It pains me unmercifully to open the new year in these pages with a less than vibrant comment from the Fraser Institute about Canada’s economy, but as one of the country’s leading editors told me a couple of years ago: “The greatest problem of this country is smugness.” I do not conceive of my role as a columnist to deflate anybody, and certainly not an entire and distinguished nationality. However this question, broadly formulated, is the context for the next federal election in 10 months, and so is vested with more than the casual attention of someone scrambling to think of something to write about after a brief holiday from inflicting himself on readers. The prime minister has, throughout these past three years, quoted Laurier in invoking his “sunny ways,” pleasant temperament, a phrase the CBC long habitually translated as “sunny voices” because our national public broadcaster in this only bicultural transcontinental confederation in the history of the world can’t distinguish these words as they are pronounced identically (“voies” and “voix”). It seems that no one at the CBC knows enough about the history of the country to be aware of what was a very famous phrase throughout Canada a century ago.
The whole “sunny ways” line is like the official ultra-feel-good line that we are a ”post-national society” and that “The world needs more Canada.” There is some truth to the last statement but that has nothing to do with partisanship; the fact that Canada is a fine country, which has been true for a long time, is being pushed forward like a goaltender’s heavy pads to deflect a serious analysis of this government’s performance, with the implicit claim that it has become a fine country since Justin Trudeau became prime minister. All of the 198 countries in the world are to some extent competing with each other. We cannot solemnly absent ourselves from this competition because we happen to have three million square miles that are rich in base and precious metals, forest products, energy and all agriculture except tropical fruit, and that we have an educated, law-abiding population of 36 million. All countries, large and small and naturally rich and poor, are striving to better their lot, and so are we, and the worrisome fact is that we are not doing a particularly brilliant job of it, and that will not be disguised by smiling platitudes about our equable and comfortable society or our leader’s self-described congeniality. (He is very congenial, but that is not the principal criterion for leading a G7 country.)