The following is by Mr Cheong Wing Lee in response to Canadian, Mr Eric J Brooks’s second letter to the Straits Times. Mr Cheong emigrated to Canada from Singapore and is now a Canadian citizen.
Mr. Brooks’ second letter published in ST reiterate that Singaporeans should be grateful for what they have. He cited more examples of the failed Canadian welfare system as compared to the successful welfare system that Singaporeans are enjoying but have taken for granted.
Again I am embarrassed by a fellow Canadian who misrepresented his own country. It is easy to verify what Mr Brooks had said through the Canadian High Commission or Amnesty International.
Canada may not have a perfect welfare system but having lived and worked in several countries myself, I must say that Canada is as good as anyone could wish for.
When I immigrated to Canada, I bought three cars for the price of one in Singapore and a 4,000 sq. ft house for the price of a 5-room HDB apartment. A similar house in Singapore would have cost S$2 million
Yes, the Canadian taxes are high but the citizens are well treated. For me, the savings on the purchase of the house and cars could pay my income tax for the rest of my life.
Every child in Canada gets free education from kindergarten to Grade 12, the equivalent of junior college in Singapore. Most schools are within walking distance from home. Free transportation is provided for students living farther away. Each child gets C$250 a month as “milk” allowance until 18 years of age. However this benefit may have been rescinded.
Contrary to what Mr. Brooks claimed, all my three children graduated from reputable universities in Canada without any problem. My children’s university education did not cost me much as my children were able to obtain grants and student loans to pay for their university fees. They took part-time jobs to supplement their pocket money.
The greatest joy for parents is to see the happiness expressed in their children’s eyes when they play in the beautiful parks during the summers, springs and autumns and snow in the winters. The satisfaction is more than money can buy. This is in contrast to the daily intensive tuition that Singapore children are subjected to.
Mr. Brooks’ assertion that many bright Canadian children are denied the opportunity to attend universities in Canada but could obtain full scholarships in Singapore is untrue. In fact it is the other way around. My niece who could not get into Singapore University, was admitted into a reputable American University. She finished her Masters, secured a good job and sadly did not return to Singapore.
In Canada, senior citizens are well respected and treated. Seniors travel free on public transport, i.e. the MRT, bus and ferry rides, from Mondays to Thursdays. They get discount for weekend travel, food and most purchases. They are entitled to old age pension and workman pension when they reach the age of 65. The combined income from these two pensions is about C$1,000 to C$2,000 or more a month. Seniors get subsidies for housing. Seniors can study in reputable universities and get a degree by paying a token fee of less than C$100 per semester.
When I was diagnosed with kidney failure, it cost the Canadian Healthcare C$80,000 a year for dialysis and medical treatments to keep me alive. I paid C$90 a month for healthcare insurance that covers both my wife and I. The Canadian healthcare pays for all hospital expenses including medications. It was free for me. When I travel overseas, my dialysis and medical expenses are reimbursed by Canadian healthcare up to the amount it costs in Canada.
The homeless issue was greatly exaggerated by Mr Brooks. This issue is universal and every country has its fair share of homeless people including Singapore. In Canada, most of the homeless people are there by choice because of their drug addiction. No amount of government assistance can help pay for their expensive habit. In Singapore, most of the homeless people are there because of economic reasons. They are either without pension and too old to get a job or abandoned by their children.
For Mr Eric Brooks to say that Canada has a failed welfare system is unfair and bias. Check with the Canada High Commission and verify what I said.
SM Goh Chok Tong can call us quitters and losers because he cannot see beyond his comfort zone. He has no worries. His job is secured for life and is paying him by the millions. It is little wonder that his wife said that $500,000 a year salary is peanuts. If he could only spend one day outside his comfort zone and live like an ordinary Singaporean drawing less than $2,000 a month with the anxiety of losing his job, the burden of getting his children through the fiercely competitive education system, the stress of living in a materialistic environment and the uncertainty of having a dignified retirement, SM Goh may then understand the plight of the ordinary citizens. It is easy for him to pass judgement when he already has everything.
Patriotism and gratitude require reciprocity. If a citizen feels unwanted and treated without respect, it is no shame for the outcast to seek greener pasture and realize his potential elsewhere. It would be naive to expect the outcast to be patriotic and risk his life to protect a privileged group who continue to reward themselves unchallenged by the millions.
