As Canadians embark on a national debate about health care, anxious Americans arelocked in their own deliberations about Canada’s health care system.

With U.S. congressional elections scheduled for tomorrow, more and more U.S. citizens, and the political candidates hoping to woo them, are looking northward for inspiration.

Last month, during the Democratic Primary to choose a candidate for Massachusetts State Governor, the Boston Globe devoted front page coverage to elderlyvoters seeking a governor who would bring current extortionate prescription drugs costs more into line with Canada’s fairer pricing.

The Democratic challenger to Florida Governor Jeb Bush is attempting to do just that. According to the St. Petersburg Times, when Bill McBride unveiled his drug plan two weeks ago, he argued that if Canada can force pharmaceutical companies tolower their prices, then the U.S. should be able to do the same.

While candidates joust over competing drug plans and tens of thousands of American citizens turn to Canadian mail-order pharmacies to fill prescriptions, the most intense electoral battle is taking shape in the western state of Oregon, where citizens will vote on aballot initiative that would establish state-wide universal health care.

So-called Measure 23 would create a new, single-payer system to cover allOregonians — including the 400,000 odd citizens who currently lack health insurance — largely through significant hikes in state income and payroll taxes.

When I spoke with Britt McEachern, communications director for the Yes campaign supporting the measure, he told me that many Oregonians look to Canada as a model. But, he added, facts are often in short supply: some believe Canada’s health system to be the best in the world; others recount horror stories about long waiting lists or Canadian patients sent to the U.S. for vital care.

McEachern says his campaign has had to fight a lot of misinformation. And he is under no illusions about where much of it originates.

He points to the hundreds of thousands of dollars of insurance company money that has flown into Oregon in recent weeks. When the No campaign set up inAugust, it collected some $400,000 in its first six weeks of existence. Since then, contributions to the war chest have accelerated sharply with more than$800,000 flowing in from September 20 and October 20.

The Yes campaign, by contrast, has made do with about $20,000in total contributions to date.

Which is why, although Canada may be on the lips of many Oregonians, Canadians might not recognize the caricature of their “socialist” health care systemas it’s being painted by the mass-mailing and television campaign which hopes to defeat Measure 23.

It’s unsettling that in the home of the First Amendment, citizens can’t seem to get the straight goods on their next-door neighbour. But, then again,when I called the LA Times, the largest newspaper on America’s WestCoast, to see how many correspondents they post in Canada, the gentleman in the newsroom told me that they now cover Canada from their bureau in NewYork City.

Short of an actual exploratory mission across theborder, curious Americans could always turn to theWall Street Journal editorial board for counsel. TheJournal’s editorial team last deigned to turn theirgaze in our direction in 1995 when they insisted thatCanada had become an “honorary member of the ThirdWorld” thanks to its out-of-control public spendingand debt.

And, recently, the Journal warned that a yes vote inOregon will mean that citizens will fare no betterthan the “lab mice on medical-care waiting lists insingle-payer countries like Canada and Britain.”

Oddly, the No campaign in Oregon seems to fear theopposite: that carpet-baggers from out-of-state willflock to Oregon, eager to become “guinea pigs” in thestate’s overly-generous health care experiment.

Setting to one side the moral tragedy of a wealthynation that would place so many of its citizens insuch desperate straits to begin with, one does doubtthat America will see a westward pilgrimage straightfrom the pages of Steinbeck. If the sick, the joblessand the merely opportunistic, were really mobileenough to seek out universal coverage wherever itmight be found, surely they would have long ago endedup on our own doorstep here in Canada.

Rather, one gets the sense that the real fear is of asouthern expansion — with the Fall of Oregontriggering a domino effect across the United States.

That’s why the hundreds of thousands of dollars ofcorporate money flowing into Oregonshould be understood as a desperate effort to preventthat state from becoming — in deed, if not in name –the eleventh province of Canada.