A week ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took a full, 21-second, diplomatic pause before answering a question about current events in the United States. Trudeau opened his mouth to speak — twice — let out an audible groan and then gave his statement. The awkward incident, captured on video, made news in both countries. It was a live illustration of how many Canadians feel about their perplexing and unruly southern neighbors these days.
Sandy Pardee, 65, is both a Mainer and newly minted Canadian citizen. Pardee is watching coronavirus and anti-racism protests unfold here as an insider as well as an outsider. It’s a unique perspective. When asked his opinion, he neither groans or takes a half-minute pause.
Pardee, a long-time, bass-playing fixture on the local music scene lived in Portland for 21 years. Four years ago, he met the woman of his dreams, married her and followed his new bride to Quebec City. In January, he became an official Canadian citizen. Now, with dual citizenship, Pardee keeps track of Maine and U.S. happenings via online news sites.
Pardee and his wife, Catherine Normand, spoke to the BDN on the phone this week about what the news looks like from Quebec.
Q: I keep seeing this meme on Facebook that says Canadians must feel like they’re living over a meth lab. Is that true? Is that how it feels?
Pardee: Yeah, kind of like the noisy, downstairs neighbors you don’t get along with.
Q: Seriously, how’s it going up there? How are you making out during the pandemic?
Pardee: People regularly ask me if I miss Portland and I say, “Of course.” I didn’t leave Portland because I didn’t enjoy it. It was just missing one major benefit: Catherine. Every country has its problems, every city has its jerks, but everyone I meet up here is reasonably nice — and most people are well above that. I’ve been fully occupied during the lockdown with gardening, remodeling and painting.
Q: Is there anything in particular you’ve heard Canadians talking about around the United States’ coronavirus response or the armed, anti-lockdown protests?
Pardee: The fact that so many people are out of work [in the United States] and therefore don’t have health coverage — which is exactly the time when they need it — it’s unthinkable up here. People say, “Wow, there’s this giant health crisis going on and people aren’t covered?” I’ve seen this list of countries that have tried going to single-payer health care. Then there’s a second column for countries that decided it didn’t work and rejected it. There are no countries on that list.
Normand: [As for those armed protests] of course people have guns here, they go hunting and everything. But we don’t carry guns on ourselves. The first answer is not violence, here. When you go to the states, you know that the guy standing next to you might have a gun on himself. It’s a very different mentality here.
Q: Sandy, being the local American, do you get asked a lot of questions about news coming out of the states?
Pardee: When I was teaching English here, everyday — every week — as Trump was doing another outrageous thing, people would come into the classes and ask, “What is going on with this guy?” It was very rare for me to find someone who even marginally supported Trump. Almost everyone was aghast at what he was doing, or truly confused. There’s a lot of flabbergasted people.
Q: So, people are talking about the anti-racism protests here?
Pardee: Yes, and there have been protests here, in Montreal, too. I guess they’re happening in big cities all over the world. It’s everywhere, a huge subject of conversation, even up here.
Normand: I just went out for a walk with a friend of mine tonight. She is, we both are — to repeat Sandy’s expression — flabbergasted about the murder by the policeman. It’s unbelievable that, in 2020, this behavior is accepted. I was so shocked to see the video. I was pissed off to see that the policeman was not put in jail [immediately]. When you see a guy who is supposed to serve and protect, choking a man to death, it’s disgusting. It’s inhuman. That’s what we talked about tonight.
Pardee: Thank God people are finally standing up and turning this into a movement. I’m hoping this is something that doesn’t die away.
Q: I know you’ve seen our coverage of the anti-racism protests right here in Portland. How does it look now that you’re no longer living here?
Pardee: I’ve been pretty proud of my old hometown. The size of the turnout for the protests is something I don’t think I’ve seen before. I don’t get the impression there’s as much of a problem [with racism] in Maine — it’s one of the whitest states in the country — but there’s always room for improvement. That’s why I’m so proud. People could have just said, “Hey that’s happening elsewhere, that doesn’t happen around here.” Instead, people are realizing that racism isn’t just about the guy that gets choked to death by a cop. It manifests itself in a lot of different ways.
Q: What do you mean?
Pardee: It’s got me looking at my own advantages and behaviors and automatic reactions to certain situations. I’m realizing there’s an underlying racism in almost everything we do. It’s the nature of our social and political system. It’s waking me up. It’s waking a lot of people up. Hopefully, this is the bottom of the curve in the parabola. Hopefully, things will improve as we go along.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.