Canada recently dropped out of the top ten in a UN beauty contest that we once “won” seven years in a row. At the time, Canadian politicians used that accolade as a regular talking point. Now, a bit to my surprise, the media hasn’t been using the “loss” as a stick to incessantly beat the government with. How unexpectedly mature of them:
Canadians with a penchant for lists will recall that in 1994 we began a record stint of seven straight years atop the United Nations Human Development Index. Meant to provide an international comparison of living standards, our dominance on this global leader board was seen as tangible proof Canada was the best country in the world. The annual report regularly garnered substantial media attention and sparked plenty of national braggadocio. Prime minister Jean Chrétien, in particular, made it a frequent talking point.
No longer. We haven’t topped the rankings since 2000. Current leader Norway now boasts more first-place finishes than we do. (Although our Nordic friends haven’t yet won seven in a row.) In fact this year marks the first time Canada has failed to place in the top 10. The most recent edition, released last week, has us at a humbling 11th — a whisker above South Korea. Ireland beat us.
[. . .]
In 1992 the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency stripped Canada’s federal foreign debt of its coveted AAA rating, thanks to an endless stream of government deficits. In January 1995 the Wall Street Journal measured Canada for a barrel suit, declaring us to be “an honorary member of the Third World” in its now-legendary “Bankrupt Canada” editorial. Our debt-to-GDP ratio hit a peak of 68 per cent that year. The loonie was worth about US$0.72, and would bottom out at US$0.62 before it was done falling.
Since then, of course, Canada’s financial turnaround has become a totem for countries around the world struggling with the after-effects of the Great Recession. Government finances are in better shape than most and our dollar at par. Canada’s reliance on natural resources, once considered a retrograde habit, has played a large role in allowing our economy to weather the storm. Our banking system is an international paragon of virtue; we’re even exporting central bankers. Plus Canada has adopted a more self-confident stance on foreign policy, replacing our old reputation as a meek and mild peacekeeper with a more authoritative voice.