Canadians and Americans share a common language and certainly a pervasive culture, given the prominence of Canadian stars in Hollywood. We even have the same food. But Canadian bacon is hardly an ordinary item in most Canadian larders.

And yet, Canadians aren’t quite the same as Americans and vice versa, as retailers seeking to expand on either side of the border have learned to their chagrin. Target, the mass-market retailer, has so far failed to tap the Canadian market profitably. Canadians flock to U.S. retail outlets for a weekend trip, as well as lower prices, but not for their everyday needs. Similarly, RBC failed in the American South when it bought and built on the Centura banking franchise – American wholesale banking is different.

The intuitive thought that the U.S. is the same as Canada, only 10 times bigger, does not work. Similarly, Canada is not simply a new California-sized market of 35 million.

For example, Canadian regulators make it expensive for successful U.S. finance companies to set up here. Mutual funds are the preferred investment vehicle, even though they are more expensive than in the U.S. The U.S. ETF market is $1.8 trillion. Canada’s is $60 billion. So much for the 10:1 ratio.

This makes for interesting comparisons in the ETF space. There are 1,600 ETFs listed in the U.S. There are 340 listed in Canada, according to the latest data from the Toronto Stock Exchange.

How much choice is there in the U.S.? In a recent Forbes column, Charles Rotblut could find only 57 ETFs that qualified as smart-beta investing. By my count, there are 46 smart-beta products in Canada.

Of course, this is only one set of numbers. AUM is what counts and Pimco is closing its U.S.-based Canadian bond ETF for want of assets.

Next time I go to the local fair, be it the Stampede or the CNE, I’m going to put mustard on my peameal bacon sandwich, vinegar on my chips and savour a butter tart.

Scot Blythe is a Toronto-based financial writer.
Originally published on