Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Where are we going?

If you ask me, the glory days of Canada as a world leader in quality of living have sadly passed.  That does not mean they will never return, but we are certainly at a lower point than we have been at any time in my living memory.

I remember as a child being so proud to say that Canada topped the UN Human Development Index year after year after year.  So as I've been watching Stephen Harper's Conservatives slowly erode what I consider to be fundamental Canadian values it has made me more and more nostalgic for that bygone era.

Many people will challenge this assertion and that, of course, is their democratic right.  A right protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to me as quintessential and fundamental a guiding document to Canada as the Constitution of the United States is to that nation.  A document conceived and created in a time and by a government so fundamentally different from today that it seems more like a fairy tale than factual history.

The fact remains though, that for better or for worse, Stephen Harper has completely changed the Canadian political landscape and, in doing so, he has completely changed Canada's guiding principles, our economy, our way of life, and our global reputation.  And, as far as I'm concerned, not for the better.

I've already established that by pretty much every measure, despite popular assertion to the contrary, Conservatives are not better at fiscal management than Liberals.  In fact, at the very best they are just as good and an honest interpretation of the numbers would suggest they are worse.

But what about our global stature?  One cannot quantitatively measure our global reputation, but we can certainly measure our quality of living.  And the United Nations has thankfully been doing that since at least 1990.  And as far as Canada is concerned, the data does not paint a pretty picture.

In 2002, Stephen Harper and his party became Official Opposition in Canada.  In 2006 they formed the government.  And in 2011, they formed a majority government.  Coincidence?  Maybe.

But is the HDI ranking everything?  No, of course not.  How have we fared when compared to other wealthy nations?  Certainly our HDI as a raw number has increased over time.  But we've been left in the dust by many of our counterparts.

Compared to the US, Norway, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK, we have not grown much in our HDI.  In fact you can see we started out on the top and have slowly migrated toward the lower half of these nations, being left behind mostly by Scandinavian and Northern European nations.  Norway is a great comparator as it is a northern nation with great resource wealth.  They've gone from an HDI of 0.804 in 1980 to 0.955 in 2013, a 19% increase.  Canada on the other hand has gone from 0.825 to 0.911, an increase of only 10%.  

But surely the UN HDI is not the only measure of quality of life or social progress.  That is true.  There are many others.  None have been calculated as long as the HDI, so you cannot see trends, but we can see where we stand today compared to other nations.

Social Progress Index: 7th; surpassed mostly by Scandinavians and Northern Europeans; NZ tops the list

Human Poverty Index: 8th; all Scandinavia and Northern Europe above

World Happiness Report: 6th; yup.  Scandinavia and N. Europe above.  Again.  

And, just in case you still think our health system is a bastion of perfection, the WHO World Health System Rankings: 30th.  That's right.  30th out of 191 nations.  Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Colombia are a few of the nations ahead of us that don't traditionally appear near the top of other rankings.  

Don't get me wrong.  I love Canada.  I still think it's the greatest country in the world and I hold great hope for our future.  But our current government is taking us down the wrong path.  And I look forward to 2015 when, hopefully, we make a major course correction, and my children can live through a 7 year unbeaten streak atop the UN HDI as I did in the 90s.  

One can hope.