the crew, they only had to eat my cooking in turn; also, with time, both my cooking and my disposition improved .

Recreation over the weeks varied: fishing, mountain climbing, chasing wild horses, riding, and the general recreations one finds only in frontier country.

Letters from home were important but at first we had to take the long trip to Whitehorse to get them. Later, arrangements were made to bring our mail to Burwash Landing where we could pick it up.

Some days were discouraging. You can imagine how one might feel working (with another person) in a hole 5' x 5' all day and coming up with not one, or maybe only one, artifact. But these were offset by days that, according to Dr. MacNeish,were highly successful, and would add to his knowledge of the movements of Canada's early inhabitants. To add a little competitive interest we devised a point system for the artifacts we found, the reward to the person earning the most points being a pie. Our finds consisted mostly of micro-blades, scrapers, projectile points, burons, pieces of bone and other miscellaneous items.

Micro-blades were used as knives. A series of them was placed in a grooved piece of wood or antler and formed a cutting edge. The scraper, of course, was used to scrape the skins free of flesh before they were cured. The projectile points consisted of arrow-heads and spear-heads. A buron is a tool used to groove bone or wood into which the micro-blades are placed end to end.

Flat bottom boat with 5 hp motor, Kluane Lake, Yukon 1959

Our old river boat was in need of a new bottom, so Dennis, Kelly and I volunteered to take it to Destruction Bay where the work would be done. Destruction Bay got its name back in the gold rush days because of the many people who lost their lives in storms on the lake. It was almost our destruction too. Here is an excerpt from my diary:

''July 17,1959. Dennis and I got the job of taking the boat from Burwash Landing 10 miles to Destruction Bay. On the way we stopped at a little bay for a lunch of canned tuna fish and canned fruit. We then found out from the Indians that we had run over one of their fish nets. The nets were checked, and luckily we had not damaged them.

''Just as we rounded the first point the big waves struck us. The boat bounced up and down and progress was slow. With us in the boat was ''Buck,'' a Labrador Retriever, who belonged to one of the natives. The waves battered the boat, she began to fill and needed bailing badly. When I tried to land we stuck on a sandbar. We managed to float the boat again after getting her bailed out. We had traveled about 3 hours and the boat was slowly filling with water. We rounded a point about 4 miles from Destruction Bay's pier and that was a]most the end of us. Waves five and six feet high struck the boat and tossed it around like a match stick. A Chinook wind hit us and the air became surprisingly warm. The wind was so strong that it made little breakers on the big ones. With every wave that hit the boat we took in water. We headed for shore because the boat was sinking. I was up to my ankles in cold water; all the equipment in the boat was afloat. Just as we reached shore a huge wave hit us and completely filled the boat.'' A day or so later we got the boat to Destruction Bay where it was rebuilt.

Champaign, Mile 973 Alaska Highway, Yukon 1959 Bruce Ritchie

My two months in the Yukon had many highlights, not the least the Queen and Prince Philip's visit to Whitehorse. Whitehorse being less populous than Ottawa, I was able to get quite a few close-up shots with my Brownie.

I found the Indians very friendly and generous (much more so than white people) and became well acquainted with many of them.

Joe Jaquet (pronounced Jocco) was a big-game guide and had a number of horses. These ran loose when not in use. Many an evening I would catch one and go for a ride. One evening we helped Joe and his wranglers round up the herd, an exciting evening if ever I've had one. This was the Wild West !

Canyon Creek, Yukon 1959

We moved from Kluane Lake to Canyon Creek on August 8th. We set up camp there, but because numbers of children showed signs of upsetting our camping gear while we were up the hill digging, we moved camp down to Champagne 20 miles away. At Champagne we rented an old unused store and stayed there. Every morning we would drive the 20 miles up the highway to Canyon Creek and dig there on a high bank overlooking the Aishihik Valley.

At Canyon Creek there were 11 layers of differently coloured sand, and in each layer we found artifacts, indicating that there had been 11 civilizations or cultures living there, the earliest about 7,000 years ago and the last only about 200 years ago. The holes sometimes reached a depth of 7 feet and each layer had to be trowelled off separately. The layers varied in thickness as the drifting of the sand changed with the climate and the amount of wind .

Charcoal from these layers will help get an exact date of the occupations as carbon from charcoal can be dated by using a complex process known as ''Carbon 14.'' Obsidian, or volcanic glass, of which many artifacts were made can also be dated by measuring the ''pattenation'' or film which forms on all glass through a chemical reaction caused by age. Even the glass on your windows can he dated through this process even though this film is too thin to be detected by the human eye. If you are wondering ''Wouldn't the film indicate the time the volcano erupted?" the answer would be ''yes'' if the glass had not been broken or chipped. But artifacts have been broken or chipped off the original rock, and each chipping exposes fresh surface where pattenation would then begin. This fresh surface would then be dated and the age of the knife blade, spear head, or scraper could be determined.

