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Why Forbes Thinks Canada's Economy Is Number One

Canada gets top marks for freedom -- odd in a country where you can easily get a marijuana joint in most big cities, but not a private MRI scan

In 2007, the line ran down the street, as people queued to get in on the action. Some apparently waited for days hoping to purchase a condo in a building to be built. With such demand, the developers kept upping the unit prices -- literally posting the ever-rising prices on a billboard. The penthouse, for the record, was sold to a Hong Kong man who had agreed to drop $25 million.

One Bloor condo building was a project that died with Lehman Brothers. It has not stayed dead for long.

Originally meant to stretch 80 stories over Toronto's luxury shops of the Yonge and Bloor area, the condo building that would host a hotel and swath of stores (supported by the American financial powerhouse that had survived the Depression but not subprime mortgages) was not built in 2008. The next year, the developers mulled a scaled-back version. And then, nothing. For months, the lot stood empty, symbolic of a world that collapsed into recession.

And in 2011? The building is going up and the condos are being sold. Welcome to Canada.

It's no longer 2008 and while the rest of the world stews in malaise and economic crisis, Canada is doing just fine. One Bloor has new owners and the plans are ambitious. Rumours circulate that Apple is eyeing some retail space. (For the record, Toronto now rivals New York City in the number of Apple stores.) The building will soon stretch tall over a prosperous Toronto, in a prosperous Canada.

The world may be in recession, but Canada isn't. The economy expands, posting a robust 3.1 per cent last year.

Are Greek banks safe? What's going on in Spain? Is Italy next? Canadians worry only about the impact of other countries on a prosperous land.

Others have noticed. When the G20 gathered in Toronto, the Washington Post ran a fawning article on the stability of our housing market and the Huffington Post provided America's jobless with clever if unusual advice: move to Canada.

Forbes joins a growing list of fans, putting Canada at the top of its list of places to do business. The ranking considered 11 factors for 134 countries, including property rights, red tape, corruption, freedom, and stock market performance.

Writes Forbes' Kurt Badenhausen:

"During the run-up to every U.S. presidential election, countless Americans threaten to move to Canada if their preferred candidate does not emerge victorious. Of course, few follow through with a move north. Maybe it is time to reconsider."

Canada gets special mention for avoiding the banking meltdown and good economic performance.

Such rankings are easy to criticize. For instance, Canada gets top marks for freedom -- odd in a country where you can easily get a marijuana joint in most big cities, but not a private MRI scan; the health care sector remains hopelessly overregulated.

Still Canada does well. It's a marked contrast from just a few years ago, when the country seemed on the cusp of falling apart, literally in the wake of Quebec's separatist ambitions (falling just 10,000 votes shy of secession in a 1995 referendum).

Some of Canada's success can be tied to good fortune. Commodities are booming, and Canada is rich in many natural resources (within 10 years, it could be the second largest oil producing nation in the world). And in this recession, as in the early 1980s, and unlike the 1930s, a barrel of oil continues to fetch a good price.

But not all of this is luck. At a time of bad public policy, Canadians remain calm and reasonable. Taxes are coming down and public spending has been relatively restrained. After all, Canada isn't the United States.

Will it continue? Canada's manufacturing is hot because of exports to the United States -- how long will Americans buy Canadian made cars if their economic woes continue? Commodities trade high -- how much longer before Asia catches the American flu? On the day that Forbes chose to highlight Canada, its dollar fell to the lowest level in a year, rocked by international economic instability. But compared to many other countries, these are (relatively) good worries to have.

After all, it's Canada's One Bloor moment - a time of wealth and exuberance.

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