Sometime, not too long ago, while no one was watching, Canada became the world’s most successful country.
It might have happened in the late 1990s, when this nation perfected the unique and virtuous circle of low interest rates, low inflation, balanced budgets, and paid-up pension funds. Or perhaps it emerged in 2001, when the latest census revealed we had become possibly the world’s most urban country (80 per cent of us live in cities);1 that nearly one Canadian in five arrived here from somewhere else; that Toronto, with 44 per cent of its population foreign-born, was more diverse than Miami, Los Angeles, or Sydney; and that by 2017, when Canada celebrates its 150th birthday, one Canadian in five will be a member of a visible minority.
It might have been celebrated in any of those years over the past decade when the United Nations Human Development Index ranked Canada as one of the world’s most desirable countries in which to live. For the culturati, 2002 was a particularly good year: three of six finalists for the Booker Prize for best new novel were Canadian — our Yann Martel won for Life of Pi
— and Margaret Macmillan’s Paris 1919
was praised on both sides of the Atlantic as the best non-fiction book in years, while jocks rejoiced over Canada’s gold medal in hockey at the Winter Olympics. Pop-music buffs may insist Canada reached its zenith in 2005, when Spin
magazine, the New York Times
, and TIME
Canada all declared that Montreal offered the most influential independent music scene in North America.
Canadians fret about the country: about its regional and linguistic divisions; about a lack of identity, whatever that may mean; about being perpetually overshadowed by the United States; and, of course, about the weather. But while there’s not much we can do about the weather, the progress of the nation in the past generation has been simply astonishing. This country works better than it has ever worked before. Choose an area of endeavour: business success, standard of living, culture, scientific discovery, and you’ll find that Canada is almost invariably performing at a level equal to or surpassing that of most other developed countries.
In 1904, Sir Wilfrid Laurier proclaimed that, while the nineteenth century belonged to the United States, the twentieth century would belong to Canada.6 He was a tad off the mark. It is obvious that this country will never boast a population and economy sufficient to warrant Great Power, let alone superpower, status. But greatness can be more than strength of arms or size of gdp. Canada’s greatness, which we are only now beginning to fully realize, lies elsewhere.
Here is a prediction: A century from now, historians and anthropologists will cite Canada as the harbinger of a new age. This new age will be marked by a steep reduction in intolerances so deeply ingrained in human culture that for millennia we have shaped our caste systems and fought our wars based on them, to the point in the last century where we came close to destroying ourselves. It is the intolerance of the clan, which stipulates that the further a person is removed from your own family, tribe, village, the likelier that person is to be alien and threatening. It is intolerance toward the other, whose God is not yours, whose economic system is not yours, whose sexuality is not yours, whose language is not yours. September 11, 2001, demonstrated once again the horrors of which modern technology married to barbarous hatred are capable.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Polite Revolution by John Ibbitson. Copyright © 2005 by John Ibbitson. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.