Mark Wegierski argues that the extent of Canadian prosperity has been exaggerated.
Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October. Canada is certainly a country which has been blessed with great material bounty. However, these new troubled times may be appropriate for some somber reflections for both Americans and Canadians. There has been a perceptible downward trend in the Canadian standard of living and quality of life, especially when compared to the United States. The weak Canadian dollar is a very visible symbol of continuing Canadian decline. It is possible that the great bounty Canadians are accustomed to is increasingly fraying, and may, if not carefully tended, largely disappear in the third decade of the twenty-first century.
For seven years in a row in 1994-2000, Canada had been acclaimed as the number one country in the world in which to live, according to the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI). In the year 2001, it dropped to number three, still a very high ranking. Whether such superlative rankings are accurate, largely depends on one’s perspective.
It is clear that Canada cannot be defended as the best country in the world, if defined along a strictly financial accounting, for the majority of its citizens. For the broad middle and working classes, taxation is exceedingly high, and the benefits of the current welfare state are a mixed blessing. For the bureaucratic and corporate elites, on the other hand, Canada is indeed bountiful. It is also comparatively bountiful for groups qualifying for state and corporate-sponsored equity initiatives, who would face the prospect of a drearier existence under a different arrangement.
It is often pointed out by Canada’s defenders that it is a kinder, gentler nation than the United States, with more of a social safety net, medicare for all, lower crime rates, cleaner cities, and so forth. These defenders, though, fail to consider that many of the aspects that make Canada so congenial actually arise from longstanding socially conservative Canadian traditions that predate the 1960s.
Canada is an exceptional country in the world today. A concatenation of factors has made it probably the world’s most “postmodern” (or “hypermodern”) society. Indeed, it has been called “the first international nation” and, more recently, a “post-national state”. However, it could be argued that an extensive, truly “caring-and-sharing” welfare state can only remain tenable over the long run where a population has something manifestly in common – in other words, a comparatively high degree of homogeneity and a common culture. Otherwise, arguments for entitlements tend to become perceived as increasingly extortive. In addition, as societies become more heterogeneous, there tends to be an increase in individualism and selfishness, and increasing income disparities appear more normal and easier to justify.
Many social-democratic theorists in Canada who de-emphasize culture and history often ignore that European states are comparatively culturally and ethnically homogenous, each with a shared history of at least several hundred years. It is difficult to dream of a European-style welfare state in an increasingly heterogeneous society such as Canada is rapidly becoming.
It would be an interesting exercise to go through Canada’s federal, provincial, and major metropolitan municipal budgets to identify all funding given to cultural special-interest groups. How would it compare with the so-called universal programs (such as the Canada Pension Plan and Employment Insurance), for which the population of the country as whole may qualify? Moreover, the provision of public and social services for which the need is almost universally recognized (such as education, welfare, and support for the arts) is often highly politicized. Many of the interest groups and “national public institutions” in Canada often pride themselves on their total and pristine exclusion of views deemed “incorrect”. So, their claims to represent a general good, public good, common good, or national good are flimsy at best.
Bureaucracies and interest groups tend to undermine Canada’s common culture, while fiscal conservatism and big-business elites tend to undermine the true welfare state. Thus, it could be argued that neither conventional conservatives nor conventional left-liberals in Canada properly define the country and its aspirations. Both have thoroughly abandoned true patriotism and authentic social concern.