Happy 150th to one of the world's most demonstrably successful societies

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I was 15 when Canada turned 100. It was a very exciting time. Expo 67 was underway. The world seemed to be coming to Montreal, where I was growing up. There was background trepidation about the separatist movement in Quebec and the state of French-English relations. And, of course, when you’re 15 almost everything is exciting. Or should be.

I’m no longer 15. I’ll let you do the not-very-hard math on how old I am exactly. But whether because I am older or because the times are objectively a little less exciting, I’m finding it easier to contain my excitement about Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be. One-fifty is 50 more than 100, obviously. But another half century of perseverance for one of the most successful, envied and migrated-to countries in the world is at least 50 per cent more cause for celebration than its 100th birthday was. There’s not a long history of demonstrably successful societies in the world, to say the least. Our achievement becomes more, not less impressive every year it continues—especially as the last 50 years presented us with two existential crises, in 1980 and 1995, in the form of Quebec independence referenda.

There are lots of indicators of our success. The fact that so many people want to join us is probably the best. (Our letting so many of them in likely feeds our success.) That we’re tied with the United States for tenth in the UN Human Development Index (just behind Iceland) is another, along with the fact that our score on the index rose from 0.849 to 0.920 in the quarter century from 1990 to 2015.

I’ve been most impressed recently by the fact that we do even better on the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World Index, where we tie for fifth (in an unlikely fivesome with Georgia, Ireland, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates). As Number 5, we’re behind, in descending order, Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand and Switzerland.

For the last 50 years, if not for all its 150 years, this country has had an ambivalent relationship with freedom. We favour it, obviously, and enjoy its benefits. Many Canadians have died for it, as well as for our allies’ freedom. So at bottom we cherish it. But we have also tended to think of it as an American concept. The Americans push freedom aggressively, in word if not always in deed. And we have tended to shy away from what Americans push, in part because we were founded in reaction to the American Revolution and the Americans’ lesser fondness for peace and order, which they occasionally have been willing to sacrifice in their battles over liberty.

But, 150 years after “peace, order and good government,” there we are at Number 5 on the Freedom Index and there they are at Number 16, just behind Lithuania and just ahead of Malta. How about that!

I live in a town where you have to get the town council’s permission to change the style of your windows or your front door and pay a special tax to put a tool shed in the corner of your backyard or make any other improvements to your property. So I often wonder just how free we are. But the compilers of the economic freedom index are people with an advanced understanding of freedom and they take care to include as many variables as they think are germane to a discussion of economic freedom. So while finishing fifth on such an index may not be the last word on freedom, it’s clearly something. And there we are.

If you’re my age, much more than if you’re 15, you should be aware of just what rare flowers free and peaceful societies have been in our species’ history. If anything we greybeards should therefore be more excited at Canada 150 than we were as teenagers in Centennial Year. By all means let’s engage in a little self-congratulation as our birthday tolls and the fireworks go off, but let’s also appreciate how lucky we’ve been and pray our luck holds.


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