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Both the United States and Canada offer a lot of opportunities for off-the-grid living. There are vast rural areas in both countries, where families can easily homestead and hide from society. So which country is a better place to go off the grid?
Well, Canada is colder, but it has far more empty wilderness to hide in. Some of these wilderness areas, such as Northern Ontario and much of Quebec, are fairly close to large urban areas such as Toronto in case you have to work.
Even though Northern Ontario has some rough winters, it is a good place to grow crops, its streams and lakes are full of fish, and its forests are full game. There are also lots of running streams for hydroelectric power and lots of trees for firewood. Living off the land and the grid in Northern Ontario is perfectly doable; in fact, my ancestors did it for generations.
Physically homesteading in some parts of Canada, such as Quebec, Ontario, the Maritime Provinces, and British Columbia, would not be that different from homesteading in much of the United States. Nor is the culture that different; the basic lifestyle most Canadians live is much the same as in the United States. Even French Canadians have more in common with Minnesotans than Frenchmen. The big differences are political, and they are not that noticeable on a day-to-day basis.
US vs. Canadian Government
The big difference between the US and Canada is that the Canadian government has a lot more power and authority than the American government—at least on paper. Canada’s government, like Britain’s, is a parliamentary system in which there is no separation between the executive and legislative branches; Parliament writes the laws and runs the government. This makes for a far more centralized national government that has more power.
Practically, this means that laws can change faster in Canada than in the US. The government can implement sweeping changes and then take them away again after the next election. For example, the last liberal government in Canada ordered all guns in the nation registered. The next conservative government reversed the policy.
Canada also has fewer constitutional limitations on government than the US does. The government is free to put more restrictions on gun ownership, and the courts have broad powers to censor the press. There is a caveat though: the government has more legal power to interfere in the rights of citizens than in the US, yet its activities are restrained because it is a little more accountable to voters than the American government.
Even though the government is more powerful in Canada, it doesn’t seem to be more obtrusive in the lives of ordinary citizens than in the US. Practically, Americans and Canadians have about the same amount of freedom and legal protections. As in the US, government power in Canada is often irrationally and illogically used.
Residents of Canada have the same basic legal rights as Americans, such as trial by jury, representation by a lawyer, and protection from searches without warrants. As in the US, these rights are often violated by overzealous authorities.
So Which Nation Is Freer for Living Off the Grid?
In most practical respects, a person living off the grid in Canada won’t notice much difference in living off the grid in the US. You’ll still be able to grow your own food, own your own land, and generate your own electricity. As in the US, you will still have to worry about overzealous authorities.
For the average family living on a homestead, there won’t be much difference as long as they take care to avoid the government. As in the US, the level of government interference differs widely from area to area. If you take the time to trouble to find an area with little or no government, you should be pretty safe.
That means you’ll have to do some research, such as checking the local newspaper and talking to local people. Some regions of Canada, such as British Columbia, have a historic tolerance for alternative lifestyles. Try spending some time in an area and seeing what it’s really like.
Something to be aware of is that Canada, like Britain, has a long welfare state tradition. That means most Canadians will tolerate a higher level of governmental interference than Americans and expect government to control certain areas, such as health care.
Yes, Canada does have a national healthcare system, but despite what some Americans think, nobody is forced to participate in it. Instead, it is your choice whether you use the system, which is called Medicare, or not. That system could help some families be more self-sufficient, because it eliminates the need for private health insurance and pays for most medical services.
Healthcare in Canada is more bureaucratic and restricted; there are shortages of doctors, and it can be difficult to see a specialist. The stories about rich Canadians coming to the US to see specialists are true. A dirty secret about Canadian health care is that many wealthy Canadians use Medicare for most of their needs but run to the States the minute it won’t pay for something they need or want. Yet with Obamacare coming in, the differences between American and Canadian healthcare seem to disappearing.
In practical terms, the level of freedom for the average person in Canada and the average person in the US is about the same. The interesting question is which country will it be easier to survive a crisis or collapse in?
Which Country Is Safer?
My guess is that if some sort of nationwide collapse hits in the United States, it’ll bring Canada down too. The Canadian and American economies are joined at the hip; if one collapses, the other will come down. The effects of a large-scale collapse in Canada and the US will be pretty much the same.
So from that practical standpoint, the side of the border you live on won’t matter that much. In some ways, Canadian society will be more vulnerable, because Canadians seem to be more dependent on government for some services like healthcare. Yet vast numbers of Americans are also dependent on the government for those services.
The US has a higher crime rate and more ethnic diversity, which could make for more civil unrest. The greater availability of guns in the US is a double-edged sword: it gives American families more means to protect themselves, but it also means more guns for the bad guys to use on average people during a period of chaos.
Something else to remember is that the enforcement of Canadian gun laws is about as bad and uneven as the enforcement of American gun laws. That means there are large numbers of illegal and unregistered guns floating around in Canada. Therefore the chances for armed violence in the event of a large-scale collapse are just about as great in Canada.
Canadian police forces are also better organized (at least in Ontario) and more militaristic than American police. That means they might be better equipped to deal with civil disorder. Yet Canada’s centralized law enforcement structure might be more vulnerable to collapse or cyber-attacks. Unlike in the US, day-to-day uniformed law enforcement in much of Canada is provided by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the legendary Mounties or RCMP) run by the federal government or by provincial police forces (similar to the state police in Pennsylvania).
The Canadian government might have an easier time reestablishing order in a major crisis than the US government. Yet its ability will be restricted by the availability of the grid and other technological resources.
The truth is that Canadians and Americans are pretty much in the same boat. Residents of either country that want to survive and thrive in the long term will need to rely on their own resources. This is so because neither the Canadian nor the American welfare state can be sustained on a long-term basis. Both nations face the specter of economic collapse and dysfunctional government in the near future.
You should choose your homestead location on the ability of your family to live there independently on your own resources rather than the flag flying over the post office. In the near future, it may not make much difference what side of the border you’re living on.