“What Makes Canada So Great?”

Michaela Pereira, CNN television personality and news anchor (I use the term loosely)  asked a member of the Canadian Olympic skiing team this question:  “What makes Canada so great?”

My immediate reaction was:  What a goofy question.  Luckily the Canadian athlete had more tact.  He replied: “Teamwork”.

He may be on to something, something that’s much bigger than 17 days in Sochi.

Acts of Kindness

Anton Gaforov

By now we’ve all heard the story about Canadian coach Justin Wadsworth who climbed over two snow banks to give Russian skier Anton Gafarov a new ski when his own disintegrated in the free sprint.  Wadsworth saw Gafarov dragging himself to the finish line while everyone, including the Russian coaches, stood on the sidelines, staring.  Wadsworth came to Gafarov’s rescue because he wanted the Russian athlete to finish the race with dignity.

Wadsworth, an American by birth, reacted to all the media attention in a typically Canadian way—he was surprised and embarrassed.  When a reporter told him that his actions reflected the real Olympics, Wadsworth laughed and said “That makes me feel better because the rest of our day was total s—“.*

Then we have Gilmore Junio, the 23 year old Calgarian who gave up his spot in the 1000 metre speed skating competition to Denny Morrison.  Morrison fell in the Olympic trials in December and failed to make the cut.

Gilmore Junio

Junio stepped aside because he wanted “what was best for the team, what gave us the best chance to win”. His brother Jerry said “The thing that [Gil] wants to do is represent Canada in the best way.  And I think he did that”.**  No kidding!

Twelve members of Junio’s family watched Morrison skate in Junio’s place.  They screamed and cheered as if it were their boy out there on the ice.  Morrison took the silver medal, crossing the finish line five-hundredths of a second behind Dutch skater Stefan Groothuis.

Sure, Morrison would have been happy to win the gold, but he said, with typical Canadian candor, “I’m pretty satisfied with silver, to be honest.” ***

What makes Canada so great?

So to answer the CNN reporter’s question (bear with me here we’re veering off into constitutional law) what makes Canada is great is POGG.

Section 91 of the Canadian Constitution requires the country to be governed by the principles of peace, order and good  government (affectionately known in legal circles as POGG).  This creates a very different ethos in Canada than the US where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and is highly valued by Republicans and Democrats alike.

Peace, order and good government requires Canadians to go about their business with an eye to the greater common good (a good that is shared and beneficial to all).  The common good requires every Canadian to balance what is beneficial for him with what’s beneficial for his neighbours.

Mr Harper

Unfortunately our prime minister is not on the same page as the Constitution or most Canadians.  In Mr Harper’s view Canada is a nation of taxpayers who spend every waking moment wondering whether their tax dollars are being “wasted” on some undeserving sod who was born on the wrong side of the tracks or managed to get lost over there.  (And no, Mr Harper, dressing up this selfishness as “consumerism” does not make it any more attractive.  It’s still petty and lacks compassion).

Coach Wadsworth spoke about giving Gafarov a chance to end his race with dignity.  Speed skater Julio characterized his decision to step aside not as a “sacrifice” but as a way to show leadership and give back to his country.**

These unselfish acts are inspiring to all Canadians because they reflect who we are—a nation filled with unselfish people who aspire to greatness and won’t sacrifice each other to get there.

And no one can take that away from us, unless we let them.     

*The Star.com, Feb 15, 2014       

**Globe and Mail, Feb 15, 2014, A8 

***National Post, Feb 13, 2014, B1 

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37 Responses to “What Makes Canada So Great?”

  1. David Watson says:

    a perfect blog, you hit the nail right on the head. thank you Susan

  2. Sylvia Krogh says:

    I agree with you, Susan!

  3. Frank Horvath says:

    Well said, Susan! Canadians still need to be reminded of these wonderful examples of selflessness.

    Self-interest, on the other hand, is a value characteristic of an unfettered market, and while I have nothing against commerce, our society has evolved, as you note, far beyond the creature that first climbed out of the ooze. Yet, we have a prime minister whose actions suggest he holds this value most dear, as time and time again he flaunts the values underlying the common good.

