22 November 2008

Birds and Beer

We’re keenly tuned to the cost of living in Nanaimo, particularly given the, we can only hope temporary, vaporization of a chunk of our retirement savings over the past few months. Two items we buy regularly in the States--poultry and beer--are quite a lot more costly in Nanaimo. We normally eat almost no beef, little pork, a lot of chicken and somewhat less turkey. Maybe because Canadians grow a lot of cattle--as we observed firsthand during our drive across The Prairies--beef prices here are comparable or maybe even lower than in Roseville. Pork prices are also low. But chicken and turkey are nearly double the cost in Minnesota. On the other hand, not surprisingly fresh seafood is far more plentiful and affordable on Vancouver Island than in landlocked Minnesota. I won’t eat more beef just because it’s relatively cheap, so our diet is becoming fishier and veggier

The beer situation is genuinely depressing. A 15-pack of the sort of beer I prefer--pedestrian swill, in short--costs about $25 Canadian, or $1.67/bottle (which at today’s exchange rate is US$1.32). A similar product in Roseville costs around US$0.75/bottle. I don’t know for sure, but I think this difference is a result of higher taxation of alcohol in Canada which I think reflects a more serious concern about the negative impacts of excessive alcohol consumption on society and the taxpayer-financed healthcare system. The high retail cost of alcoholic drinks likely explains a proliferation in Nanaimo of retail outlets selling equipment and supplies for home beer and wine making. The cost of booze may also partly explain why marijuana is among British Columbia’s largest industries. Authorities estimate there are 15,000-25,000 private grow operations (often set up in rented single family homes converted by the tenant to indoor cultivation) in the Province, and “B.C. bud” is the Province’s #1 export ranked by dollar value. Some estimate the “pot sector” to account for 5% of British Columbia’s economy. Medical marijuana is legal in Canada, and we’ve seen Vancouverites casually self-medicating on downtown sidewalks.

Foremost on the other side of the ledger is healthcare. For all of 2008, we will spend $8,000-$10,000 for catastrophe-only health insurance and health care. And we’re relatively healthy. Though the Canadian health care/insurance system has shortcomings, the consumer cost difference is stunning. We would pay a premium of CDN$96/month for complete healthcare coverage through B.C.’s Medical Services Plan. A portion of our taxes would also go to pay for healthcare. But, largely by segregating healthcare and capitalism (in my opinion), Canada spends per capita roughly one-half on healthcare compared to the U.S.--and achieves better health outcomes, according to the World Health Organization--so I believe overall we’d come out way ahead under the Canadian system, financially and physically.

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