Monday, October 16, 2006

Back in Canada

We've been in Toronto with my wife's parents for the past few weeks (hence the lack of blogging), and I have to say what a relief it is to be in a sane country! Everything here seems so much less stressful than in England.

Firstly there are the little things, like the low crime rate, the open space (Canada is 50 times the size of the UK but with half the population), being able to move when you're driving, and the fact that people here are a lot more friendly. You can argue that "the grass is greener on the other side", but none of these observations are imaginary. Canada is known for its quality of life.

Britain's high crime rate, traffic congestion and overcrowding are all things you can live with, but there are the bigger things that really do affect your quality of life and can't just be ignored. Being Jewish is undoubtedly much easier in Canada. Firstly, the community is "out in the open", and not ashamed to conceal its identity. There are streets in Toronto called "Chabad Gate" and "Maimonides Street", and there are large notices on the main streets advertising upcoming religious and cultural events.

Secondly, the community is far better amenities. The local equivalent of Tesco's (called Sobeys) has a kosher bakery, deli and meat counter, and Toronto's 180,000 Jews are served by approximately 40 Jewish schools.

But most importantly, the political situation here is radically different. Whilst Tony Blair has been attacked in Britain from all quarters for defending Israel during the recent war in Lebanon, Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has been going on the offensive in his support of Israel, accusing the opposition Liberal Party of being anti-Israel. It's not only Stephen Harper's policies that makes the Jewish community feel more comfortable, but the fact that politics here are not dominated by Islamic extremism the way they are in Britain. To be fair, Canada has its own home grown extremists, but they have not affected the day to day lives of ordinary Canadians.

In Britain by contrast, hardly a day has gone by in the last year without a front page story relating to Islamic extremism. Last week Jack Straw was criticising the veil, this week it has been revealed that faith schools could be forced to offer at least a quarter of their places to pupils of other religions and non-believers in a bid to counter the lack of integration in the Muslim community. Having realised that multiculturalism has failed, Britain's political elite haven't figured out what the alternative is. In the meantime, Jewish and other faith schools are being made to suffer.

Unlike faith schools in Britain, Jewish schools in Canada are private. Maybe this is the way we need to go. Our schools may end up being very expensive, but at least they'll be free of Government interference. It may be a price worth paying.