    • Frank and Sylvia: I think that Harper has pushed us so far along the spectrum of self-interest that the public is finally started to react. Canada is an amazingly bountiful country with hardworking decent people who care about each other. We deserve better than the Harper government. 2015 will be the year we tell him so.

      • Sylvia Krogh says:

        I hope we can get rid of Harper and his cronies. However I live in redneck Alberta where the gov’ts ideology is to try to privatize all public services. So sometimes it is discouraging. My husband and I volunteer full time every provincial and federal election for the NDP to try to get a more egalitarian and humanitarian government in power. We will continue to do so.

      • Sylvia, I live in Calgary, the home of the oil industry and a Tory stronghold. I know exactly how you feel. Thank you for continuing to work for a better government. My husband and I are doing the same here. Our hard work will pay off…hopefully soon!

  4. yctoo says:


  5. Lunelle says:

    Hmmmm….Last I checked, Alberta was part of Canada…….too bad we can’t get some of that “good governance” here!!!!! Policies, Bills, and decisions that would benefit the MAJORITY of Albertans, instead of a select minority, line the pockets of this same minority, and relinquish our tax and pension dollars to foreign companies via profits after privatization of public services and foreign ownership of private companies. Harper and Redford are both selling us, the people, out to the lowest bidder. In Alberta, we are getting a double whammy, federally and provincially!

    It is definitely time for change at both levels of government!!!!!!!

    • Lunelle, double whammy is right. What makes our situation in Alberta even more aggravating is that Redford rode to power on the strength of her “progressive” promises; promises that she broke as soon as she entered office. She’s no better than Harper when it comes to proposing legislation that destroys citizens rights (eg Bill 46) and abusing the democratic process by limiting debate and invoking closure to get her draconian laws passed. Kudos to the environmentalists and labour unions for taking her to court! It’s a sorry statement of affairs that they have to do so in the first place.

  6. Baldwin Reichwein says:

    Fresh from visiting Government House in Edmonton, where I was reminded of its use as a Veterans’ Home (more hospital) in the post-WWII years, Susan your reference to peace, order and good government prompted memories. Perhaps more in hindsight I must admit I did not know what peace meant as a child while living under fascist rule until liberated in 1945 by Canadian troops. These troops at great sacrifice saved the lives (mine included) of millions of people. Likewise, let’s not forget the post-WWII impact of the “Marshall Plan” and UN’s interventions to assist refugees. Canada allowed me to enter the country during the same year UN Peace troops (including Canadian soldiers) were sent to the Mid-East, an initiative proposed by the late Lester B. Pearson, then Canada’s UN ambassador. So my initial taste of Canada (next to enjoying apple pie) was one of benevolence and selflessness. I found work and was able to continue my education in an orderly society without fear of war and hunger. The Canadian government allowed me to become a Canadian citizen (I was welcomed with tea and cookies by members of the IODE). As a consequence, peace, order and good government took on a deeper meaning.

    Fast forward half a century later, we still live in peace, but while not taking away from sacrifices made by Canadian troops overseas in contemporary conflicts, our role as peace keepers is diminishing. At the same time, a faceless corporate agenda affects our public services and order, and what we knew as good government. How much less government will we allow? How much longer will we allow the mantra of “unsustainability” while receiving less and less in what we knew as essential services with so called “choice” only being offered by for-profit operators? I still love Canada, but not a for sale sign.

  7. David Grant says:

    Canada is a great country even with all of the problems that we face such as the environmental challenges, challenges to national unity to preserving our social services, and our country. While Canada isn’t a rich country in terms of culture(we are a young country)we have a lot of beautiful geography. I have had the great fortune, while not having the opportunities to travel as many have, I have seen most of my country and I have lived in four provinces(Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec). I won’t pick favorites, but I can say that I enjoyed myself in all of them(some more than others). The one thing that we share with all developed countries is the lack of perspectives from what really constitute problems(such as war, hunger, famine and disease). Hopefully, the spirit shown in this athlete will be more in display than the values of capitalism which doesn’t respect them.

    • David, very valid point about the need for perspective and the fact that we are “struggling” with first world problems which pale in comparison to what others experience every day of their lives. It’s difficult to fight insularity. We lived in the US for seven years. It was like being in a bubble—no news about Canada and very little news about the rest of the world unless the US was getting ready to attack someone. Made for some very interesting debates with our American friends who thought we Canadians had betrayed them by not joining in the Coalition of the Willing to fight in Iraq.

