The Conference Board of Canada, a non-governmental, non-partisan, nonprofit think tank with a habit of stating unvarnished and often unflattering truths about Canada, came out this month with a doleful “report card” on the Canadian performance.
The distinguishing Canadian characteristic, it said, is “mediocrity.” Governments, businesses and people all “punch below their weight.” Comparing Canada with other developed nations, it noted that “too often we trail the pack.” Canadians are “unwilling to take risks.”
Since the nation’s power to innovate is “stunningly poor,” it lags seriously in the global economy. It is slow to bring out new products, though its governments offer some of the best tax breaks and subsidies in the world. “The average person,” said Board President Anne Golden, “still thinks things are pretty good.” The report had bad news. They aren’t.
The implications are as appalling as the report itself is convincing. While it does not ask why Canadians have become so irresolute, unimaginative and colorless, the explanation is obvious and renders questionable all Canada’s so-called “progress” for the last half century.
Canadians assumed that they “progressed” as a society by becoming more secure, leisurely and comfortable. In the bad old days, they boasted, Atlantic fishermen, for example, had to toil three or four months at sea, then work desperately for the remaining eight or nine to eke out a living from such land as they possessed. Now they do what fishing they can and bask serenely for the rest of the year on “employment insurance.” Such things they were taught to regard as an astonishing advance in the national character.
Perhaps, however, what was advancing was a national decrepitude, and it was by no means confined to Atlantic Canada. It affected all Canadians and lasts for life. Where as children, they once had to face the horror of “failing the year” and repeating the grade with “the little kids,” they now have “the social pass,” and advance through school whether they learn anything or not. Where rules were once enforced with a stick, they are now enforced with “guidance” and “counseling,” which frequently means they are not enforced at all.
Where as young adults, they used to have to fight wars, they now – many Canadians anyway – eschew “militarism,” which means letting the Americans fight their wars for them.
Where “unwanted pregnancies” were a fact of life visited upon most couples, they now have easy birth control, and if it fails they have abortion. Where marriage was once something they had to make work whether they enjoyed it or not, it is now something that can be set aside and tried again with a new partner, often a series of new partners. Sex, once inhibited by a host of taboos, some of them enforced by the Criminal Code, is now acceptable in almost any variety whatever, and any questioning or criticizing some of the varieties shall be branded “hate” and punished with jail, “intolerance” being the only sin left in our moral code.
These supposed sexual triumphs also have their downside. “The most important demographic trends affecting Canada’s future socio-economic performance,” says the report, “are its aging population and its declining population growth. … Without major shifts in policy, our workforce is unlikely to have enough workers; our health care system will stagger under the increasing demands and costs; and our economic growth potential (and hence our quality of life) will be dragged down.”
Where Canadians once had to provide our own entertainment, they now have it “piped in,” and where they once had a piano, they now have an iPod. Where they used to get paid for working, they now expect pay for existing, and where they used to believe in God, they now believe in Tylenol.
In short, Canada must be very close to the perfect nanny state, the dream of its most left-wing 20th century prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, come true. And what is the product of this utopia like? He is, the Conference Board implies, a lazy, dull, unimaginative, non-venturesome bore, chiefly distinguished by his “mediocrity.”
What’s likely to happen to Canada, the Conference Board did not undertake to answer. However, history has as answer. Nations that lose all initiative are soon overtaken by other nations less “advantaged.” In other words, Canadians do not need to fix this problem, even if they could. It will be fixed for them, and the experience might be somewhat devastating.
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