May 2008: The Truth About Canada

Some truly appalling things we should know about our country
May 1, 2008

The Truth about Canada: Some Important, Some Astonishing, and Some Truly Appalling Things All Canadians Should Know About our Our Country, by Mel Hurtig, Douglas Gibson Books at McLelland & Stewart Ltd., Toronto, 360 pages, $34.99.

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In the first two sentences of the Preface, Mel Hurtig clearly identifies the subject matter of The Truth About Canada:

“This book is about how Canada has changed, and changed for the worse, under the governments of Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, and Stephen Harper. It is also about how, as a result of the changes that have occurred, we are no longer the country we think we are.”

A major theme is “the unparalleled sellout of our country in a manner no other developed country would even dream of allowing.”

Hurtig says that several chapters of this book on major issues “contain information you likely never have seen before or information that runs contrary to the conventional and widely accepted opinions in Canada found in much of our media and intentionally promoted by our far right 'think-tanks,' business leaders, and politicians.”

He offers soundly researched data “that will make you cringe,” on a wide range of issues. They include: “our pathetically low number of doctors, our high comparative levels of both adult and child poverty, our truly awful environmental records, our shameful levels of foreign aid and peacekeeping, our abysmal voter turnout comparisons, our totally inadequate research and patent performance, our high infant and under-five mortality rates, the broad deterioration of our social programs, our increasing gaps in distribution of income and wealth in Canada, our treatment of our Aboriginal people, the rapid decline of our manufacturing sectors, our continuing and very dangerous decentralization, our coming confrontation with the United States over water; our mind-boggling, stupid NAFTA agreements regarding oil, natural gas and water...”

Some highlights:

DOCTORS: “During the years 1990 to 2004, in terms of the number of physicians per 100,000 people, Canada stood far down the list of all countries, in an appalling 54th place. With only 214 doctors per 100,000 during those years, we were down among some or the poorest and least developed countries in the world, and far below most other countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development).” Cuba had 591 doctors per 100,000 citizens, the United States 549.

POVERTY: “In 1989, the House of Commons passed their now notorious all-party resolution to wipe out child poverty by the year 2000. At that time, 15.1% of children in this country were living in poverty.” By 2004, “despite substantial economic growth and huge wealth creation,” the percentage of poor children had grown to 17.7. “Statistics Canada also reported that 12.5% of all Canadian families, 34.5% of immigrants who had been in Canada less than 10 years, and almost 50% of lone parents were classified as in a 'low-income' situation.”

ENVIRONMENT: Canada, with 0.5% of the world’s population, emits 2% of humanity's GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions. Measured in tonnes of emissions, Canada's performance in 2004 can only be described as terrible.

FOREIGN AID: About 70% to 80% of Canadians believe that “Canada is 'very generous' when it comes to helping poor countries. But are we? In both 2004 and 2005, in a list of 22 OECD countries, Canada was down in 14th place in donor assistance as a percentage of gross national income (GNI)... In 2006, we slipped further down the list to 16th place.”

PEACEKEEPING: “In 1991, Canada had almost 1,150 soldiers directly involved in UN peacekeeping operations. By the fall of 2006 we were down to only 55 out of a total of over 100,000 UN peacekeepers.” Nevertheless, “in a 2007 public opinion poll, two-thirds of Canadians mistakenly agreed that 'Canada is an essential contributor to peacekeeping'.”

VOTER TURNOUT: “In a UN list of 179 countries, when voter turnout was calculated as a percentage of all eligible voters, Canada placed way down in an astonishing 93rd place. In May, 2004, Fair Vote Canada reported that for the decade of the 1990s, Canada ranked all the way down to 109th place in voter turnout.” (Fair Vote Canada is a multi-partisan citizen’s campaign for voting system reform.)

RESEARCH: “Dismal” is the way Hurtig describes the record of big business. “Despite huge corporate profits and among the very best tax incentives in the world,” corporations in Canada failed to do anywhere near the amount of research and development necessary to spur productivity. “An OEC study placed Canada down in 21st place in the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of research and development performed by business.

INFANT MORTALITY: “In a UN list of 25 OECD countries, only four have a worse infant mortality record than Canada... In 2004, 22 countries had lower under-five mortality rates than Canada.”

SOCIAL POLICY: In 2006, the UN Committee on Economic and Social Rights released its third highly critical report about Canada's social policies. It made clear that “governments in Canada have not really committed to the recognition of social and economic rights as fundamental human rights.” An example: “Today in Canada more than 70% of mothers with pre-school children work, but fewer than one in five children under the age of six have access to regulated child-care spaces.”

INCOME AND WEALTH: “In recent years, the top 10% of families in Canada took home an average of over 13 times the family income of the lowest 10%.” Statistics Canada has calculated that, between 1980 and 2005, the richest 25% of Canadians increased their incomes by 24% and the poorest 20% increased theirs by only 4.9%, or $600, “a grand total of a pathetic $24 a year.”