  8. Elaine Fleming says:

    Last week I attended a forum sponsored by Public Interest Alberta where Dr. Allyson Pollock of the U.K. spoke. She is an expert on health care privatization, which the U.K. has been experiencing since the days of Margaret Thatcher, and culminating recently in the dissolution of their National Health System. Our own federal and provincial Conservative governments have us heading down the same road, offloading health care to private providers where profit is given priority over people’s health needs, costs spiral out of control, accountability is lost, universal access no longer exists and quality of care declines as companies are in a “race to the bottom”.
    It is of note that our own Premier is the Honorary Chair of the Canadian Council for Public-Private-Partnerships. And then, you’ve got Prime Minister Harper refusing to meet with the premiers last summer to discuss a renewed Health Accord. He makes no bones about wishing to wash his hands of our national Medicare system.
    The day after Dr. Pollock’s presentation, there was a workshop on our own experience in Alberta and Canada with privatization of public services. Discussion at my table came around to the betrayal of our Canadian values of caring and community, and social responsibility. The total opposite of the libertarian stance of our federal government, our provincial government and our main opposition party, the Wildrose. It was interesting, too, that people were talking about the role and responsibility of us as “citizens”- quite different than, as you say, Prime Minister Harper’s valuation of us as mere “taxpayers”.
    Our Canadian values are very real, and the more our provincial and federal government Conservatives try to undermine them, the more we, as Albertans and Canadians, are realizing these people are not suited to govern us.

    • Elaine, I have yet to hear a good argument that addresses the fact that corporations, unlike governments, don’t do anything unless it is profitable and this changes how corporations deliver service. When times are tough they scale back, if they’ve made a poor investment, they scale back, and so on.

      The Next-Gen Forum held a conference on corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Calgary recently. The focus was CSR in the oil industry but the concepts are similar. John Gibson, CEO of Tervita Corp, said the economist Milton Friedman would argue there’s no such thing as CSR because a corporation’s purpose is to “merely generate wealth for its shareholders”. He said the trouble with CSR is that it attempts to graft the beliefs and social accountability of an individual on to a corporation. He indicated that CSR was on shaky ground and concluded that it was the government’s role to be the check and balance between corporations whose purpose is to generate wealth and the long-term view required to protect society for us all. The Alberta government has abdicated this role, leaving no one to look out for the public interest. Which gets us to your final point—these people are not fit to govern and must be replaced in 2016.

      • Elaine Fleming says:

        Susan, something that might resonate with, and certainly inspire people concerned about the many misdirected policies of our governments (provincial and federal), is the Annual Advocacy Conference of Public Interest Alberta taking place April 11-13 in Edmonton. It is called, “Reasserting the Public Good in a Corporatized World.” The keynote speaker, Dr. Vandana Shiva, will also be doing a presentation in Calgary on April 10. Here is a link to the conference and there are links to Dr. Shiva’s presentations which you can attend separately (for 20 bucks!) “One of the world’s most important ecofeminists and social justice activists, Dr. Vandana Shiva’s talk will focus on corporate globalization and how across the world, citizens and communities are defending and reclaiming the commons to create earth democracy.” I would love to see the attendance numbers in Edmonton vs Calgary. Let’s have a contest! http://pialberta.org/content/pia-2014-annual-conference
        (This might seem a bit picky, but did you have to put such a LARGE picture of Stephen Harper on the blog?)

      • Elaine, thanks for the information about Dr. Vandana Shiva. She has an amazing reputation across the board. A comparison of the Edmonton and Calgary attendance numbers might be interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be to see just how receptive Canada’s oil capital would be to a speaker know for her anti-globalization stance, a position that I indicated before was supported by well known capitalists including billionaire Sir James Goldsmith.

