Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Taking the long cut to Canada

It was a cryptic joke that only a Canadian could fully appreciate:
Q. How do you make the world’s second biggest country disappear?
A. Take a flight to anywhere else and then open a newspaper.
The point (for my non-Canadian readers) is that even with a land mass second only to Russia – and its strong ranking in the G8 club of leading economies – Canada is so overshadowed by its neighbour to the south that it barely impinges on the consciousness of the world beyond its borders.
For most Americans, Canada is merely the source of severe winter weather. For English people, it is a colonial theme park where the Queen goes to romp with Mounties and grizzlies. For most others, it is a paler shade of America with a lot more reserve. For the Irish, it crops up occasionally as a surprise destination for emigrants who, presumably, couldn’t get into the USA and didn’t fancy the long trip to Australia.
I know different, but then I lived in Canada for more than a decade; have been a naturalised Canadian citizen for almost two decades; and my son and daughter-in-law, along with many friends, live there.
So it is a source of constant annoyance that Irish people who are outraged when their small country is treated merely as an outpost of the larger neighbour, are so dismissive in their attitude to Canada.
Even in terms of outward perspective (on that diaspora of opportunities), this cannot be explained as merely a traditional preoccupation with Britain and America. If so, how does one explain the near obsession with Australia, which has half the population of Canada? Australia, of course, is the destination of choice for backpack ‘emigrants’ on short-term work visas. Yet even when I went there in the mid-1980s, Canada was the much more selective destination for emigrants with occupational track records seeking lifetime opportunities.
This was no ‘visa lottery’ whimsy; no take-a-chance on staying beyond the expired visitor visa; no ‘sowing wild oats’ jaunt to the far side of the world until the slump recedes. For the overwhelming majority of those who emigrate to Canada, this is the result of a rational selection of a new home by highly skilled, educated and experienced Irish people. They are going there in thousands, usually with young families in tow.
Gone to Canada and forgotten in Ireland.
Yet it isn’t just a one-way traffic either. Canada has long been the second biggest source of foreign direct inward investment in the Irish economy and it has been a major source of assistance under the Ireland Fund and other schemes that helped prime the so-called Celtic Tiger.
Which brings me to the small issue that prompted these observations. I use Aer Lingus as air carrier of choice, especially from its Belfast hubs. So I get frequent emails informing me of special offers and soliciting my business. I got one of these Aer Lingus emails today, offering me the ‘best deals’ to fly from Dublin to ‘over 70 destinations across the USA and Canada’ from as little as £205.
Wow, £205, to ‘over 70 destinations’ with my favourite airline, I thought, that’s worth checking. It wasn’t because Aer Lingus could only fly me to my choice of Boston, Chicago, New York or Orlando and then hand me on to another airline that would fly me to Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver or wherever I might choose. Not only does Aer Lingus not fly to anywhere in Canada, it clearly does not even consider Canada a country.
Aer Lingus flies anywhere in Canada as long as it's in Chicago.
Oh, it will say that it has strategic 'flight partners', but that’s hardly the same thing as taking me where I might want to go on the unsolicited promise it made me. Instead it would be dropping me into some American airport where, no doubt, I would be harassed again by the Gestapo officers of US Customs and Border Protection (see my recent blog at
So what of the £205 fare deal? Well Aer Lingus has offered to take me on a flight path over Canada and the Great Lakes to O’Hare airport in Chicago where I can then get a United Airlines flight back to Toronto. That will take a combined 14 hours and 41 minutes – more than the flight time to Australia! Even with a tailwind on the return, by the same route, it will take 16 hours and 32 minutes. In that exhausting schedule, the £205 has suddenly become a fare of €1,619.27.
It reminds me of the joke about the Canadian tourist in Ireland who pulled up his rental car to ask directions from a local man and was told, ‘Well now, if you want to get there I certainly wouldn’t start from here!’