Dan Simpson / The latest news from Nova Scotia

It's refreshing; the hot issues are what to do about the ferry boat and lobster taxes

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A weekend in Canada, a change of scene …

My wife, my daughter Holly and I spent last week in Nova Scotia, on my part to get away from the conscience-less killers in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Nigeria, Palestine, Russia, South Sudan and Ukraine who dominate what I write about on a daily basis.

It is a different world in Nova Scotia, one of Canada’s maritime provinces, with a population of less than a million, most of them living around the edge of a virtual island, with no one far from the sea. They have problems, too, but nothing like being afraid that someone will bomb them, kidnap them or try to exterminate them in the name of some “ism” or religious sect.

One controversy in Nova Scotia at the moment is whether the tax on lobster will be raised two cents or five cents a pound. I am not saying this is not serious business. Nova Scotians take their fishing very seriously. One of the finest moments for us was when a waitress in a restaurant, a grizzly bear zoologist by profession, gave us a lengthy, well-informed lecture on the complex relationships among farmed and wild Atlantic and Pacific salmon and the orcas which feed off them.

Never mind how good the halibut, haddock and lobsters are to eat. A pennies-per-pound rise in the price of lobsters makes a big difference to the fishermen and marketers; it certainly wouldn’t have stopped us. But that is the nature of some of the issues which concern Nova Scotians.

Another issue perturbing Nova Scotians, particularly those at the west end of the island, is ferry service between Yarmouth, the port there, and Maine. It had been discontinued in 2010 because of cost, with bad economic consequences. Restored, it had already eaten up most of the $21 million provided it by the government to keep it afloat — as it were — for the next seven years, and its fate was once more in question.

The ferry boat looked larger than needed to us, but it carries cars as well as people. The ferry was on the front page of the July 29 “Yarmouth County Vanguard.” Nova Scotians, by the way, seem to have a lot of newspapers on sale and plenty of book stores. (Never mind, Pittsburgh.)

Canadians seem to follow international affairs fairly closely. They were thoroughly cross about the Chinese hacking into their premier scientific research agency, suggesting that unfriendly activity might poison the upcoming visit to China in November by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The Canadians do seem to have dealt successfully with a problem that is still riling Americans more than a century after it should have been resolved — the question of what we call Native Americans. They comprise about 4 percent of the Canadian population and belong to hundreds of different groups. Canadians call them “First Nations” or “aboriginal citizens” and keep them very much dealt into the game of government. My unruly mind drifted inevitably to our capital’s NFL team, the Washington Redskins, and how it might sound to call them the Washington First Nation or Washington Aboriginals.

I also decided that if the Pirates dropped out of contention, I would start following the Toronto Blue Jays. Nice national anthem the Canadians have. Hard even for pop singers to butcher.

One still serious, although not dangerously serious, issue that bothers Canadians is the English-vs.-French thing. Nova Scotia was home to the French-speaking Acadians — as in Longfellow’s “Evangeline” Acadians. The British expelled them. They dispersed for a while, and then came back. Some stayed in Louisiana to become the Cajuns, based on “Acadians.” They are distinct from the sometimes separatist people of Quebec.

One quite often sees the Acadian flag in Nova Scotia. It is the French red, white and blue tricoleur, with a gold star in the upper corner of the left blue field. It was truly disquieting for us to hear on the radio country-and-western songs sung in distinctively Canadian French. The Nova Scotians haven’t forgotten about all those 19th-century events, unlike Western Pennsylvanians who find it difficult to focus on why Fort Duquesne Boulevard is called what it is called.

One English-speaking couple told us that they would not feel comfortable living in a predominantly French-speaking neighborhood. There is also the religious divide. Most of the French speakers are Catholic; most of the English-speakers, Protestant, Anglican — their version of Episcopalian — or Baptist.

We also visited two towns founded by “Loyalists” — Americans who bailed out when the American Revolution went the wrong way from their point of view. One town was white; the other, African-American.

Interesting, different place, Nova Scotia. Our only disappointment was that my daughter had her heart set on seeing a moose. No luck.

Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (dsimpson@post-gazette.com,412-263-1976).

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