We dug at Canyon Creek for a week and found about 150 tools that Indians had used.

Taye Lake, Yukon 1959 - Bruce Ritchie, Dr. R.S. MacNeigh, Forestry pilot

Scotty arranged with the Yukon Forestry Department to have us flown into Taye Lake where we would work for a week. Dr. MacNeish and Ron, a native boy, would fly in first with our equipment in a Beaver seaplane, then Bill, Charles and I would fly in by helicopter from Champagne.

On August 10th we landed at Taye Lake and set up camp 3 miles from the future digging site. Evidently the pilot of the seaplane could land only in that one place, so the day after we landed we walked the full 3 miles to the site.

We followed a horse trail which, the map said, led to a trapper's cabin. We had gone about half-way when we heard the roar of a waterfall. Crystal clear water was cascading over a sharp rock ledge into a deep gorge. The trail crossed the stream just above the waterfall and we pushed on to the site. Ron, Bill and I decided to explore the gorge on the way back from work. When we got to the site we did a bit of surface collecting there were chips and artifacts all over the place.

Bruce Ritchie, Taye Lake, Yukon 1959 Archaeological Expedition

Scotty and I decided to see if the cabin was in good enough shape to stay in. It was. It was built of logs and the roof was covered with earth. Evidently the owner must have just shovelled the dirt around his cabin onto the roof, stones and all, because when Dr. MacNeish examined the roof he came back down with quite a collection of Indian relics.
We found a little row-boat on the bank of the river and, after thinking it over, decided to stay there. After all, the owner wouldn't need the cabin until he went trapping in the winter.

While Ron was taking the boat to camp the rest of us fixed up an old log bridge which crossed the river to the cabin. Although the river was narrow, the current was swift and keeping one's balance on the slippery rocks was no easy task. Quite often we almost went swimming and the water at the time wasn't what you would call warm. After struggling with the logs for half an hour or so, we finally had the ''bridge'' repaired but as it was only three logs wide, we had to be careful where we stepped because working in wet clothes isn't pleasant.

Our week at Taye Lake was considered fruitful. Then we were flown out and returned to our dig at Canyon Creek where we stayed until it was time to leave the Yukon .
It was hard to say good-bye to all the friends we had made in the north country, but it was inevitable. School opened on September 8th, and both Bill and I had to get back.
Instead of returning by train we came back in the truck. This was also a new experience to me because it was my first trip through the West by road.

Home looked extra good, and surprisingly enough, I've been quite able to adjust to eating home-cooked meals again and soaking in a nice warm tub!

Dr. R.S. MacNeish, Bill Baker, Ron Chambers, Charles Martijn, Bruce Ritchie - Yukon Archaeological Expedition, National Museum of Canada 1959

Friday, November 12, 2004

"What did you do during the War, Dad?"

"What did you do during the War, Dad?"

This question was asked of a World War II veteran who flew bombing missions in Europe, including the raid on Dresden that incinerated 100,000 people. He rarely would talk of the War.

Finally, the Dad's response - "I burned women and children alive in their cellars".

Imagine having to live with that knowledge for 60 years.

Those who have been to Hell and back rarely ever talk about the experience.

Remember those who have died for our freedom and honour those who have had to live with the burden of seeing Hell in person.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Old men start wars

Objection to the war in Iraq is an objection to the present administration's foreign policy, not to the courage and mission of the young men and women who place their lives on the line. These young people do not make political policy and the only reward they may receive is their parent or spouse being handed a folded flag.

Those who object to a war still support those who have to fight and die in it. But if they must fight and die, then there had better be damned good reason for it.

We support the troops and will do whatever is necessary to bring them home safely and with honour while leaving the battlefield safely in the hands of those who are living in and defending their own homeland.

Old men start the wars and young men, women and children die in them. That is contrary to the order of nature where the children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around.

Perhaps there is nobody who hates war more and wants peace more than those who have been there and lived through the horror and the waste, unless it is the parents who have to bury the mangled remains of their children, whether physically maimed or dead, or mentally wounded for life.

The soldiers who talk most about events in a war afterwards are generally those who have escaped the real horrors. Those who have been engulfed in the terror and chaos of battle don't want to talk about it because of the pain it brings back.

Old men start wars

Objection to the war in Iraq is an objection to the present administration's foreign policy, not to the courage and mission of the young men and women who place their lives on the line. These young people do not make political policy and the only reward they may receive is their parent or spouse being handed a folded flag.

Those who object to a war still support those who have to fight and die in it. But if they must fight and die, then there had better be damned good reason for it.

We support the troops and will do whatever is necessary to bring them home safely and with honour while leaving the battlefield safely in the hands of those who are living in and defending their own homeland.

