The Conference Board of Canada, a non-governmental, non-partisan, non-profit think-tank with a habit of stating unvarnished and often unflattering truths about our country, came out last week with a doleful “report card” on our performance.
Our distinguishing characteristic, it said, is “mediocrity.”
Our governments, businesses and people all “punch below their weight.” Comparing us with other developed nations, it noted “too often we trail the pack.” We are “unwilling to take risks.”
Since our power to innovate is “stunningly poor,” we lag seriously in the global economy. We are slow to bring out new products, though our governments offer some of the best tax breaks and subsidies in the world. “The average person,” said Board president Anne Golden, “still thinks things are pretty good.” The report had bad news. They aren’t.
The implications are as appalling as the report itself is convincing. While it does not ask why we have become so irresolute, unimaginative and colourless, the explanation is obvious and renders questionable all our “progress” for the last half century.
We assumed we “progressed” as a society by becoming more secure, leisurely, and comfortable.
In the bad old days, we boasted, Atlantic fishermen, for example, had to toil three or four months at sea, then work desperately for the remaining eight or nine to eke out a living from such land as they possessed. Now they do what fishing they can and bask serenely for the rest of the year on E.I. Such things, we were taught to regard as an astonishing advance in the national character.
Well, maybe what’s advancing is our decrepitude and it’s by no means confined to Atlantic Canada.
It affects us all, and lasts for life. Where as children we once had to face the horror of “failing the year” and repeating the grade with “the little kids,” we now have “the social pass,” and advance through school whether we learn anything or not.
Where rules were once enforced with a stick, they are now enforced with “guidance” and “counselling,” which frequently means they are not enforced at all.
Where as young adults we used to have to fight wars, we now—many of us anyway—eschew “militarism.” which means letting the Americans fight our wars for us.
Where “unwanted pregnancies” were a fact of life visited upon most couples, we now have easy birth control, and if it fails we have abortion.
Where marriage was once something we had to make work whether we enjoyed it or not, it is now something that can be set aside and tried again with a new partner, often a series of new partners.
Sex, once inhibited by a host of taboos, some of them enforced by the Criminal Code, is now acceptable in almost any variety whatever, and any questioning or criticizing some of the varieties shall be branded “hate,” and punished with jail, “intolerance” being the only sin left in our moral code.
These supposed sexual triumphs also have their downside. “The most important demographic trends affecting Canada’s future socio-economic performance,” says the report, “are its aging population and its declining population growth … Without major shifts in policy, our workforce is unlikely to have enough workers; our health-care system will stagger under the increasing demands and costs; and our economic growth potential (and hence our quality of life) will be dragged down.”
Where we once had to provide our own entertainment, we now have it piped in,” and where we once had a piano, we now have an I-pod.
Where we used to get paid for working, we now expect pay for existing, and where we used to believe in God, we now believe in Tylenol.
We must be very close to the perfect nanny state, the Trudeau Dream come true.
And what is the product of this utopia like?
He is, the Conference Board implies, a lazy, dull, unimaginative, non-venturesome bore, chiefly distinguished by his “mediocrity.”
What’s likely to happen to us, the Conference Board did not undertake to answer.
However, history has an answer.
Nations that lose all initiative are soon overtaken by other nations less “advantaged.”
In other words, we do not need to fix this problem, even if we could. It will be fixed for us, and the experience might be somewhat devastating