It’s a land of striking beauty and vast wilderness, but Canada has traditionally had a bit of an image problem. Seen by its southern neighbour as quaint but decidedly boring, Canada is perhaps best known around the world for its unusual police uniform, propensity to produce singers and a controversial tar sands industry.
So how come it suddenly got hip?
It helps to have a young leader
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at only 45 years old, is the most youthful of western leaders. He swept to power in 2015 in a surprise win over the incumbent Conservative party.
He gained instant world media attention, and not just for his age and good looks. When asked why he made his cabinet 50/50 male and female, he answered: “Because it’s 2015”.
He’s been openly welcoming to refugees at a time when populist movements are riding high on anti-immigration sentiment.
Trudeau is social media savvy, has worked as a teacher, television actor, snowboarding instructor and amateur boxer. He knows about quantum computing and has a large tattoo on his left arm. These are not typical Prime Ministerial features.
It has ten per cent of the world’s forests
Canada is known for its epic beauty, but did you know that it has almost a tenth of the world’s forest?
It also has has more lake area than any other country in the world, with 563 lakes larger than 100 square kilometres. The Great Lakes, straddling the Canada-US boundary, contain 18% of the world's fresh lake water. Canada also has some of the world’s cleanest air.
Canadians are well-educated
Canada has one of the highest proportions of university graduates, according to figures compiled by the OECD. 59.2% of its 25-34 year-olds have completed the highest level of education.
The best country in the world?
In a list of best countries in the world drawn up by US News in partnership with BAV and Wharton, Canada came second. The Best Countries list ranks 60 countries across 24 rankings and is drawn from a survey of more than 16,000 global citizens. Canada’s high standard of living was one of many factors considered.
Best country for social entrepreneurs
Canada comes second on a ranking of social entrepreneurship in the world’s 45 biggest economies. Compiled by The Thomson Reuters Foundation, along with Deutsche Bank, UnLtd and the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network, the ranking assesses the environment for social entrepreneurs. Canada scored highly on the ability of social entrepreneurs to make a living from their work, the ease of access to investment and the fact that social entrepreneurship in the country is gaining momentum.
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Canada is economically innovative
The Canadian province of Ontario is to start giving some 2,500 people a basic income – money with no strings attached. It's part of a universal income experiment, to test whether a basic income should be given to all Ontarians living in poverty. The hope is that recipients will use it as a springboard to a better life, rather than subsisting on the handout. The trial will last three years.
It celebrates diversity
Canada takes inclusion seriously. ‘Diversity is our strength’ has become a national motto, and the Prime Minister regularly takes to Twitter to reaffirm his commitment to it. The country even has its own LGBTQ2 adviser, Randy Boissonnault, who will lead federal efforts to address historical and current discrimination against LGBTQ2 people.
Canada's got its challenges, though
Despite the fact that Canada celebrates its diversity, the country continues to have challenges regarding its indigenous population. According to a recent report, 60% of First Nation children on reserves live in poverty.
Though representing only 4.3% of Canadian society, 24.6% of the current total prison inmate population is Aboriginal; Aboriginal women now comprise 35.5% of the women in-custody population, according to the Annual Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator 2014-2015. The federal incarceration rate for black people is three times their representation rate in general society.
The gender gap
Full-time employed women in Canada earn on average 19% less than men. They are also underrepresented on company boards.
Justin Trudeau has publicly stated that he will will raise his sons as feminists. Although the Canadian cabinet, under his watch, now has a 50/50 cabinet, it took hard work to make it so. Because women tend to be less confident at putting themselves forward than men, Trudeau ran a campaign called “ask her to run”, and admitted to having to "arm-twist" one female member of the cabinet into joining.
Still dependent on oil
The Keystone oil pipeline is a key strategy being pursued by Canada. The pipeline will carry oil from Alberta into the US along almost 2,000 kilometers, almost doubling the output of oil from the region. However, it signals a continued reliance on fossil fuels, the leading cause of climate change, and it was for this reason that the pipeline was blocked by the Obama administration.
Those in favour argue that it will create jobs, energy security and economic benefits, which is why President Trump has signed an Executive Order signalling his support of the pipeline.
Also dependent on coal, though that may change
Coal is a key part of energy production for some provinces. In 2014, 55% of Alberta's electricity came from coal, 44% of Saskatchewan's and 60% of Nova Scotia’s.
That said, the government has outlined plans to phase out traditional coal power by 2030.