A new poll finds that Canadians are envied—and happy

Anthony Wilson-Smith April 14 1997


A new poll finds that Canadians are envied—and happy

Anthony Wilson-Smith April 14 1997


A new poll finds that Canadians are envied—and happy



Caring, sharing, patient, mostly tolerant and a bit boring. Throughout Canada's 130-year history, Canadians have often been self-congratulatory about their perceived virtues-and worried about why the rest of the world does not seem to share their fascination with themselves. No matter what the era, whenever Canadians consider their character-or the rest of the world evaluates us-two themes

invariably emerge. Canadians agonize over why their niceness is not more appreciated, while foreigners puzzle over why a people so nice should be so agonized. As early as 1898, a Canadian book editor named J. Castell Hopkins declared that Canada “requires only to be known to be great.” But over the years, others have found Canadian virtues to sometimes be more painful than pleasurable. Welsh travel writer Jan Morris, for one, wrote in 1988 that the “energy of Canadian niceness, like the force of Canadian ennui, can be disconcerting.” And author Mordecai Richler, with his usual acid touch, once wrote that Canadians “are the English-speaking world’s biggest squares.” What a relief, then, to find—in the Canadian tradition of wanting to please everyone —new evidence to suggest that for the most part, Canadians’ vision of themselves is not that far removed from the way the rest of the world sees us. Canadians, it seems, really are among the world’s Boy Scouts—with a country that is envied and enjoys a fair and honest legal system, well-developed civil rights, a strong set of social values, and a sense of responsibility towards other, less privileged nations. As a result, many people all over the world would be both surprised and dismayed if such an admirable nation were to be divided by the secession of Quebec. Canadians, as a people, are universally seen as friendly, polite, well educated and even, sometimes, interesting. And in spite of domestic grumbling, they are, overall, happy, ranking second only to Australians in expressing satisfaction with their lives.

Those are among the key findings of a poll conducted among 5,700 adults in 20 countries by the Angus Reid Group and made available to Maclean’s in advance of the April 7 release in Ottawa. The poll aimed to measure attitudes of respondents around the

Sampling for the Angus Reid “Canada and the World” poll was conducted during February and March. The most extensive polling was done in Canada and the United States, where more than 2,000 people were questioned, resulting in a margin of error within 3.1 percentage points. In the other countries, an average of200 people were polled, resulting in a margin of error within seven percentage points.

HAPPINESS INDEX The combined percentage of those who strongly or moderately agree with the statement "I'm very happy with my life as it is right now." CANADA 87 France 81 LSouth Korea 70 Japan outh Africa 46 22


How would you personally react if you read in a newspaper or saw on television that Canada had split up into two countries with Quebec becoming independent? Would you be happy, or sad, or would you have no opinion?





United Kingdom

United States










South Korea


South Africa



China/Hong Kong

world, including Canadians, to various issues in their respective countries, and opinions about Canada. The countries chosen represented regions around the world, ranging from Egypt and Israel in the Middle East to Russia, South Africa, most major Western European countries, and several countries in Latin America, as well as the United States and Canada.

Overall, respondents in most of the countries, including Canada, appear gloomy about such topics as the future, the growing problem of homelessness, declining opportunities for the young and the increasing inability of governments to effect positive changes. But in some of the answers, otherwise stolid and unprepossessing Canadians appear as beacons of optimism. The most dramatic example: 87 per cent of Cana-

dians said they agreed with the assertion: “I’m very happy with my life as it is right now.”

In a limited survey of respondents in 14 nations, Canadians also exhibited a sense of trust in their national institutions. They appeared far more prepared to believe in the integrity of their police and justice system than almost all others: only 35 per cent of Cana-

dians agreed with the suggestion that “police corruption is a seri-

ous problem,” compared with 60 per cent of Americans, 76 per cent of Australians and, at the high end of the scale, 88 per cent of Russians and Ukrainians. Similarly, despite growing public debate over the quality of Canada’s health care system, 91 per cent of Canadian respondents describe it as “one of the best.”

