For Canada, being the ‘nice guy’ isn’t enough

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Sometimes the good guy doesn’t finish last. In the case of The New York Times’ recent opinion piece glorifying Canada as a moral leader of the free world, this certainly rings true.

Described as America’s “boring neighbour,” the piece continuously reaffirms how lucky the U.S. is to have us by their side as a moral compass. Our acceptance of refugees and well-known politeness have painted us as a beacon of compassion.

The trend of labelling Canada boring but virtuous is nothing new. A similar article is published every few months—from CBC to Global News—lulling Canadians into a false sense of security. When we talk about how good we have it, we lose sight of what’s left to improve.

Canada hasn’t always been great. While we may say “please” and “thank you” more than Americans, we’ve historically faced our own host of inequities.

During the Holocaust, Canada was notoriously unwilling to host Jewish refugees. Northern communities remain woefully neglected. We’ve welcomed women from Saudi Arabia into the country, but have maintained an arms deal with a Saudi Arabian government that systematically oppresses women and continues a destructive war in Yemen. Many Indigenous communities still lack drinkable water. The impact of residential schools permeates our culture today.

We have our own suite of problems, both domestically and internationally. We’re just better than others at concealing contentious issues pertaining to our government. After all, politicians with amusing Twitter presences do a lot to mask broader social concerns for a public engaged by social media.  

It’s understandable why the author of The Times piece took this incomplete view of Canada—it’s the view of an American peering in at our impressive offerings. We have a prime minister who stands at the airport to welcome refugees with warm coats. Our government takes pride in standing up for “human rights and women’s rights around the world.”

However, we can’t pat ourselves on the back for aiding developing countries when we maintain similar conditions within our own borders. Canada is a well-resourced country, but a large percentage of refugees and immigrants here still live in poverty

Commentary affirming our successes without acknowledging our vices does Canada no favours. Its façade of evidence-based review prevents us from seeking growth. When Americans congratulate our country for existing within certain highly-publicized ethical boundaries, they’re really looking to us as a hero.

However, elevating Canada as an ideal without acknowledging its problems erases the historic and contemporary hardships endured by so many Canadians. We can’t model good behaviour for our southern neighbours until we reform our own country’s flaws.

—Journal Editorial Board

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