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Canada Is Great Because We Don't Brag About Being Great

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Last week cemented Canada's status as an international darling. Our country topped the New York Times' list of the "52 Places to Go in 2017" and was lauded in the Guardian for being one of the only nations that touts diversity over nativism.

In 2016, the media fawned over Justin Trudeau. The Economist ran a cover story titled: "Liberty Moves North: Canada's Example to the World" and our immigration website became so popular it crashed on the night of the U.S. election.

For a country that's historically been known as a wallflower, the attention is long overdue. But we shouldn't become "braggadocious" and let our national ego inflate. In short: We shouldn't become American. Canada has become so popular internationally precisely because of its humility.

As a country, it means we strive to improve instead of thumping our chests about past accomplishments.

For the past year and a half, I've been living in New York City. It's an exciting and beautiful place, but so many of the people I meet are obsessed with status. At parties I've had Americans tell me their Ivy League credentials before asking my name. While it's impossible to make generalizations about an entire country, we've all witnessed the entitled American who cuts in line at an airport or loudly sends their food back at a restaurant.

The U.S. is a place with clearly defined values -- individualism, capitalism, success -- which has helped make it the world's most powerful country. But those values have also made America a place with unaffordable health care, one of the highest levels of income inequality on Earth and Donald Trump.

donald trump

By contrast, one of the greatest Canadian qualities is self-deprecation. Mocking ourselves makes us more accessible and our self-doubt is a sign of intelligence. The brightest people know they have big knowledge gaps and that there will always be someone smarter than them. As a country, it means we strive to improve instead of thumping our chests about past accomplishments.

"Canadian exceptionalism" simply isn't a term we use. It's only in the past few years some politicians have dared to call Canada "the best" country, according to the National Post. In a University of Chicago study of national pride, we ranked sixth while the U.S. tied for first.

As an angsty, insecure Canadian teen, I hated our country's muted personality. While my Italian relatives spoke with wild gesticulations and ate a distinct cuisine, I came from a place known for apologizing and beavertails, a food eaten only by tourists and children. But our country's fluid identity and trademark humility have positively shaped Canadian policy.

Canada is a country that accepts a large number of immigrants and generally doesn't force a value system down their throats. It's a place that welcomes diversity instead of pretending there's only one right way to live. Of course, Canada is not perfect. The government grossly mistreats Indigenous people, politicians in Quebec tried to ban Muslim headscarves for public employees, and Kellie Leitch, who is running for the Conservative Party leadership, wants to screen immigrants for "Canadian values."

syrian refugees trudeauSyrian refugees are greeted by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on their arrival from Beirut at the Toronto Pearson International Airport in December 2015.

But Canada's openness is regularly on display. Last year, it welcomed an estimated 300,000 newcomers and almost 39,000 Syrian refugees. (The U.S., by contrast, admitted 10,000.)

The Greater Toronto Area is the "most diverse city on the planet," according to the Guardian, "with half its residents born outside the country." Canadians elected a leader who shows up to greet refugees at the airport, not one who boasts about building a wall to keep out illegal immigrants.


To think of Canada as the best nation on Earth is deeply unCanadian. And our collective lack of arrogance has led us to pursue progressive policies that benefit the entire population. Canada has universal health care, a higher minimum wage than in the U.S., no laws restricting abortion and a gender-equal cabinet. We aim to be more inclusive because we don't consider ourselves exceptional.

Canada has become a great country because it's the kind of place that doesn't boast about being great. Let's hope all the recent attention doesn't go to our heads.

This column previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen.

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