Canada gets a ‘B’

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What does it mean to live in a high quality country?

This is the question that drove the creation of an annual social report card put together by the Conference Board of Canada that compares 17 different countries, including Canada, on the basis of its social performance. And while many Canadians may consider themselves as living in a high performing country, time and time again, Canada has ranked as a middle of the pack, ‘B’– level country – this year being no exception.

“Part of the reason why we started doing these reports a number of years ago was that we kept hearing, you know, Canada’s number one. It was on a very narrow, two or three indicators, or it was just comparing Canada to the United States,” explained Brenda Lafleur, the director of the Conference Board’s How Canada Performs project.

She continued, “But when you look at a broader range of indicators and a broader range of countries, which we do in this report, you see that Canada isn’t doing as well as it could be and as well as other countries are that we can learn from.”

The report evaluates countries based on three different categories, self-sufficiency, equity and social cohesion, which encompass 17 different indicators that countries are graded on to determine their overall average, a rank between ‘A’ and ‘D’. Denmark topped the list, followed by the other Nordic countries, and in last place was the United States.

Canada fared particularly poorly in the areas of income and poverty, collecting a ‘D’ in working-age poverty, and a series of ‘C’s in child poverty, income inequality and gender income gap. These represented a “little bit of deterioration in poverty” from the previous decade, something Lafleur described as “worrisome,” particularly noting that the under 18 population is not doing well. Canada also received ‘C’s in voter turnout and confidence in Parliament.

According to Lafleur, population engagement with government is closely linked to Canada’s poor performance in other areas. “I think it’s all part and parcel of the same issue, that when you do have a large or a growing number of people that don’t feel that even if they work hard or that they participate that they’re being heard or that they are able to do something about it, you start to get a bit of social disengagement,” she explained. “The second that you start having that social disengagement, then the whole political system doesn’t work as well as it could.”

While the reports are aimed in part at gaining attention from decision-makers about social issues, Lafleur said that they are also intended to spark discussion. Although economic issues typically gain more traction, she believes that people are starting to take notice.

“You saw it last year with the Occupy Movement, you see it with Idle No More, you see that people are starting to put these social issues onto the front burner,” said Lafleur.

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