My decision to immigrate was not politically motivated. It was based solely on the future of my family. I have three children when the Singapore government’s strict policy then was, “Two is enough”.
As for education, I was expelled from school at secondary two. I obtained an “O” level and a certificate from Singapore Vocational Institute (fore-runner of ITE) through evening classes. In a highly competitive society like Singapore where you are judged by academic excellence and materialistic possessions, my credentials would be sneered at. I would most likely be a minimum wage worker, praying not to get sick when I am old and retired.
The lifestyle difference between a typical Singaporean and a Canadian is that a Singaporean spends his life making a living, whereas a Canadian lives his life.
Regardless of all the negative misinformation that Mr. Eric Brooks has said about Canada, I am deeply beholden to Canada who has given me my self-respect, dignity and a chance to realize my potential. Most of all, a bright future for my children. Herein lies my gratitude.
Thank you, Canada.
Wing Lee Cheong
North Vancouver, BC, Canada
Read also: Mr Cheong’s first letter in response to Mr Brooks’s original letter to the Straits Times Forum: Be thankful to Canada, Mr Brooks.
The following is a response from Amnesty International’s Coordinator for S’pore and Malaysia, Ms Margaret John.
A different view from Canada:
I understand that Canadian Eric J Brooks recently wrote to the Straits Times in praise of Singapore as a country that takes care of its citizens. He appears, however, to have only part of the total Singapore picture. For a fuller view, he has only to check Amnesty International's information. There he will read about defamation suits and other restrictive measures used against opposition activists, human rights defenders, foreign media and conscientious objectors.
He may change his opinion of Singapore when he finds that a climate of fear and self-censorship discourages Singaporeans from fully participating in public affairs. And he may be shocked to discover that Singapore is believed to have one of the highest per capita rates of execution in the world (often after trials that fail to meet international standards for a fair trial). Has he discussed his views with Dr Chee Soon Juan, who has been imprisoned some seven times after attempts to exercise his right to freedom of expression?
Coordinator for Singapore and Malaysia
Mr. Eric Brooks’ second letter in ST:
I REFER to Mr Paul Chan’s letter last Saturday (’…but so should Canadians’), rebutting my view that Singaporeans should be thankful for the benefits of good government (’Be grateful, Singapore’, July 31).
Mr Chan states that in Canada, ‘a distressed family of four with children under 17 years old receives…a total of up to C$1,106 (S$1,480) a month’.
In a large Canadian city, rent for a bachelor apartment starts at about C$800 a month, while an individual public transit pass costs close to C$150 a month. After rent and transport, how will a family of four eat on an allowance of C$1,100 a month? That is why, when I lived in a prosperous part of Toronto, I would pass up to 15 beggars on my five-minute walk to the train station.
Are there that many homeless beggars on a five-minute walk to an MRT station here? Are Singaporeans reading only dry economic statistics? After hearing coffee-shop talk for the past 10 years about how people in Western countries do not have to work because the government pays them, I think it is time Singaporeans learnt the truth.
Many people will refuse to believe that poverty in the West is much worse than in Singapore. Well, google ‘homeless Toronto’ or ‘homeless New York’ and find out. If Singaporeans believe Western governments pay people to be idle, why are homeless beggars freezing to death in the streets?
Most of those homeless Canadians or Americans were not lazy; they were not taken care of, by either the government or private sector job creation.
Indeed, many Canadian citizens were turned down for such generous subsidies, while foreigners claiming refugee status (but without even permanent residence) were granted generous welfare benefits and health care when they landed in Canada.
Does the Singapore Government deny benefits to citizens while giving them to newly landed foreigners? The Singapore Government is not perfect, but it should be respected for the good it does for its people.
As for ‘free education’, university at undergraduate level in Canada costs about C$5,000 a year, out of pocket, not including textbooks or residence.
I know of many bright Canadians who would have qualified for a full government scholarship if they had been born in Singapore. Instead, they worked in unskilled, low-paying jobs as the price of their unassisted poverty.
How much of what Singaporeans believe about Western social benefits is based on hearsay, rather than reality? Rather than listening to coffee-shop gossip or reading the press statements of foreign governments, Singaporeans should compare Singapore’s ground-level social conditions to those in the West.
Ultimately, actually seeing the street-level socioeconomic conditions of Western countries puts Singapore’s Government in a very good light indeed.
Eric J. Brooks