“Honorary member of the Third World”

Imprimatur stamped on an embarrassed Canada.

In the winter of 1994, the world took note of Canada’s ballooning debt load and sagging loonie. Under the banner “Bankrupt Canada?” the Wall Street Journal offered a grim appraisal: Canada was “flirting with the financial abyss”, set to become “an honorary member of the Third World in the unmanageability of its debt problem.”

Chastened by the criticism, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and his party’s “Leader-in-Waiting” Paul Martin set aside ideological differences and took their scalpels to the federal budget. Eviscerating the country’s $42 billion deficit in just four years, Canada’s fiscal situation was soon said to be amongst the strongest in the world. The media is a fickle beast.

Yet, while “Some Hon. Members” would rather Canada not be labelled an honorary member of the developing world, are there metrics by which this is still the case? As Mary Simon, who would later become Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General, wrote in her landmark 2017 report, populations in the Arctic “continue to exhibit among the worst national social indicators for basic wellness.” And conditions on some First Nations reserves have been so abysmal that Washington Post could run a 2018 story titled “‘Third World Conditions’: Many of Canada’s indigenous people can’t drink the water at home.”

(Parli notes in passing that American media do seem prone to critical stories about their neighbours to the north whenever national attention needs redirecting.)

Image source: University of Windsor

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