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?