        Now about Mr Harper’s photo…I’ve chopped it down to 40% of its original size and it keeps creeping back up again. I think it’s Five Eyes! 🙂

  9. Norm Kelly says:

    great post, Susan! I’m reminded of a conversation I had with my Dad when I was a teenager of why it was he chose to come to Canada from Scotland instead of other countries. He told me that it was because he wanted his children to have the best opportunity for success in life and because of all the places in the world he had been as a soldier and all the different people in the world he had met; he was impressed with Canadians and how they talked and how they behaved. Knowing my Dad as I do; very high praise indeed!

    • Norm, your dad was a very wise man. For me it all comes down to this: either we value our fellow human beings or we don’t. Some conservative thinkers would argue that this is “lefty” thinking but it’s a matter of morality. Everyone deserves an opportunity to get a good education, to receive decent healthcare, to make something of himself. If he falters we won’t kick him to the side of the curb, we’ll show humanity. We can do this…but not under the present government.

  10. Mare says:

    Susan, As with all of yours, another great post! I was almost going to use the same words that David Watson did above, but since he said it, I’ll elaborate a bit with my own. We moved here 10 + years ago from the States and, as a sociologist, I was really fascinated to see the differences between Canadians and (US) Americans. It was almost immediately evident that our respective world views differed; primarily how we, your neighbours to the south, are raised to value – and be proud of – our individualism (compassion optional), while Canadians seemed to value the spirit of the common good. I even heard people say that they were glad to pay taxes! Most people I spoke with recognized that, if taxes were higher, it was because it meant that those who couldn’t care for themselves would be taken care of, not to mention that it paid for a healthcare system that was something to be proud of. It was so interesting to see my own country through a Canadian perspective. Most Canadians are very kind (of course) about Americans individually yet recognize the traits that they’re grateful not to share.
    Within a brief time, I came to realise that I have always held Canadian values and that this country is a better fit for me … I also joked that, if I got to stay here longer, I’d become a nicer person (only half-joking, to be more honest). Some of my more cynical Canadian friends told me to get a grip – that this was Alberta and that I was seeing things through rose-coloured glasses. I wasn’t completely naive … after all, Harper was the MP for our riding and I knew right away, that he was our “Tom DeLay,” the corrupt US legislator who happened to be our representative prior to our move north. Nonetheless, having moved here from Texas, Alberta was a breath of fresh air and we were extremely grateful to be here. We still are; we have no desire to leave and hope to become citizens. But, I’ve also been increasingly disappointed to see Canada (at least its gov’t) becoming so much more like the States … both provincially, where I see the deterioration of the healthcare system and the move toward increased privatization as well as federally, where similar trends are being implemented, but also more dangerous policy, such as the muzzling of scientists, bill C-45, defunding important environmental agencies, research, etc., etc. As you said so well, I don’t think Harper represents what makes Canadians so great. He’s more in the category of Bush or the Koch brothers …
    I appreciate the response(s) from Elaine, with reference to Allyson Pollock’s talk & P3s – benignly labeled “Public-Private Partnerships.” As the word, partnership sounds like just good cooperation, we have decided to refer to P3s in their truest meaning: Pilfering the Public Purse, so that people begin to learn just how dangerous they are.
    Keep up the good work, Susan. I so appreciate you!
    PS Really looking forward to see Vandana Shiva again, too.

    • Mare, thank you for providing a truly unique perspective from the vantage point of someone who has lived on both sides of the border. I too am deeply worried that Harper (and Redford for that matter) are pushing Canadians toward the US model. Conservatives seem to think that economics will cure all ills (“trust industry”). My big worry is that many Canadians think the private sector is more “efficient” and therefore better able to deliver public services, but they don’t ask themselves how the private sector will deliver on its primary objective–generate profits for the shareholders–in the context of public service delivery. That’s why people like Allyson Pollock and Vandana Shiva are so important. They help us frame these issues in a way that others can understand—namely the corporatization of government does not work.