Old men start the wars and young men, women and children die in them. That is contrary to the order of nature where the children are supposed to bury their parents, not the other way around.

Perhaps there is nobody who hates war more and wants peace more than those who have been there and lived through the horror and the waste, unless it is the parents who have to bury the mangled remains of their children, whether physically maimed or dead, or mentally wounded for life.

The soldiers who talk most about events in a war afterwards are generally those who have escaped the real horrors. Those who have been engulfed in the terror and chaos of battle don't want to talk about it because of the pain it brings back.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Canadian versus American Health Care Systems

I am the Moderator/Executive Director of FASlink. FASlink is a website and international discussion forum for families and professionals dealing with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. FASD is caused by prenatal alcohol exposure when a pregnant woman drinks alcohol. We often discuss health care and related political issues in our various countries. As most members are either in Canada or the USA, most such discussions center on our respective systems. I am Canadian so these comments reflect my experience primarily with the Canadian health care system. However, I have also had to use the US health care system and have many family and friends in the USA, so I also have some personal knowledge of both systems.

Canadian taxes are competitive with the USA and in some areas may be a bit higher, but we more than get it back in services. Since the income tax system is graduated, as it is in the USA, those with low income pay little or no income tax, but here they are still fully covered as if they were in the highest income brackets. And we are covered across Canada. Although each province runs its own system, my Ontario coverage still applies in BC, etc. I can even get services in the USA if needed and have them covered by our OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan).

Yes we have provincial sales taxes in most, but not all, provinces. Same in the USA. We do have a federal Goods and Services Tax (GST sales tax) that replaced the old Federal Sales Tax. In some provinces the taxes are kept separate (such as Ontario) and in others they are Harmonized (HST) with one tax collected and shared between the feds and the provinces.

I live on the border with Michigan and shop frequently in Port Huron, MI. Michigan state sales tax is 6%, non-refundable even if I am taking the goodies out of the country. Ontario provincial sales tax is 7% and GST is 8%, both fully refundable at the border to US citizens if the goods are being taken back to the USA.

Our tax systems are not all that different in many ways. However, we cannot deduct our mortgage interest, but the profit from the sale of the principle residence is also not taxable. In the USA mortgage interest is deductible, but if you sell your house and do not buy another one within a specified time, you are fully taxable on all the gain. Our lottery/gaming winnings are not taxable. So those who win $20 million here get to keep it all, tax free. (The government already took over 50% from ticket sales as "overhead" before the draw). Only future interest earnings are taxable as income. In the USA, all winnings are fully taxable, even on Jeopardy. Win a $35,000 car and you get to pay full income tax on it before you take delivery. Win a $20 million lottery and you have to take payments over many years to reduce the tax impact, or lose perhaps 80% on the commuted value. Our top combined income tax rate is about 47%.

It takes money to run any country and the money that governments need to do it comes from taxes and fees. The greatest pressure on our Canadian taxes come because we are a small population (32 million) spread over a territory larger than the entire USA. The cost of building and servicing the infrastructure over such a huge area is shared by a population 1/10 that of the USA. We have more elbow room but fewer people to pay the bills.

The cost of health care is tightly controlled in several ways. It assumes the entire population will be covered, womb to tomb. It schedules the exact amount doctors will be paid for each procedure. Extra billing over the base rate is illegal. These fees are negotiated between the provincial government and the provincial medical association.

A doctor can opt in or opt out of the provincial health care system, but they can not have it both ways. If they want to bill whatever they want, as in the USA, they cannot make ANY claims under the provincial health care system. If they choose to be under the provincial health care system, they will be paid the exact scheduled amounts by the Ministry of Health for each service rendered, and they will not have to sue anyone for unpaid bills. No bad debts. I know many physicians in the USA have a big problem with uncollectible accounts.

Canadian physicians can focus on their medical specialty without the worry of being paid or the moral dilemmas of denying treatment to someone in need because they don't have the money to pay. Health care is a fundamental human right, not an economically dictated privilege for the wealthy and a death sentence for the poor and lower income families.

Government negotiates with the drug companies exactly what they will pay for specific drugs that are covered by OHIP or the Ontario Drug Insurance Plan. After a small annual deductible ($100), seniors and low income families are covered for $2 for each prescription filled. OHIP also covers hospitalization at ward rates (usually 4 beds to a room) and private or semi-private if room is available and medically necessary (i.e. contagious or vulnerable).

Canadian courts do not award tens of millions of dollars in malpractice lawsuits, as the courts do in the USA. Here you can be compensated for actual economic loss, lost past and estimated realistic lost future earnings, but not the outrageous awards seen in the US courts. It is those awards that drive your health premiums up and slap on nasty restrictions on coverage. For example, OBGYNs are at huge risk there and their malpractice insurance premiums are astronomical, which is reflected in their fees.

