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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)


Give thanks to political women, smart kids and the Rock Add to ...

This being Christmas weekend, let’s give thanks for some encouraging developments in Canada in 2011.

First off, women in politics. Three women became premiers – Kathy Dunderdale in Newfoundland and Labrador, Alison Redford in Alberta and Christy Clark in British Columbia.

Ms. Dunderdale won an election; the other two have yet to face the voters, so their long-term fate as premiers remains unclear. But it’s a refreshing change to have three women running provinces. To those who think women tilt leftward politically whereas men tilt right, recall that the new female premiers are conservatives, although Ms. Clark leads something called the Liberal Party.

More women are prominent in federal politics, too. Again, many of them are Conservatives. None have broken into the tight ministerial circle around Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but women are in the second tier, as it were. Further, the Conservatives elected some very impressive new female MPs.

So did the NDP, which chose Nicole Turmel as interim leader after Jack Layton’s death. Two NDP women are making a good showing in the leadership race, Peggy Nash and Niki Ashton.

Anyone who witnessed Margaret Thatcher up close, or followed from afar the careers of Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir, or who watched Hillary Clinton’s nomination campaign, must know that women in politics can be as rough and tough as men, even tougher. But women often have a nose for issues that men miss, or they see the same things through a different prism, and that difference is useful and important. Political life is better with more women running or helping to run the show.

Then there was the excellent showing of Canadian students in the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) on proficiency in reading, math and science. A few critics bemoaned that Canada was beaten by South Korea and Japan (and students from one Chinese city, Shanghai). But Canadian students were beaten by only one Western country, Finland.

Canadian students outdistanced those from Britain, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, France, Israel and, of course, the United States. Of course, because U.S. education in elite private schools is arguably the best in the world (or certainly very close to the best). But the nation’s school system, taken as a whole, leaves much to be desired, as the PISA and other test results have shown. Canada’s best educational results were in Ontario and Alberta.

A very genuine outpouring of emotion followed Mr. Layton’s death. The NDP hierarchy, of course, tried to make him into a secular saint and to elevate him to heroic status. Leaving such evident efforts aside, a lot of Canadians who wouldn’t consider themselves New Democrats were saddened by his death at the relatively young age of 61 and at the moment of his greatest triumph. His last testament, especially its last lines, was for everyone: “Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.”

About a quarter of a million immigrants landed in Canada. Undoubtedly many struggled to get a footing in their new country. Nonetheless, Canada remains the only Western country where large-scale immigration remains perceived by the general population as a public good.

In most other Western countries, from the U.S. to Sweden, from Spain to Germany, immigration is contentious, divisive and, in some places (the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, France and Finland, among others), has given rise to anti-ethnic political movements and parties. In Canada, by contrast, no political party opposes immigration; in fact, they fight to be perceived as the most pro-immigration party.

Raise a glass to Newfoundland and Labrador, whose people have spread across Canada searching for better jobs. Back home, however, economic prospects have risen such that the province has left equalization behind, the Avalon Peninsula is booming (try getting a carpenter or painter there), resources are opening in Labrador, shrimp and crab catches are holding up and – wait for it – there might be oil between Labrador and Greenland. Very soon, Ontarians might be migrating to the Rock.

Merry Christmas.

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