      PS I loved your definition of P3s—Pilfering the Public Purse. I’ve heard that the next step is P4s—Public/Private Partnerships with Philanthropy. In other words we’ve moved back to the days of when the burden of public services fell to the largess of the wealthy. Hello Charles Dickens.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Mare, this is a very clear analysis of the real world. I have the same perspective and the suggestion that Canadians are just like Americans is really a joke. Anyone with thinking skills, that pays attention to what is going on in both countries, can easily understand that these are quite different countries. The problem is that 99% of the times the people that talk about this subject are economists or financial gurus and all they can understand is money. For years and years we were bombarded with slogans of how pathetic we were in comparison with the all powerful American economy, how much better they do business…..blah blah blah. Those same people are silent now. Despite the fact that any country like the US is welcome in and allowed to take anything they wish, Canada is still not bankrupt and compared with many other countries we are doing very well thank you. By the way, this financial situation is not a consequence of the bad management by the Conservatives. They inherited one of the strongest and most robust economies from the Liberals and have since screwed it up quite a bit and in 9 years we have not had a surplus. Jean Chretien, who the conservatives loved to make fun of, had at least 10 in a row. In Alberta the political situation is even more ridiculous. We now have a premier that cannot do math and cannot understand democratic values. Her ministers are even worse. There will be serious consequences for this ineptitude in the future.
      Vandana Siva is a very good speaker and she understands public good very well. I am happy she is coming to Alberta, but I truly believe it is time for action. We are addicted to conferences and too much talk but we are pretty pathetic in terms of action. Without a true action plan (sorry this is not part of the Conservative bankrupt action plan), we will be stuck. The slow deterioration will continue until the only way out could be what we are witnessing in the Ukraine. People that are leaders in Public Interest Alberta, Unions, Progressive Think tanks ….etc have to get together and move forward with the objective of ending this fast track to oblivion. It is very clear to me that even here in Canada there are a lot of people that believe in a non-democratic, economically controlled future. Interestingly enough they seem to be the most religious people in the country which is a clear contradiction.
      The Liberals and the NDP have an extremely important role to build this action front, but they are not interested. They want to get to power and then just repeat the same thing and get the pension.

      • Carlos, I agree with your comments about economics and think it would be more appropriate to refer to it (as some have done) as the “demon economics”. I am watching the Youtube clip of Allyson Pollock’s speech in Edmonton last week. She’s describing the process by which the NHS was dismantled in the UK. She laid out three steps (1) start the privatization process with services like long term care and home care because the old and frail don’t have any political sway, (2) push the mantra of “choice” but don’t tell the public that that requires dismantling the infrastructure so the funding follows the patient and “unbundle” every service into its component parts and attach performance based pricing for each little piece (highly inefficient) and (3) drive it home with the P3 engine—code for a massive divestiture program which sells every piece of land, building, and asset that was bought with public money to the private sector.

        All of this is supposed to be more “efficient”, but as we’ve seen with the sale of the Holy Cross and the Grace hospitals here in Calgary, this is anything but efficient. Live by the market, die by the market—and take a bunch of helpless citizens with you.

        PS I’m okay with conferences because they educate the public, but agree with your fundamental point, it’s time for action. The Liberals and NDP are mobilizing for action, the big question is will they cooperate in order to stop splitting the vote or are they so dazzled by the possibility that they may achieve a minority government that they’ll go it alone and we’ll be in for another 4 more years of grief with the provincial and federal conservatives. Heaven forbid!!

  11. Carlos Beca says:

    The NDP and the Liberals are mobilizing for action? I will have to see to believe it.
    In the meantime Princess Alison is the one sinking on her own which is no surprise. I think she is done and one MLA came out of the closet and that could open the door for others. I certainly hope so. I cannot wait for the sinking of this Titanic. The more drama the better.
    No doubts conferences educate the public but for the most part the people in these events are the ones who least need to be educated. I have gone to the Parkland annual conference for a while now and not one mainstream newspaper or TV has ever shown up, never mind any member of our DEMOCRATIC government. Not one reference in any paper other than the View. It is astounding. No one other than activists is interested in any other point of view other than the Conservative old song of ‘We care about the people of this province’. It is changing, but I am worried the pace will be too little too late.

    • Fair comment Carlos. My comments with respect to the NDs and Liberals mobilizing are based on a few things. First ND pollsters are asking Albertans whether they’d support the NDs with a new leader; the two names bandied about are Rachel Notley and David Eggen. The ND’s communications team has pulled together a tighter message “protecting Alberta’s families” which is a tag line big enough to encompass pretty much everything including protecting Alberta’s families access to a good public education, good healthcare, freedom from damaging pollutants, etc. The Liberals are working hard to increase membership and donations and are starting to get some traction. Both parties hope that there will be a minority government in 2016, likely the PCs but maybe the WR and they (Libs/ND) will hold the balance of power. Who knows, with the way Redford and company have been acting lately, they just might be right. It’s a fascinating time in Alberta politics!

