As Canadians, we tend to pride ourselves on a vision of what our country is and what we stand for that no longer holds true. The common sentiment of “not being American” is disappearing as our voting habits and policy changes lean in the opposite direction. Our national anthem sings about “the true north strong and free,” but our northern citizens are held captive by their commitment to their traditional lifestyle, as their ability to sustain themselves declines due to atmospheric changes—the ice caps are melting, wild game is moving on and entire ecosystems are collapsing due to deforestation. Standards of living are falling and we generally ignore that the North exists at all. Our “mosaic” culture is also a farce. Internal unrest between the WASP majority, Quebecois, First Nations, and all immigrants, new or old, may be veiled under the guise of tolerance and understanding, but is nonetheless apparent in the media, in politics and in everyday life.
In 2004, Canada was fourth on the list of top countries to live in, according to the UN Human Development Index. In 2006, the country had dropped to sixth. The ratio of public to private health care expenditure was 7:3 last year, and the trend is for both sides to even out. Public expenditure on education has dropped nearly 2% in the past decade. Our federal government has run a surplus for nine consecutive years, but cannot seem to commit any amount of money to slowly help eradicate some of the world’s problems—we fail to give 0.7% of our GDP we committed towards making poverty history through the Millennium Development Goals, and while we’re talking about combating climate change, we’re slow to make an impact. We may have ratified the major environmental conventions, but until very recently have failed to pay any attention to creating sustainable change in our lifestyles.
When we travel abroad, we expect the little Canadian flags stitched to our backpacks to mean something, to act as a safeguard against being mistaken for an American, to ensure ourselves better treatment. On what grounds can we continue to expect this? Our international respect stands on the shoulders of soldiers from past World Wars. Over 50 years later, who is around to remember what the Canadians did then? What are Canadians doing now?
We can sit and talk about what’s wrong in the world, but that will not get us to solutions. Canada still retains a compassionate, friendly, international do-gooder aura, regardless of our recent actions. We are a country whose policies were founded on mildly socialist values, and we still collectively believe in being a peaceful nation—it’s what we pride ourselves on.
We need to stand up and hold our government and ourselves accountable, for in a democratic country we cannot simply blame our government for what they do we vote them in. We need to push commitment to the greater social good here at home before we can hope to gain respect abroad. We need to establish what it is we, as a nation, stand for. Our involvement in Afghanistan is a perfect example of our country’s inability to understand itself—public opinion on our role there is split nearly in half. So what should we be doing?
The first step to having successful relationships with others is to know one’s self. If Canada wants to remain respected and influential on the global stage, we need to fix things at home.