ABORIGINAL PEOPLE: “Canada has ranked at or near the top of the United Nations Human Development Index for many years. At the same time, our Aboriginal peoples rank 63rd on the same scale.” The average life expectancy rate for Canada's Aboriginal peoples is seven years shorter than the lifespan for non-Aboriginal Canadians. The levels of diabetes, disability, suicide, poverty and unemployment among Aboriginals, particularly those living on reserves, are significantly higher than the levels among non-Aboriginals.

MANUFACTURING: “In 1970, manufacturing accounted for about 23% of Canada's GDP. In 2007, it was down to 15%. Employment in manufacturing peaked in November 2002, but by the summer of 2007 it was down by 308,000 jobs, mostly highly paid jobs with good benefits... The FTA, NAFTA, globalization, and our much higher dollar have all taken their toll on manufacturing in Canada. But poor levels of R&D, inadequate investment in machinery and equipment, and, of course, competition from increasingly competitive low-wage countries have all been factors.”

DECENTRALIZATION: “Beginning in the 1960s, and in every decade thereafter, the federal government's share of all government income has been shrinking: “Where Ottawa was once receiving 65% of all government income, by 2006, that was down to 39.3% (well below the OECD average of 49.4% for federal central governments. Today, in a list of the top 50 developed countries, 34 governments do a larger share of all government spending than Ottawa... But do we really want a country where government is bound and shackled, down on its knees before powerful, parochial, provincial potentates?”

WATER: “During the lengthy debates in Canada about the FTA (Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement), Canadians were frequently reassured that there nothing to worry about—water was not included in the proposed agreement...Water is, in fact, part of both FTA and NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement) because of the definition in the agreements of 'goods' as defined in GATT's (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) harmonized commodity coding system, which includes Tariff Item 22.01: 'Water, all natural water other than sea water.' Moreover, in Annex 702.1 of NAFTA, any doubt about water being included is removed so that water is clearly a ‘tradeable good,’ subject to all the onerous FTA clauses and to NAFTA's terrible Chapter 11, which...allows U.S. companies to sue Canadian governments.” It is no secret that the United States is soon going to be in urgent need of water to replenish its rapidly depleting aquifers.

OIL AND NATURAL GAS: “Where at one time reserves of natural gas were held back for future Canadian consumption, thanks to Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien and the completely absurd sections of NAFTA dealing with energy, the border between Canada and the United States disappeared... Where once it was required that a 20-year reserve for Canadian use was mandatory before any approval of exports, now the petroleum companies can ship the gas out of the country just as quickly as their pipelines can be built.”

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Hurtig's book also covers employment and unemployment; immigration and emigration; corporate profits; productivity; corporate and personal taxes; education; culture; the media; foreign investment and ownership; control and takeovers; integration with the United States; globalization; foreign aid; defence; health-care spending; also cars, trucks, and auto parts; and many other Canadian sectors.

Hurting is critical of “the purposeful dissemination in the print media of false information about rapidly growing foreign ownership and control of our country.” He maintains that it “goes a long way towards explaining why our myopic politicians have failed to take action on this and other related problems that are quickly robbing us of our ability to plan and manage our own future.”

In his research, Hurtig found it “truly dismaying to see how often the print media in Canada totally ignore or distort information that does not fit with their own philosophical/editorial positions. Quite often I pick up a morning paper and read about a new Statistics Canada, OECD, or other release, knowing that the newspaper story and the documented reality are vastly different from one another.”

He anticipates that the Truth about Canada, the result of many years of research, will be regarded as his most controversial book, (which, on the basis of his record, is a powerful statement). He predicts that it “will bring immediate cries of protest from the usual Neanderthals at the Fraser Institute, the C.D. Howe Institute, the CCCE (Canadian Council of Chief Executives), the increasingly continentalist Conference Board of Canada, and, of course, the house organ of them all, The National Post.”

Time will prove that to be a very modest list.

Hurtig's critics may unjustly accuse him of displaying bias in his selection of data, but when his research uncovers some progress, readers will find that he also includes it in The Truth about Canada.

Hurtig's findings include data from many reliable sources such as Statistics Canada, the OECD, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. They are supported by 21 pages of footnoted references. The book also has a helpful glossary.

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Mel Hurtig is the legendary bookseller, publisher, and creator of The Canadian Encyclopedia who became a political activist, then an author in 1991 with his huge bestseller The Betrayal of Canada. He is also the author of Pay the Rent or Feed the Kids, The Vanishing Country, and Rushing to Armageddon. He is a member of the Order of Canada.

(Roy LaBerge is a former associate director of communications with the Canadian Labour Congress and now an Ottawa-based writer and consultant.)