  12. carlosbeca says:

    I hope you are right but my prediction is some PC MLAs joining the Wildrose and a majority for Danielle Smith. There is a reason why she is so quiet. They cannot afford to make any more mistakes like the ones we witness in the last election.

  13. David Grant says:

    I think it is difficult to really know what will happen. I think the scenario that Susan is presenting is quite plausible. I would be happy to see any government win with a minority. In fact, if I could make a change it would be put in some kind of proportional representation or to have coalition governments. I think the problem is that it is hard to get people to vote against their interests that in letting people earn a bit more will take away something from them. While I sometimes share Carlos sentiments, I just cannot afford the luxury as going too far in that direction. For know, doing what you sleep at night(something every should agree with)at the very least will help. I am not sure that I agree with Susan’s points about vote splitting really ever is true. I read the newspapers after every election in Alberta whether it is federal or provincial, and with a few exceptions, the NDP and Liberals are in 3rd or 4th place and even if they did merge their votes it wouldn’t be enough. Typically the PC or Conservative candidates have such a commanding lead over the other candidates that it would really take a miracle from the heavens to pull it off. That doesn’t mean that cooperation isn’t a bad thing, but I wouldn’t want to overestimate it either. I also want to caution against “strategic voting” because voting for a candidate who you don’t have some belief in or a connection with doesn’t work. I personally would still rather pick the best person who represents my interests and who might actually do the job. I might sound corny but that isn’t a bad way to go about finding the best candidate.

    • David, very valid point about whether vote splitting is an issue given the overwhelming lead that both the PCs and WR have had in the past. Vote splitting was a factor in the federal by-election in Calgary Centre, admittedly a unique situation because so many provincial PCs couldn’t stand the federal Conservative candidate. I believe the numbers showed that one of the two progressive candidates would have won had the other stepped aside. While this is not reflective of the majority of the ridings, having a clear progressive choice might bring out the voters who’ve simply given up and don’t vote because they think it’s pointless.

      I agree whole heartedly with your caution against “strategic voting”. The PCs used the WR fear factor to their advantage in the last election. This delivered many “strategic voters”, including the unions and the teachers, and look where that landed them.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        In Alberta there is a lot of vote splitting even taking in consideration the fact that the PC vote is a majority. Here is the difference:
        Conservatives got 52% of the vote and 86% of the seats
        Liberals got 26 % of the vote and only 10% of tyhe seats
        NDP got 8% of the vote and only 2% of the seats.
        In Proportional Representation they would get the percentage of seats they got of votes.
        Is this note vote splitting? It is ridiculous and especially considering that we are already in 2014 and Canada has been a democracy for more than 100 years. I have voted in every single election and I never was represented in the House or the Legislature. It is purely crazy to be honest. We are now, along with Britain the only system that allows this kind of outcome, which is very detrimental to the future of our country. At the Federal level we now have 39% of the population dictating to the other 61%. To say the least it is absurd. Even so, I have been a member of Fair Vote Canada since its inception and we have not been able to change anything at all.

  14. David Grant says:

    That is right. My parent’s riding in Calgary Southwest was a very competetive race with Diane Mirosh, not a great minister in the Klein government, won with the slimmest of margins, but that is the exception. Calgary Centre is a good example as Joan Crockett barely won. I personally think for AUPE members who voted for the PCs have to do some seriously thinking about their voting patterns particularly after the dreadful passing of 45 and 46(there is an injunction on one of them,l believe). If the voter turnout can go up, that would be a good thing regardless of the outcome. In Ancient Greece, there was a penalty for those who didn’t vote and I think often wonder if there shouldn’t be one here(although it is very impractical when you think of it). If we had more educated voters, something post can contribute to, then we will be better off. We also need more citizen watchdog groups as they have in the US and other countries, not ideologically based, but based on issues. These groups put the fire under the politicians to do the right thing.

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