In fact, Canadians, despite a penchant for anguished self-examination, appear far more proud and confident of their attributes than do respondents in almost all of the other countries about themselves. ‘We see here how really unique Canada is, and how valued it is around the world in so many ways,” says pollster and company chairman Angus Reid. “The fact is, we are a lot more comfortable than we tend to give ourselves credit for.”

At the same time, the pride that Canadians feel towards Canada appears largely in keeping with the views of others around the world. When asked to identify the top 10 nations in the world for quality of life, Canada was named by at least three quarters of respondents in all of the other countries. Similarly, when asked to name what country they admire most, Canada ranked within the top 10. That sentiment was most strongly expressed in Japan, Germany, the United States, Ukraine and Australia. Canadians were more modest than all of those countries on this issue, with 87 per cent citing their own homeland.

But modesty was not always the prevailing sentiment. On several important issues, Canadian respondents held a higher opinion of their own worth than almost anyone else. Despite a series of foreign aid cuts in recent years, 94 per cent of Canadian respondents felt their country is “very generous” when it comes to aiding poorer countries. But in 11 of the remaining 19 countries, more than one in five respondents disagreed with that assessment. Similarly, Canadians were more impressed with their country’s role in world peacekeeping efforts than respondents in most other countries. Eighty-three per cent of Canadians said Canada plays a “somewhat” or “very” substantial role in peacekeeping—but that opinion was considerably lower among traditional allies: 57 per cent in the United States and France, 54 per cent in the United Kingdom and 52 per cent in Australia.

Perhaps more to the point, 58 per cent of respondents in Egypt and 52 per cent in Israel said they disagreed with that assessment—in spite of the fact that Canadians have served in United Nations peacekeeping missions in the Middle East for close to three decades. One reason, said Reid, is the sense of polarization that exists in such countries. “Each side

feels itself to be in the right and that makes them sometimes resentful of any intermediaries,” he notes. “The result is that you sometimes make more enemies than friends.”

When it comes to Canada’s chances of remaining united, outsiders often appear more patient and optimistic than do Canadians themselves. The issue, for example, of whether French-speaking

culture constitutes a distinct society in North America is far less

Most celebrities remain all but unknown abroad

controversial abroad than at home. Within Canada, 68 per cent agreed with that assertion, while 30 per cent did not. By contrast, a greater percentage of respondents agreed with that statement in eight other countries, including 89 per cent in the United States and 85 per cent in both France and the United Kingdom. The possibil-

ity that Quebec may eventually become sovereign was usually greeted in other countries with either indifference or some dismay. The only country where more people said they would be happy rather than sad if Quebec left Canada was France, by a margin of 28 per cent to 23.

Ironically, says Reid, the awareness of Canada’s unity problems seems to have only enhanced the country’s reputation for fairness and tolerance. On the issue of personal freedom, for example, a majority of respondents in all but one of the other countries—Russia—felt that Canadians were better off than themselves. That was true even in the United States, where

82 per cent of respondents thought Canadians enjoyed more freedom than Americans. One reason for that sentiment, says Reid, “appears to be the fact that Canadians seem able to debate the future of their country in calm and rational terms without bloodshed. That isn’t the case everywhere.” On the other hand, there are some other areas where Canada fares far less well than Canadians might like. One of the few stains internationally comes from the perceived mistreatment of aborigi-


Have you ever heard of:

(% who said yes)

