Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Canada Isn’t Broken But Can Do Better

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, August 29 / 22

Zack Gross

When I did some university lecturing, one of the topics I covered was to look at a number of indices that measured the state of the world.  These would include the Human Development Index, as the main one, that the United Nations puts out annually, and many others, such as the “Happiness Index”, which measures people’s satisfaction with what their lives offer, for example health and trust.  These indices look at the overall global situation but also rank countries from best to worst.

In our country today, there are many voices calling out the systems that have perpetrated sexist, racist and so many other misdeeds not only in recent times, but throughout our history.  My voice, although softer, has been one of them.  When many jurisdictions altered their usual Canada Day celebrations for 2022 and opted for a more circumspect marking of the date, there were voices in favour and others against.

Some said that we live in a country that ranks highly in so many ways in comparison to other countries, and I agree.  Other said that as a colonial and “settler” state, Canada has a very negative record in its relations with indigenous peoples.  They also said that there is much to be done to improve issues around equity and rights in our country today.  And I agree.  I would throw into the list our need to improve our relationship with the environment, as climate change brings destructive crises of flood, fire, drought and storm to all regions.

The late Hans Rosling, in his book Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong about the World and Why Things are Better than you Think, and in his TED Talk, shows how the world has steadily made progress, particularly since the Industrial Revolution in making people better off, living longer lives and having more rights.  He would say that all of the inquiries, trials and apologies evident in the daily news are an indication not just of how bad things were or might be, but of how society is taking steps to deal with them.

In my own research and speaking, I found that globally, the wealthier countries in most cases always ranked the highest in the various categories judging our human progress.  That’s what you would expect.  In some cases, such as the state of the environment, often less developed countries ranked higher for the very reason that their land base, resources and wildlife were still less exploited than in industrial countries.

Canada tends to rank in the top ten in many of these evaluations.  Best Country for Quality of Life in 2020, second in Most Economically Stable Countries, first in Most Educated Countries, fourth in Freedom, sixth in Peacefulness, first in Transparency, seventh in Quality of Life for Seniors, and second in Safest Country.  Toronto ranks very highly as a city in categories such as hospitals, universities and economic influence.  The United States and Great Britain, whom we might often compare ourselves to, are down the list from us in every category, while our real rivals tend to be the Nordic countries of Europe.

All of this isn’t to say that we couldn’t do much better.  Child poverty in Canada affects, depending on the province, anywhere from one in four to one in six kids.  We are decades past the year 2000 that our political leaders pledged would be the year by which child poverty would be eradicated.  Canada’s commitment to helping the poorest on our planet is also far behind schedule, as our international aid budget has stagnated in recent years and stands at 0.24 of 1% of our Gross Domestic Product, which is just one-third of what was called for by the UN and development NGOs half a century ago.  And in our own province, government financial decisions have meant the budget cutting or defunding of many arts, women’s, environmental and cultural/racial groups.  This may change a little bit as we approach an election.

One part of the solution to the problems and issues that face us as Canadians is to know more about ourselves, not just opinion but fact – about our history, our geography, our diverse cultures and the science around our environment.  We will deserve to rank highly on every list and index, if we acknowledge our shortcomings, strive to improve, and lead by example.  Then we’ll truly be able to celebrate!

Zack Gross is Board Chair of
The Marquis Project, a Brandon-based international development organization, and co-author of the new book The Fair Trade Handbook: Building a Better World, Together.

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