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Jeffrey Simpson

Are Canadians happy? We say we are Add to ...

On this Canada Day weekend, perhaps we can lay off the self-criticism for just a little bit.

Yes, Canada's innovation is weak, productivity is poor, carbon emissions are growing, governments are in deficit, debt levels are too high, poverty is too entrenched for too many, health care is costly, blah, blah, blah. Fact is, we're lucky (or most of us are) to live in Canada.

So says an intriguing study by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The Paris-based number-crunching organization decided to broaden its usual investigations into something called the Better Life Index. It considered economic data - per capita income, for example - but also examined information about 11 other factors, including health care, housing, education and the environment.

It turns out that Canada and Australia are atop the list of 34 OECD countries. Anyone who wants to break up our country after reading this survey would have to be mad. Sure, Canada has challenges. Obesity rates are high, for example, while civic participation as measured by voter turnout is low.

The environmental issue the OECD chose - air pollution - shows Canada is doing comparatively well. Had the OECD chosen carbon emissions that cause global warming, we would have slid nearly to the bottom of the chart. The health-care index used two yardsticks, including the perennial of life expectancy. Had the OECD looked at other yardsticks, such as infant mortality or total spending versus overall output, we would have fallen.

But, as with the Australians, over all, life is good for Canadians. Our education levels are especially high compared with other OECD countries (as shown in the OECD's program for international student assessment results). Crime rates are low. Canadians' fear of crime is also low - a finding that confirms other surveys - despite the Harper government's fixation on "tough on crime" policies and the media's excessive reporting of crime stories.

Canadians sometimes gripe about working too hard and finding the right work/leisure balance. Apparently, however, many have found that balance, since Canadians work fewer hours each year than the OECD average and earn more money. They spend 62 per cent of their day - 15 hours - eating, sleeping and engaging in leisure activities.

Seventy-one per cent of mothers are employed after their children reach school, which suggests to the OECD that "mothers in Canada are able to successfully balance family and career." But, notes the OECD, "affordability and quality in child care remains an issue across Canada," especially for single parents, "whose child-care costs are among the highest in the OECD."

Are we satisfied with our lives? Apparently, 78 per cent of us are. Better still, 85 per cent believe their life will be more satisfying five years from now. Says the OECD: "This makes Canada one of the highest-ranked countries in terms of life satisfaction."

Eighty per cent of Canadians report having more positive experiences in an average day than negative ones. Says the OECD: "This makes Canada one of the happiest countries in the OECD." And we don't even have Australia's great weather to make us happy.

Ninety-five per cent of Canadians "believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need." That speaks, among other things, to trust, a fundamental prerequisite in a properly organized, successful society: trust that people will tell the truth, do the right thing, and can be relied on to help.

This OECD survey is far from perfect. Somehow, it ranked Canada highly for transparency in government, freedom of information, and "trust in political institutions." That undeserved compliment should be returned to the OECD in an envelope marked "wrong address."

Still, survey weaknesses aside, Canadians are a fortunate lot. Australia used to be called, and still is, the "lucky country." The same applies to Canada.

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