Céline Dion

Anne Murray

Bryan Adams

Pamela Anderson Lee

Wayne Gretzky

Jacques Villeneuve

Donovan Bailey

Michel Tremblay

Margaret Atwood

Conrad Black

93 90 88 74 98 79 78 72 United States 64 76 67 70 80 19 25 20 40 16 Mexico 12 34 58 59 10 19 12 19 15 Brazil 10 24 58 58 76 16 19 22 12 Chile 13 36 66 73 21 23 19 17 15 United Kingdom 72 49 76 94 20 55 35 37 37 France 94 21 72 95 85 40 30 18 15 Belgium 83 18 70 92 71 27 16 17 10 Germany 37 24 81 89 24 69 39 10 45 14 Italy 35 16 57 66 73 20 13 17 15 Ukraine 16 21 55 47 38 21 15 19 16 Russia 20 33 42 36 13 Israel 12 17 53 66 10 26 32 14 Egypt 26 28 South Africa 66 26 72 48 12 17 26 11 Japan 33 23 50 16 26 21 12 13 South Korea 18 31 45 20 27 17 China/Hong Kong 27 18 India 24 14 49 37 12 22 10 Australia 84 64 80 88 27 58 34 15 34 77

nal people. Among those who think Canada treats native people badly were 49 per cent of respondents in Japan, 42 per cent in France (and Canada), 40 per cent in Germany and 39 per cent in Egypt. Similarly, despite the efforts of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and business leaders to promote Canada as a home of high-tech and sophisticated products, Canadians retain their traditional image as hewers of wood and drawers of water.

The notion that “Canada is a world leader in technological advancements” elicited strong agreement in only a handful of countries, including France (66 per cent), Mexico (62 per cent) and Canada itself (75 per cent).

By contrast, more respondents disagreed with that assertion in India (40 per cent), Japan (46 per cent), Hong Kong and China (55 per cent), and the United Kingdom (37 per cent).

With a federal election likely to be held either this spring or fall, there are some clear messages for politicians of all stripes. One is that Canadians still show signs of ambivalence on the top-

ic of free trade. Forty-nine per cent say “expanded trade” is the best route to prosperi-

ty—but fully 45 per cent say they still favor protectionism. (In the United States, 53 per cent cite protectionism, while only 41 per cent favor expanded trade.) And woe betide any politician wishing to suggest that Canadians are not overtaxed: 93 per cent of respondents said that Canada’s present tax rates are “very high.”

While the evidence suggests that many people think Canada


Compared with people in other countries, would you say Canadians are:

CANADA 92 61 United States 91 50 Mexico 82 51 Brazil 90 38 Chile 89 39 United Kingdom 90 37 France 97 53 Belgium 84 76 Germany 95 76 Italy 83 30 Ukraine 85 87 Russia 71 62 Israel 84 46 Egypt 65 56 South Africa 76 37 Japan 79 75 South Korea 77 72 China/Hong Kong 80 27 India 69 47 Australia 88 40

would be a nice place to live, most of Canada’s biggest celebrities remain all but unknown abroad. The most famous Canadian is actress Pamela Anderson Lee of the worldwide syndicated series Baywatch, whose name was recognized by about 90 per cent or more of respondents in such countries as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Germany and Australia. Then comes singer Céline Dion, familiar to 94 per cent of respondents in France, 83 per cent in Belgium and 66 per cent in South Africa. But hockey star Wayne Gretzky, Olympic gold medallist Donovan Bailey, or writer Margaret Atwood could visit most countries in the survey without any danger of recognition.

Finally, Canadians do not score well in another key area. More than 90 per cent of Americans think Canadians are “honest, friendly, and polite”—but only 50 per cent consider us sexy. That is high compared with the responses recorded in such countries as Italy, Chile and Brazil—all nations with somewhat saucy traditions. In each of those, less than 40 per cent of respondents, when asked whether they con-

sider Canadians sexy, responded with a Yes. Nice, Canadians may be—but in at least some parts of the world, the description “icy” refers to something more than just the climate. □

HI Post your views on our poll results in the This Week section of the Maclean’s Forum (www.canoe.ca/macleans)


What products do you mostly associate with Canadian industries?


Pulp and paper Aerospace


United States 22 1

Mexico 26 1

Brazil 12 1

Chile 32 1

United Kingdom 34 1

France 36 4

Belgium 36 1

Germany 46 0

Italy 32 1

Ukraine 24 1

Russia 24 0

Israel 14 0

Egypt 20 12

South Africa 14 1

Japan 35 0

South Korea 39 2

China/Hong Kong 17 5

India 32 2

Australia 20 1