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Searching for Certainty
By Steven Martinovich
Hardly a year goes by without enterprising writers attempting to document what they see as their Canadian du jour. The latest entry comes courtesy of columnist Edward Greenspon and pollster Darrell Bricker with their recently released effort Searching for Certainty: Inside the New Canadian Mindset. While it is an impressive effort, marshalling a wide array of information and anecdotes in support of their main contention, Searching for Certainty is ultimately unsuccessful.
As any Canadian can tell you, the 1980s and 1990s were years of turmoil both politically and economically. With stagnant incomes, political uncertainty and a malaise worthy of Jimmy Carter, Canadians had good reason to view those years as lost. With the dawn of a new millennium, Greenspon and Bricker assert that Canadians are tired of turbulence, are more confident, looking for challenges and, as the title of their book states, searching for certainty.
That certainty, write Greenspon and Bricker, dawned on February 23, 1998 when Finance Minister Paul Martin told an unbelieving nation that Canada had entered a "new golden age." One day later, Martin brought down the first deficit free budget in decades. Along with the dawn of fiscal responsibility, or at least more fiscal responsibility, the battering of two decades of uncertainty made Canadians stronger and more optimistic about their nation's future.
It's an inviting theory and there is certainly no dearth of evidence to support it. Greenspon and Bricker cite countless polls to prove that the mood of Canadians has improved appreciably over the past few years, especially compared to the rampant cynicism of the mid-1990s as Canadians watched their American counterparts widen the economic gap between the two nations. It is what University of Toronto professor Michael Bliss recently referred to as a "sad story of squandered opportunity."
Unfortunately, polling results may present Canadians as newly optimistic about the future - at least at the time of the book's writing, reality seems to be painted somewhat differently. By nearly every measure, be it economic, social cultural or political, Canada continues to lag behind other nations.
As Bliss pointed out in a recent National Post piece in defense one-time Canadian Conrad Black, any optimism based on where Canada stands in the world today is badly misplaced. As an economic power we have declined relative to America every year since the 1970s. For a variety of reasons, Canadian companies (with very few exceptions) are unable to compete on the global playing field. Our social policies are no longer pioneering and have actually contributed to our decline even if Canadians see them as indispensable. Without taxpayer support, Canada's cultural community would have withered long ago thanks to apathy by both the world and Canadians. On the political field, Canada has reverted to a one-party state that "has fewer leaders of real stature than at any time since 1867" and worse, no one cares.
Given Bliss' "sad story," it's difficult to square Greenspon and Bricker's enthusiasm about Canada's near term future with the decline of so many of our institutions. While Canadians may feel more empowered and confident, one has to wonder what aspects of their lives gave rise to these feelings. With an increasingly autocratic federal government, an economy that not withstanding its recent diversification still mirrors a mid-twentieth century nation, cultural contributions that few outside of this nation take notice of and social policy more appropriate to 1901 not 2001, it's difficult to make an argument that Canada stands anywhere near the vanguard.
If Greenspon and Bricker ever do revisit this field, and despite the fact that there never has been a lack of books that explore Canada's future it's hoped that they do, they would be well advised to leave the polling results at home and concentrate more on the real picture of Canada. You can, after all, only plan a future when you actually know what's happening today.
Steve Martinovich is a freelance writer in Sudbury, Ontario.
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