Why Canada doesn’t need an ego boost from the UN

The United Nations Human Development Index is utterly irrelevant (and we’re not just saying that because of our recent showings)

by From the editor

Why Canada doesn’t need an ego boost from the UN

Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star

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.

Making matters worse, the UN has changed some of the components of its index and recalculated past results. Many of our old top performances have thus been erased from the record books. It should therefore come as no surprise then, that our current status has received scant media attention and no political boasts. Should we consider our disappointing result a crisis, a call to action or at least a blow to our national pride?

Hardly. Where it once provided a welcome, but largely meaningless, ego boost during grim times, today the index seems utterly irrelevant. Since those first-place finishes a decade or so ago, Canadians have learned to be much more secure and confident in their international reputation, regardless of what the UN has to say.

The Human Development Index has been published since 1990 and is a combination of national statistics in three categories: life expectancy, education and gross national income per capita. Only Japan, Canada, Iceland and Norway have ever placed first.

Given Canada’s traditionally strong performance in life expectancy (currently 81.1 years) and per capita income (US$35,369) our recent slippage arises largely from the education component. Literacy rates were once used to measure success in education, but most highly developed countries routinely score 99.9 per cent. As a result, the less-precise measure of “expected years of schooling” has since been substituted. According to the current report, Canadians entering the school system will complete, on average, two fewer years of education than Norwegian youngsters and four years less than in second-place Australia. With the cost of higher education and national skills shortages top-of-mind policy issues these days, it’s worth asking whether those extra years of schooling represent a tangible benefit, or a waste of resources. It’s certainly a point for debate.

But regardless of how the figures are toted up, what seems beyond debate is that Canada casts a much bigger shadow today than was the case in the mid-1990s, when we were the apple of the UN’s eye.

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.

It is this surfeit of real-world, ego-boosting evidence that explains why Canadians have stopped paying attention to the Human Development Index. We no longer need an international beauty contest to boost our self-esteem.

Anyone looking for a reason to continue paying attention to the UN’s list is best directed to the other end of the scale. In 1990 the inaugural index ranked the benighted African country of Niger at the bottom as the least developed country on Earth. Twenty-three years later, unfortunately, it’s still there.




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Why Canada doesn’t need an ego boost from the UN

  1. ” when we were the apple of the UN’s eye” Typical right-wing UN hating clap-trap. This low brow editorializing attempts to dismiss this report as if there were no data used to compile it. This is a Harper Canada failure not a lacking in data or a UN hatefest. The last paragraph alone is proof enough in its desperate attempt to distract. You should be ashamed.

    • self hatred is a serious mental illness. you need to see your doctor soon

  2. Well thanks for so cleverly dealing with that issue. Now we can get back to what Don Cherry is wearing. Hey! Have a look at Niger will ya! I never been there but I know the UN does NOT know what it’s talking about!

    Can someone tell ‘editor’ it’s not a race for the bottom?

  3. Why yes, it makes perfect sense for us to be going downhill….to have entered the 21st century, not as an advanced nation, not as #1……but as one that’s slipped beyond the pale.

    Suddenly we’re against peace, against help, against building a country much less building a world,…Harper started out with no deficit, a surplus in fact, and a debt slowly being cut down.

    Our country has since gone downhill. Waaay downhill.

    This is not something to be proud of…..what is wrong with you??

    Macleans should be screaming at the damage done to our country!

    • Wow, we plummetted all the way to 11th. ‘slipped beyond the pale’? Drama queen much? Tone done the histrionics or increase the meds darling.

      • Hey babe….from number one for seven years to eleven now….yup, beyond the pale.

        You’d think ‘pond scum’ level was okay if Harp is in charge.

  4. What’s this. Not a single mention of the U.S. in this article?
    The U.S. placed third to Canada’s eleventh. Fortunately for Canada, it has ‘outgrown’ the poll while the ten countries ahead of it are still insecure and need to see themselves place ahead of you as a sort of security blanket. A crutch.

  5. The UN should be de-funded and shut down, what a useless waste of time and space, it is nothing but a haven for kleptocrats and other assorted vermin.

    • Gosh….here’s the christian pissing on the rest of the world, and keen for WWIII

      • Bigot!

        • LOL it’s bigotry to point out christian hypocrisy eh?

          Tough shitsky.

          • Hey PsychopathOne, what was particularly Christian about his statement?

            You know DemagogueOne, I always meant to ask you, If you knew someone who professed to be one of those evil xtian’s (you know, like Jimmy Carter or Bono do) would you try to run over them with your car, or would you poison their soda?

            What about if they recanted? Swore to Dawkins they would never pray to a god again? Can they be forgiven for their previous heresy? Should they be purified by fire?

  6. Canadian exceptionalism… just keep saying your wonderful in the face of evidence to the contrary and that improvement and self-correction is a waste of time… brilliant, perfection with none of the necessarry sacrifice and dedication.

    You may find it interesting to note that the most egocentric individuals also frequently have the lowest reality testing and are among the most delusional.

  7. There might be some valid reasons for our ranking to slip which could have at least been looked for by the writers. I have a little more respect for the change in ranking than, for instance, Obama’s peace Nobel although that’s not saying much.

    It’s awkward, and probably telling that they went back and wiped the past rankings clean. I have no doubt that the most significant change in Canada to the rankers has been in how well we match their particular version of political correctness.

  8. This editorial is nothing more then the melodic hum of the propaganda machine attempting to subdue the Canadian readership from the realization that the changes being made in Canada are not of a net benefit to its people.

  9. ” 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.”

    We have? Canada has been slashing foreign aid and closing embassies and consulates in dozens of countries. We once facilitated important international treaties and congresses; now we actively shun such things. Yes our banking system did relatively well in the financial crisis compared to some other developed countries, though other countries with strong resource sectors actually fared pretty well as well. First-and-second place ranked Norway and Australia did just fine in the 2008 crisis, as did fifth-ranked Germany. Incidentally, for all our boasting that Canada punches above our weight internationally, a featherweight like Norway, with a fraction of our population, resources, or GDP, casts a far greater shadow internationally than we do thanks to their conversion of non-renewable resource wealth into a sovereign wealth fund worth hundred of billions of dollars that provides a powerful, discreet, tool for influencing foreign policy abroad (in fact, Norway managed to mitigate a lot of the damage from the 2008 crisis by using the SWF to buy foreign assets at firesale prices).

  10. “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.”

    Is this a joke? Not surprised the person’s writing this are to cowardly to put their names to it. We have given up our independence and now take orders from other countries. Disgraceful and small. The fact the ‘editors’ see the present as good shows how out of depth and depleted they are as human beings. Enjoy being pathetic ‘editor’!

  11. The UN is a cesspool of evil doers and Marxist corruption. We should be getting out of the UN.

    • Why would you promote clinging to (and feeding) a money-wasting and pointless program?

      You don’t actually imagine that the convention ever prevented or even slowed down any droughts, do you?

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