Maclean's annual How the World Sees Canada poll shows deep admiration for a country we don't seem to like so much ourselves. What gives?
They came from China and England, from India and Mexico — 94 people of every age and race, from 13 countries in all. They arrived this crisp autumn morning at an imposing new office complex in Surrey, B.C., filling neat rows of folding chairs in a second-floor courtroom, Citizenship Judge Shinder Purewal presiding. The judge is a cheerful man in a happy job. He told them about some of his own experiences: the murder of his father when he was an infant, and how he arrived in Canada from India as a 17-year-old because his mother wanted to raise her family in a land of peace and security. Purewal, also a political science professor, told them how difficult it is to move to a country where you don't speak the language or understand the culture. Give it time, he urged them, and Canada will exceed your expectations. He told them how he built a new life in Canada and earned a Ph.D., and how this country — ranked best in the world, he said — has much to offer them as well. "What makes this country great," he said, "is your presence."
They stood and raised their right hands — a little girl with bouncing pigtails and a pink coat, a dignified older man with a flowing white beard and a saffron turban, and all the rest — and they recited the oath of citizenship in halting French. "Now you are 50 per cent Canadian," joked the judge. Then they recited the pledge again in English. Now you are 100 per cent Canadian, he said. They applauded. Friends took photos. And just before 10 a.m. on Nov. 13, the country gained 94 new citizens, with 94 sets of hopes and dreams and plans.
It was a beautiful thing to see. A visitor to the ceremony couldn't help thinking this roomful of concentrated optimism and potential is a tonic that would benefit his fellow citizens, for a malaise seems to have settled upon the nation. Maclean's, for the second year in a row, has asked Angus Reid Strategies to ask the world what it thinks of Canada. The pollster also asked 1,000 Canadians for a self-assessment. The results contain more than a few surprises. The world likes Canada, a lot: not the reality of Canada, perhaps, but the ideal of Canada, the idea of Canada. Canadians, however, have a host of misgivings about their country: its lack of independence from America's influence, the compromised integrity of its government systems, its limited impact on world affairs. Simply put, the world is in love with a country that doubts its own worth. "To me, that's one of those observations that come off the psychiatrist's couch," says Reid of the dichotomy. "I suppose we could spend a lot of time thinking what that means."
Reid and his global partners surveyed a sample of eight countries — China, England, India, Israel, Italy, Turkey, Russia and the United States — quizzing them in late October about their knowledge of Canadian issues, asking their opinions about Canada at home and its impact on foreign affairs, and taking their assessment of Stephen Harper and other national leaders. Canadians were asked some of the same questions, generally, with less charitable results.
Fans of Canada fall into two camps when asked to name the "most appealing" aspect of the country. The nature lovers, who cite the "natural environment" as the highest single factor, include 40 per cent of Chinese respondents, 55 per cent of those from Britain and almost seven out of 10 (68 per cent) Italians. Those who list "quality of life" as the single largest factor include 47 per cent of Israelis who answered the survey, 48 per cent of Americans and 51 per cent of Turks. What quality of life entails was left to the imagination of each individual answering the survey. Notably, some of the factors that Canadians routinely list as points of pride — "social services" and a "multi-ethnic, diverse" society — were relatively minor considerations for those from other countries, though they may contribute to their favourable view of Canadian life. The highest approval for Canada's multi-ethnic nature came from the Turks and the Chinese, and only about one in 10 of them cited it.
Ask new citizens at the Surrey ceremony what drew them to Canada, and you get a complex mix of responses. Brig Grewal, a 40-year-old trucker, came from India's Punjab region in 1997, sponsored by his brother. The attraction was largely economic, he says, still struggling with his English. "Good working. Good living. Good future." Simon and Lee Andrews and their two children moved to Canada from the Torquay region of England 10 years ago, in part because of the crying need here for Simon's skills in computer software. "We weren't necessarily expecting a better quality of life. I think for us it was more of the adventure," he says. "Coming to the West Coast was almost like the new frontier."
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