Is Canada the greatest country in the world?

by Arnold Auguste
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By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
In his Canada Day message, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada is the greatest country in the world. He had to say that. It’s his job. And, to admit anything less would be to admit that he has not been doing a good job.
But is Canada the greatest country in the world? I don’t think it is.
Of course, I can’t know for sure since I have not lived in any other country except my birth country, Trinidad, which I left some 54 years ago. I am sure that there are myriad other countries where life is good, great even, and where its citizens and residents would swear were the greatest and best.
To consider our (or any other) country as the best or greatest would mean that we are largely free of serious issues, that the majority of our residents are living the life and that we have attained a level of excellence not experienced anywhere else.
And that we are not.
Canada has been good to me. It provided me with opportunities that I don’t know I would have had anywhere else. Maybe I would have done well somewhere else because I am quietly very ambitious. But I know what this country gave me.
When I arrived here 54 years ago this year, I had no idea what my life would be like. I had no plan. I had no relatives or friends to lean on, very little money and, of course, coming as a visitor, no papers.
But I knew that there were opportunities here that were not available to me in my birth country; that there was more to my life than was possible until then and that this is where my future lay.
So, when my application for landed status was denied and I was given 17 days to leave the country, I refused to allow that immigration officer to determine my fate, my future.
It took me a while but, thanks to a program of the then Liberal government of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, I was eventually granted landed status and as soon as was possible I became a citizen of this wonderful country.
While I never had to depend on government assistance, I owe a lot to new Christian friends I met in church, mostly from Trinidad and Jamaica, whose generosity of spirit sustained me through those early lean years.
One of the first things I did after being landed was to apply to go to university. Before coming here, that wasn’t even a dream. As a young person, whenever I walked by Queen’s Royal College or passed by Fatima and St. Mary’s colleges in a taxi I always looked at the buildings wistfully knowing that I would never darken their hallways. The possibility of attending the UWI (University of the West Indies) was even more remote.
But here I was. I was not only able to attend university but to use the training and knowledge I gained there to build a business from the ground up and provide employment for many over the past 46 years, some of whom have gone on to greater things.
More importantly, I was able to provide a vehicle to promote and to celebrate those in our community who have taken advantage of the opportunities available to them to achieve amazing results and to tell their stories which may never have been told anywhere else.
I have a deep sense of gratitude to this country. It is my home. And while I have been able to visit many other countries, there are few things more pleasurable for me than to come home to Canada.
But we are not perfect. We are not the greatest or the best, with all due respect to our Prime Minister. Not when so many of our fellow citizens are unhoused or underhoused. Not when so many of our fellow Canadians are sleeping on the streets, in tents and under bridges, many of whom found themselves in such dire situations through no fault of their own. Not when so many of our working families have to depend on food banks. Not when some of our people have to go to other countries and at great expense to receive medical treatment because it is either not available here or the wait is much too long for someone in agonizing pain.
We have the resources and the potential to do better, to be better. What we are lacking is leadership that is able to prioritize the real needs of the people over their vanity projects.
The provincial government, for example, plans to spend $10 billion to build a new highway that most people it is intended to serve don’t seem to want.
I love development. I love to see new towers being built, new roads and the rehabilitation of old roads; new transit lines put in. I love to see the growth of my city. But we have to set priorities and at the top must be the needs of the neediest among us. That is how we become a great city and a great country.
A $10 billion (and counting) highway maybe named for Doug Ford (the Douglas Robert Ford Highway?) will be a lasting legacy to our premier, maybe more than if that money is spent on healthcare and housing but is it the right thing to do at this time? Or spending about a billion dollars to put liquor in corner and grocery stores?
While I, as so many others, have personally benefited from no longer having to pay the $120 per year to renew our license plate stickers, couldn’t the Ford government have found better use for the $1.1 billion in lost revenue?
What about us? Would we rather save the $120 per year instead of gaining access to more doctors and better healthcare?
A Toronto city councillor has proposed a plan to build a bridge to the islands which no doubt would cost tens of millions of dollars in the midst of a housing crisis. What are they thinking? Or rather, are they thinking? This would only serve people who are already being served by the ferries and water taxis for about three month a year.
If money is available to build that bridge, why not use it to build affording housing for folks such as those the city had police brutally remove from a Toronto park, instead of constantly seeking new ways to squeeze small landlords with hastily developed restrictions and regulations to make it harder for them to get rid of difficult tenants, and which could eventually dissuade owners from providing rental accommodation and reduce the available rental stock.
Instead of gleefully screwing around with undemocratic policies such as the Vacancy Housing Tax, they should be calling on the feds to ease restrictions on foreign real estate investors so they can buy up some of those condominiums sitting empty across the city and inject new capital into the economy.
I believe most of those in leadership in this country are good, decent people who want to serve their constituents well. But they need to get their priorities straight. The feds, for example, should never have gotten out of the housing business.
Depending on or expecting private developers to build affordable housing doesn’t make sense unless the government is prepared to drastically reduce development and other fees and to heavily subsidize the cost of labour and materials.
Developers build homes to make money. As much as they might like building nice homes it is mostly about making money just as the rest of us who go to work every day to jobs we might not love but to get a salary, to get paid, to make money.
Making money is not a bad thing. And when politicians, who are never shy about giving themselves significant raises, and advocates for affordable housing criticize developers and others who make a living off of the housing industry they are not being honest or realistic.
The only entities capable of providing real and substantial amounts of affordable housing are government agencies. The different levels of government also already own a lot of land which gives them a head start.
It is interesting that we can find money to send to other countries in need so that they can look after their citizens or protect their borders but we balk at spending money on our own citizens to help lower the cost of food and energy.
Can’t we do both?
We must do better.

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