The Plague-Ground – We need a new Best Friend Forever.

Last week Russia celebrated its biggest public holiday, Victory Day, with tanks, missile launchers, and bluster from President Putin.

It’s usually held on May 9th, but was derailed by the pandemic. Nonetheless, Putin insisted it happen because this year marks the 75th anniversary of Russia’s defeat of Nazi Germany.

But more so, because it boosted his popularity before the referendum held yesterday that lets him hold office until 2036 – when he will be 83.

If Russia isn’t a super-power anymore, it’s sure acting like one.

But there’s another country that’s never been a super-power and blushes at the thought.

That country, of course, is Canada. But it’s time we should. And if not a super-power, at least a moral power in a world where power and values are uncoupling with startling speed.

I say this because Canada is bigger than Russia.

I don’t mean its area, though we’re second and they’re first in the world. I don’t mean population either. Russia has 145 million people (and falling) and we have 37 million (and rising).

I mean Canada’s economy is bigger than Russia’s.

I’ll say that again: Our 37 million people produce more goods and services than their people do — $1.73 trillion a year for us compared to $1.64 trillion a year for them.

In fact, we passed Russia in 2015 as the world’s 10th largest economic engine, and the gap is growing every year.

What does this have to do with celebrating our 153th birthday yesterday?

Just that good and bad have little to do with size or wealth, or even geography.

They have everything to do with ……respect.

When Chrystia Freeland says of Doug Ford: “He’s my therapist,” believe me, we live in a very different country than America or Britain or China or anywhere else — except the Nordic nations and places like Holland and Belgium, and, of course, New Zealand, which is the most successful nation on earth in managing the pandemic.

I heard a lot of comparisons yesterday to how we’re so much “luckier” than America, which is our code for “better”.

We are better, and while we have an obligation to help our neighbours in their time of peril, can we please stop comparing ourselves to America — all the time?

Instead, let’s compare ourselves to the countries that have made their own luck. If we do this, we can track our progress by theirs and we’ll really get better faster.

Let’s take just one issue: health-care.

Is our system better than America’s? By far. But this isn’t even faint praise.

When it comes to health-care, let’s start comparing ourselves to the Nordic countries and Holland and Belgium and New Zealand. When we do this, suddenly all the many flaws in our health-care system are revealed. This may hurt, but only like a band-aid being ripped off. When we compare our system to the best in the world and not one of the worst, we’ll do much better in the end. We’ll be luckier where it really counts.

In fact, how well a nation can fight the pandemic is a proxy of its national capacity and hence its potential for greatness.

On this spectrum, Canada ranks “pretty good.” At least our citizens belong to one of the 15 nations the EU is letting pass through its borders.

On this point, Robin Williams once said that Canada is like the nice couple living above a meth lab. We can never just leave America. We live on the edge of its increasingly rough neighbourhood. But it’s way past time we moved out, at least in our heads, and found some new friends to play and grow with.

As Arundhati Roy wrote last week: “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

Objectively, we are big enough for the fight. The question is: do we think we are?

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14 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – We need a new Best Friend Forever.”

  1. Bob

    Absolutely right! it is very difficult to wean Canadians, especially those from the ‘fifties for whom America was the measuring standard on all things. Get them away from their knee-jerk immediate reference/deference to America.

    You have it exactly right on comparing ourselves with the best. How will we get better if we do not.

    The French has the best health care system. The Finns have the best school system. The Swedes have the best all round system for family support, employment etc. The Germans have the best system for preparing young people for the work force. On not one of those does America even register.

    Start a trend Bob. We need it.

    All best


    1. That’s quite the list, Brian, and one more Canadians — every Canadian — should know.
      Thanks for checking in on this. Cheers. Bob

    1. Katya — Right…even when I typed the word “Holland”, it felt out of date.
      So The Netherlands and only The Netherlands — forever.

  2. Yes! Let’s stop comparing ourselves to the worst student in the class – a practice that results in Canadians being labelled, quite rightly, as self-righteous and unambitious. Instead let’s compare our track record in areas like rates of incarceration, gun violence, economic equality and social mobility with the best OECD countries. Then, as you say, Bob, we will get better faster – and we will be proud Canadians with something to be proud about!

    1. Biff — I agree. Just because they were the biggest student in the class, somehow we thought they were the best.
      There are many other countries we can look to for examples: France for healthcare; Sweden for social safety net;
      Germany for education, etc.

  3. All of this Kumbaya prediction is premised on the assumption that we will be able to dig ourselves out from under the tsunami of debt created by the Liberals recent financial potlatch. Some experts say “not a problem” eg. Professor Stephanie Kelton in her book “The Deficit Myth”. However, this outlook may be naive at best or fatal at worst. If every country has followed Trudeau’s lead, the future is absolutely unpredictable. If not, we will be swiftly relegated to third world status.

    1. Kumbaya prediction? What ever do you mean? Canada’s record of performance on immigration is unmatched in the world. It was Justin’s father who established the points-based merit system for immigrants, something the US has never had.

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