Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Canadians a Collection of Contradictions

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, July 15 / 19

Zack Gross

In the results of its recent poll, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has given us a view of our fellow citizens’ opinions as we enter a pre-election (both provincial and federal) summer.  We tend, as Canadians, to have a pretty high opinion of ourselves collectively and there is no question that, by the standards set by the United Nations and other observers and researchers, Canada is one of the best countries on Earth to live in.

The CBC asked Canadians what their top concerns were.  The economy came in Number 1, while Climate Change was second.  Of course, there is a strong correlation between these two areas.  The way our country – and most countries – operates, our economic progress tends to degrade the environment and leads to global warming.  That doesn’t mean Canadians should abandon their economic aspirations, but it does mean that we have to focus on how we can have jobs and a clean, safe environment.

Are pipelines the answer or oil/tar sands?  What about nuclear power?  Are we doing enough with electric vehicles, solar and wind power?  Can our recycling programs and garbage disposal be done more effectively?  If everyone on Earth lived like Canadians, we would need four planets to handle our environmental footprint.  How do we slow our consumption of resources and degradation of the natural world, while maintaining an acceptable standard of living?

I live in rural Manitoba and we have a post office a mile away where locals gather daily to collect mail and local papers, and gossip.  Summer and winter, I am struck by how many folks leave their vehicles running while they take care of the above chores.

Another issue that Canadians spoke out on to the CBC was immigration.  As a child of immigrants who came to Canada a century ago, I’m aware of the fact that even back in those days, Canadians were not always open to foreigners arriving on their shores, even when they were fleeing for their lives.  There is the famous episode where a Canadian government official, in commenting on Jews who wanted to come to Canada to avoid extermination by the Nazi regime in Germany, said that even allowing one into our country was too many.

Canada has been among the more open countries to refugees in recent years.  Interestingly, new Canadians show up in the CBC poll as the most optimistic of our citizens, likely in part given what difficulties they may have left behind in their previous countries – war, poverty, lack of democracy, poor education and so on.  Now, they look forward to a better future for themselves and their children.  At the same time, even recent immigrants are wary of the continued arrival of refugees at current levels.  What’s that about…?!

Another area in which Canadians were polled was their trust in politicians.  That statistic is definitely on the wane these days!  New Canadians seem to trust the Liberals, possibly because of their immigration policy.  But indigenous Canadians have lost faith in the Liberals, maybe due to the Wilson-Raybould situation which has raised questions about gender and reconciliation issues.  First time voters seem to favour the Greens and NDP, but these younger citizens often don’t vote! 

While Canadians generally think that voting is an important personal responsibility, they also in contradictory fashion, don’t think their vote ultimately counts for much as they don’t trust decision-makers to take them into account.  As for voting Conservative, that is something definitely happening on a provincial level in many jurisdictions, but controversy over deep health and education cuts provincially are dogging the federal Conservative leader. Manitobans will have two opportunities to vote, in September and then again in October and we shall see where we stand.

To celebrate Canada Day on July 1st, a new study was released showing Canada to be the best country to live in.  There are many indexes that are announced throughout the year by various international bodies, judging countries by quotients such as gender rights, environmental health, economic performance, democratic governance and more.  Overall, Canada tends to compete with Nordic and Western European nations for top place in these various categories – Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and so on.

Where we show up badly is in taking care of those people at the bottom of the economic ladder.  While we are proud Canadians, we also need to be honest with ourselves that boil water advisories, substandard housing, drug and mental health crises, hate speech and so much more need to be tackled with great vigour.  We’ve studied so many of these issues enough.  Let’s solve them.  Our economy, our environment, our people.  Thanks for the enlightening poll, CBC!

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of The Marquis Project and former Coordinator for Fair Trade Manitoba.

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