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United States Ambassador to Canada David Jacobson pauses during an interview June 17, 2013 at his official residence in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

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As David Jacobson packs his bags, he leaves a Canada that is prouder and more confident than it was when he arrived four years ago.

Or so the departing Ambassador of the United States to Canada believes. It's a heartening sentiment, at a time when political scandals plague every level of government. And who knows? It might even be true.

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Mr. Jacobson arrived when Canadians were in the first flood of enthusiasm for President Barack Obama. That relationship has matured over time, even though some issues--especially the proposed Keystone XL pipeline--remain unresolved.

But what struck Mr. Jacobson was how this country has changed during his tenure as ambassador. Part of that change, he thinks, was an unintended legacy of Canada's role in Afghanistan.

"One of the things I've seen in the four years that I've been here is a pride, an enhanced pride, that Canadians feel in themselves," he said in an interview with Campbell Clark and me, "and I think a piece of that is the role Canada played in Afghanistan."

He's right. While the legacy of the Afghanistan mission is mixed at best, Canadians took growing pride in the efforts of the Canadian Forces to protect the civilian population. Citizens stood along roads and highways to honour the fallen, not in answer to a government summons, but of their own accord.

But it's not just the legacy of Afghanistan. During the recession, Mr. Jacobson noted that Canadians saw for themselves "the strength of the economy compared to the United States."

He's right. Liberal governments slew the deficit and established the regimes that protected Canadian banks from the contagion of the sub-prime mortgage mess. The Harper government fought the recession with one of the most targeted and effective stimulus programs of any developed nation. Now the books are once again on their way to being balanced.

Mr. Jacobson also believes "the success of the Vancouver Olympics has stuck with Canada."

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He's right. The Own the Podium campaign brought a record harvest of gold medals in Vancouver and a new belief that Canada could punch above its weight in international sport.

In sum, "I think that Canadians feel very good about their place in the word," Mr. Jacobson concluded. "It's been interesting to watch."

But more recently he has watched events that give none of us pride. Let's try to do this in one breath: unproven allegations that the mayor of Toronto may have smoked crack cocaine; the hundreds of millions of dollars the Ontario Liberal government spent to cancel power-plant contracts for what appear to be purely political reasons; the personal cheque that Stephen Harper's former chief of staff paid to a former Conservative senator to make a problem with expenses go away; yet another Montreal-area mayor confronting corruption charges.

Nope. You can't do it in one breath.

Mr. Jacobson had no comment when asked whether Canada was starting to resemble his home state of Illinois, where an alarming number of former governors have ended up in jail.

"Over the last four years there is one thing that I have slavishly adhered to, and that is, it's not up to me to get involved in your politics," was the most he would say.

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It will be interesting to see whether Mr. Jacobson's successor, whoever he or she may be, watches Canada continue to mature as a secure and confident neighbour to the United States, or whether our poisonous politics finally drag us down.

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