How much Canada does the world need?

Follow in our footsteps, just hands off our wallets

The world needs more Canada. But how much is enough?

Henry Romero/Reuters

Maybe you recall a certain tourism slogan from the 1990s. “The world needs more Canada,” declared television spots and newspaper ads from 1995, pitching the U.S., Japan and Europe on the idea of Canada as a land of tranquility, safety and whales coming up for air in slow motion. We were the place to go for global spiritual renewal.

It seems the planet has finally caught up to this idea, at least as far as safety and tranquility goes. Now the relevant question seems to be: how much Canada does the world really need? After all, there’s only so much to go around.

Evidence on Canada’s status as a sanctuary in an unstable world is plentiful and well-deserved. Last week, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released a new survey of our country. “Canada weathered the global economic crisis well . . . and the economy is continuing to grow despite the persistence of international turbulence,” the authors reported, citing our sound financial system, prudent budgeting and high commodity prices as key reasons for our continued success in the face of tribulation nearly everywhere else.

Our annual Canada Day survey gives readers another opportunity for a self-administered pat on the back. As associate editor Tamsin McMahon reports, the average Canadian measures of education, income, material possessions and overall contentment are impressive without being gaudy (although those debt levels are getting up there). All of which provides plenty more reasons to be pleased with our place in the world. Canada has become the lucky country.

Lately, however, the not-so-lucky countries of the world have been demanding a bigger piece of us. At the G20 meetings in Los Cabos, Mexico, this week, Canada was under considerable pressure to help bail out the rest of the world by pledging a specific amount towards a massive $450-billion pot being collected by the International Monetary Fund to rescue Europe.

Despite pleadings from European leaders, which ranged from polite inquiries to angry dismissals, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it clear there are limits to Canada’s generosity. In an interview with the European business newspaper Financial Times, he told its readers bluntly: “Europe is one of the wealthiest parts of the planet. We would hope that it doesn’t get to the stage where the rest of the world has to rescue Europe.” The IMF, by the way, is set up to assist the poorest nations in the developing world—not the rich ones. A regimen of “self-help” is Harper’s preferred medicine for Europe.

There are good practical reasons for such a position. Regardless of our relative financial situation, Canada remains a small player on the world stage. While we certainly benefit from a healthy global economy, it is far beyond our means to fix Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy or any of the other sick men of Europe who chose to live beyond their means for decades and now face the unhappy consequences. We could empty every bank account in the country and not make a dint in their sovereign debt crisis. Only Europe can fix Europe.

It’s worth reminding ourselves it’s no accident Canada is in such good financial shape. Prior to the Great Recession, when things looked rosy the world over, Canada was properly running budget surpluses and our national debt was declining. This gave us the flexibility to tackle a severe and unexpected crisis when it occurred. Not so in most other developed countries.

Today, in the midst of international financial turbulence, we continue to strengthen our economy through such measures as raising the retirement age, modest tweaks to Employment Insurance, budget restraint and the pursuit of free trade deals around the world. It speaks to an approach that favours temperance and foresight by tackling problems before they become crises. Plus we’ve still got all those photogenic whales everyone loved back in the ’90s.

Canada has demonstrated precisely how to avoid financial calamity as well as the steps required to rebuild after a global recession. In short, we’ve become an example for the entire world. “The Canadian approach is what the world needs,” the Prime Minister remarked in Montreal last week. Suggestions that other countries might wish to adopt our loonie to benefit from Canadian prudence can be seen as appropriate recognition of our efforts.

If the rest of the world thinks they need more Canada, they’re welcome to follow in our footsteps, enjoy our scenery or even use our currency. But they should keep their hands off our wallets.

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