Until recently, it has been illegal for a lawyer in Ontario to take a case on "contingency", i.e. he only gets paid if he wins, and then he gets a percentage of the award. Even now in almost all cases, you pay as you play. It is a real disincentive to frivolous lawsuits - actually any lawsuits. You had better have a really good case, deep pockets and lots of time before you pick a fight in court here. The Canadian Medical Protective Association (the doctors liability insurer) will fight every case to the highest courts, or until you run out of money. They are litigious SOBs, but that helps keep down medical malpractice premiums and the overall cost of providing health care to everyone.

In the USA contingency lawsuits are completely legal, even the norm. There are so many lawyers starving that many will sue for anything on the odd chance they might make some money, between their hours as tow truck drivers. They are called "ambulance chasers". No matter what happens to you, it is NEVER your fault and the blame can be pinned on someone else (with money). The US awards can be astronomical and the lawyers taking 25% to 50%, paid by the doctors' insurance companies, which are the same insurance companies that set your health insurance conditions and premiums.

Most lawsuits are settled out of court, and the losses billed back to the consumers by the insurance companies as premiums. 90% of lawyers give the rest a bad name. OK 99%.

There are so many powerful money interests vested in the US health care system that it is almost political suicide for your politicians in either major party to take them on. A politician has only two goals - the first is to get elected and the second is to get re-elected. Nothing else really matters. Do I sound a tad cynical?

Canadians look at the mess in the US health care system and thank God we have the little issues we do. I know some Canadian doctors have moved south to practice where they think they will make more money. A few do make more gross money, but they have horrible overhead costs, such as higher premiums for malpractice insurance, and an extremely high risk of being sued, not for what they did, but because they are an easy target. It is like taking a hostage and extorting a ransom. The lawyers only target people with bucks and insurance. Then in many communities the doctors live in gated communities for security, a rarity in Canada. And they have to sue to collect their bills. And they have to deny services when someone cannot pay. Many have simply packed up and returned to the land of milk, honey, ice, snow and the Looney.

Perhaps this describes why we Canadians are so zealous for our system. If we ever lose it (and there are powerful financial interests trying to encroach), then we will be in deep meadow muffins.

As I sit here writing this letter, I cannot see with my left eye. A week ago my Iritis (arthritis of the eye) came back with a vengeance. Untreated, the pain would be excruciating and would lead to a detached retina and blindness. I was able to call one of the top specialists in the country (who happens to practice in Sarnia), get an immediate appointment to see him (come NOW), have a prednisone injection in the lower eye lid and see him for 3 follow-up visits since. Cost to me = $0.00. The Iritis has stabilized and is improving and there is no pain. It still looks like I am in a Newfoundland fog with my left eye and a light fog with my right eye. There will likely be another 3 to 5 visits related to this attack and the recovery period, all covered completely by our provincial health care system. I have similar service with my family physician, urologist (cancer scare) and the kids' pediatrician. Throw that protection away? Not on your life.

My mother, brother, sister and aunt have all had knee joint replacements. Mom had catarac surgery and I will eventually need it too. Cost to us $0.00.

My aunt had a major stroke and lived in a hospital and then a beautiful new nursing home for 10 months until her death. All costs were fully covered, including a $3,500 wheel chair and other assistive devices.

My son (in Iraq) and his wife (in Florida) pay $1,200 per month for their health care premiums (no kids).

I would much rather pay a bit more in taxes than pay US health premiums.

You can fix your health system, but you are almost going to have to have a revolution to do it. There are too many powerful vested interests in keeping your system as it is. You also have to have a political party in power with the philosophical motive and will to bring equal health care to everyone, not just those who can afford it. Health care is a fundamental human right in Canada. I hope that it becomes such a fundamental human right in the USA too. It is a mark of a civilization's progress when even the weakest are protected. Yes I know that was a bit of a zinger, but many US FASlinkers would agree too.

A major new issue will be genetic testing to determine if you have a higher than normal risk of developing cancer and a thousand other conditions. Then those exclusions will be written into health care contracts. The same genetic screening will be tried for job applicants so group insurance rates are not adversely affected. Vigilance on this issue is absolutely necessary. A newborn with FAS could be deprived of health coverage for life because of known and potential health issues. Health insurance is much like life insurance. You are betting the company you are going to die soon, and they are betting you that you are going to live longer than the last premium you pay, generally about 8 years. Most life insurance policies lapse within 8 years. They calculate the risk and premiums to age 65 but bet you will drop the policy by age 45. They want to hedge their bets and get the biggest bucks possible. DNA testing is very tempting to them.

We may have cold weather in the winter (no bugs, scorpions, spiders, skunks or rattlesnakes) but we won't go broke or die for lack of money to pay for health care.