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2016 Should Be The Year Canadians Get Over Ourselves

01/11/2016 12:36 EST | Updated 01/11/2017 05:12 EST
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The Canadian propensity for self-aggrandizement is in form these days. It started with the massive coverage of the arrival of Syrian refugees at Pearson International Airport in December.

While many were drowning in self-congratulations, all I could think about as I watched the new arrivals being forced to try on winter coats in front of a phalanx of politicians and complicit media was a scene from Woody Allen's 1973 film, Sleeper. Allen, living in a futuristic state, has been "re-educated" and is being outfitted for his new life.

Silliness aside, the self-congratulations were out of place for reasons nicely summarized in this column. Still, I am glad we are accepting refugees from Syria (and other places, though apparently people who didn't figure into the federal election campaign don't merit fanfare) and I hope we will continue to do so long after the lustre has been dulled.

But it seems nothing can dull our love of comparing ourselves to the United States and of making a big deal of it when we get attention from our neighbours.

I refer here to a certain Bob from Calgary, who is getting plenty of print for a comment he wrote on the website of the New York Times five years ago. The New York Times recently decided to reveal who their most frequent and popular commenters were, and one was Bob, who is actually from Edmonton and is an instructor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Alberta.

(I am not surprised by Bob's job, nor by the fact that the column on which he commented was written by Paul Krugman.)

I agree with much of what Bob praises about Canada, but what he has written needs scrutiny. His comment starts off with the admission that his annual household income is about $250,000. This tells us that Bob is not your average Canadian.

Bob then goes on to praise our public education system. As a product of public schools, I do agree that a good public school system is important, but I think Bob is over-simplifying things when he asserts it is the reason Canada ends up "with few criminals." The causes of crime are debatable (as is what constitutes a "few") and complicated. Bob's praise of Canadian schools would be more convincing if his comment weren't full of spelling errors and awkwardly constructed sentences.

His next paragraph starts with what he calls the "bargin" (see above) of universal health care. Again, I agree with him here -- with a few quibbles -- but he takes his gushing one gush too far when he says Canadians can have care whenever we need it "without worry about being approved."

Simply not true. Over a decade ago, my mother needed heart surgery. Without it, her prognosis was grim. We had to wait for a panel of doctors to approve the surgery, and were warned beforehand that they might not do so. Thankfully, they did, and she lived another decade, but approval of the surgery was not guaranteed.

"Canadians should make a New Year's resolution to give up boasting."

Did I say he took his gushing one gush too far? Make that two gushes. Bob says that our health care system rates "well above" the American system "in most measures." A cursory glance at any of the various studies carried out about this very topic indicates that each system has its strengths and weaknesses.

This is not to mention that while we have great hospitals and researchers, many medical innovations from which Canadians benefit come from the United States.

Next, Bob tackles infrastructure, and his description of Canada's cities makes one thing crystal clear to me -- Bob has never visited Toronto, the city with public transit worthy of the 1970s. Enough said. Stay in Edmonton, Bob, and maintain your fantasy. In the meantime, I would love to visit one of those Jetsons-like Canadian cities you describe while you enjoy your government-given "right" to bond with your children.

According to Bob, you get your right to bond with your kids from the government. For millennia people have been bonding with their kids without maternity/paternity leave, but no matter. Apparently, the government is the key to your happy family life. I support parental leave, but -- and I'm sensing a theme here -- Bob seems to believe everything good comes from the state. Individuals have no agency.

Bob's comment is from 2010, so his smugness about gay marriage being legal in Canada and not across the United States is out of date. This is another matter on which we agree (see a previous column of mine on the subject).

By the way, his taxes being only two percent more than they would be in the States will likely be out of date soon, given the election of Premier of Alberta Rachel Notley. Further, a good share of income in Alberta has come from the previously high price of oil, but now that the price of oil has tanked, the social services Bob praises are going to have to be financed by higher deficits or else be cut back.

After that, Bob is back to the "bargin" of public education, specifically universities, including the one where Bob teaches and from where his students won't graduate, he says, with a "devistating" debt. True enough, but let's not kid ourselves. We've got great public universities in Canada, but most people who graduate from them come from middle or high income families.

I am also with Bob about the benefits of our banking system, something I wrote about -- along with other things that make Canada enviable -- back in 2011.

But Bob, who finishes up by praising the overall freedom Canadians enjoy, seems to forget one important thing. We are free and we enjoy an extensive social safety net because we live next to the United States, a country that takes 75 per cent of our exports and protects us militarily:

By spending only one per cent of our yearly national wealth on defence, we are hardly doing our part to protect the world from an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe, a perpetually lunatic and menacing North Korea, and the maddening fight against murderous fanatics throughout the world. Let's be honest, we don't need to spend more on defence because we've outsourced our protection to the U.S., who will always come to our aid.

In other words, Canadians should make a New Year's resolution to give up boasting. Failing that, at least make a resolution to hire a copy editor before submitting boastful comments to the New York Times.

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