Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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The Best Country in the World is …

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday,  October 3 / 09

Zack Gross

It’s all Stephen Harper’s fault! 

Breaking from traditional Canadian modesty, Mr. Harper lately has been touting our country, at global forums and in Tim Horton’s coffee shops, as the best, least troubled, most economically sound place to live in our world! 

Of course, there are many studies and reports out there, some more scientific and less biased than others, extolling the virtues of a variety of countries as “the best”, in every way or in certain ways.  Here’s a sampling!

The United Nations Human Development Index (HDI), one of the best known measuring sticks of good places to live, ranked Canada as Number One back at the turn of this century but, in more recent years, has given the nod to Nordic and other European countries, such as Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Finland, Germany and the United Kingdom.  Canada remains in the Top Ten of the HDI which takes into account life expectancy, adult literacy, Gross Domestic Product and other data. 

The Global Peace Index measures military expenditures, respect for human rights, and levels of democracy, transparency, education and material well-being. 

This list clearly mirrors the HDI, with Canada still in the Top Ten, but with Norway in first place.

Interestingly, Canada is also a major arms exporter, ranking just outside the top ten. 

For Gender, it is Iceland in the lead along with many of the “usual” countries, based on narrowing the gap between the sexes in, for example, employment and education opportunities. 

Life expectancy and purchasing power also are taken into account.  Canada again is in the Top Ten.

But, what are the worst countries for women, you might ask, where women are most vulnerable to violence, can’t get an education, live in refugee camps and struggle with HIV? 

On-going (never-ending) civil and regional conflict, campaigns of rape, ineligibility to attend school, very early arranged marriage and child-bearing, trafficking in girls’ labour and sexual slavery, genital mutilation, and segregation from social relationships describe some of the huge problems faced by women in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nepal, Sudan, Mali, Guatemala, Pakistan, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, to name the bottom ten.

For those of us who are inveterate recyclers, the Netherlands leads the pack, where two-thirds of households recycle. 

Austria, Germany and Belgium also rank above 50% of households recycling.  Sadly, Canada doesn’t appear near the top of the list. 

On the good side, although we don’t always give ourselves credit for this, Canada ranks second for acceptance of people seeking political asylum.  In comparison to other countries, we display an unusual level of acceptance and tolerance, and provide less bureaucratic blocks than many, as 62% of asylum seekers are allowed into our country.

The Ease of Doing Business 2010 report, produced by the World Bank Group, which studied the economies of 183 countries from June 2008 to May 2009, ranks Canada eighth overall.  

The scale includes things like starting a business, getting credit, employing workers and trading across borders.  

Singapore leads the list, followed by New Zealand, Hong Kong, the US and UK.  Countries at the bottom of the list are largely impoverished African ones.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has until recently ranked nation state health systems, but has stopped, saying it is too complex a topic to allow confident ranking. 

Their last list, compiled in 2007, placed France at the top.  Michael Moore, who lavished praise on France’s health system in his documentary “Sicko”, will be pleased. 

Canada sits in 30th place, the US in 37th, and Cuba in 39th.  Moore praised Canada and Cuba in Sicko, and condemned the US.

The Economist magazine announces their best and worst countries each year, and recently crowned Ireland and put down Zimbabwe.  Again, these are subjective decisions. 

The Internet is filled with web sites that extol the US, Canada, India, Egypt and everywhere else as “the best”, based on patriotism, promotion of tourism, political bias and much more (or less).

Finally, there is the Happy Planet Index which measures our ecological footprint on our world. 

Whereas European and other “Western” nations dominated the high economic and social development scales, with poorer nations near the bottom, it is Latin America that dominates the Top Ten and Costa Rica that is Numero Uno for living green and being happy. 

The New Economics Foundation, author of the Happy Planet rankings, says that today’s hyper-industrialized nations, such as India, China and the US, were “happier” twenty years  ago.  Living within our ecological means in the key to a slightly longer and much more satisfying life, says the NEF.

Measure it as you will, Stephen Harper.  Canada does often rank in the Top Ten, but nowhere, these days, is it Number 1. 

We could be happier, healthier and could work to lower our ranking on the arms trade scale! 

But, what we need to restore after Mr. Harper’s recent pronouncements, is our No. 1 spot in the modesty parade. 

We are, after all, Canadian, eh?

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.
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