Canada is a great place, with politicians who have a knack for bad decisions

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford attend an announcement at Seneca College in King City, Ont., on Feb. 9.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

It’s become fashionable to bash Canada. As we prepare to celebrate our country’s birthday, we should put the negativity into perspective.

Let’s begin by stating the obvious: Canada is a fortunate place.

We don’t face any obvious military threat, at least not in the way that Taiwan and many European nations do. We are modestly well-to-do, with a level of household disposable income slightly below France’s but above Britain’s. And we are relatively healthy, with a life expectancy that surpasses that of every other Group of Seven (G7) nation except Japan.

When it comes to public finances, we’re doing better than most people realize. Canada isn’t perfect, but it is carrying less net debt and running smaller government deficits than most other major advanced economies.

So why the angst? Why did a recent Angus Reid survey conclude “there has never been a time when leaders of all three parties simultaneously turn Canadians off to such an extent”? And why is the Conference Board of Canada’s business confidence index slipping once again?

Maybe it’s a pandemic hangover. Maybe it’s the crushing weight of high interest rates and rising costs of living. These are all global phenomena and help to explain why so many people in so many countries seem unusually angry. How vile is the mood? Judging from recent polls, five of the G7 leaders are likely to be replaced by the end of next year.

Perhaps, though, there is also a uniquely Canadian element to our national malaise. If so, it may stem from our unusual aptitude for creating our own problems. This ability to deliver self-inflicted wounds is present both provincially and federally and across the political spectrum.

Consider the latest stumble from Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who shocked the province a week ago by closing the iconic Ontario Science Centre without warning.

His government’s purported reason was that a consulting engineer’s report had concluded the roof could collapse under the weight of a heavy snowfall this winter and needed repairs that could cost as much as $40-million.

Except that the consultant’s report didn’t really say that. It said the urgent problems affected only a small portion of the centre’s roof panels and that the entire roof could be replaced in phases over 10 years. The immediate cost of short-term roof repairs could be under a million dollars.

For a provincial government that just splashed out $225-million to get beer into corner stores several months earlier than planned, the short-term repair cost seems like chump change. So why stir up this hornet’s nest? Perhaps because Mr. Ford seems hell-bent on moving the Science Centre from the suburbs to the Lake Ontario waterfront as part of his proposed redevelopment of the Ontario Place site.

This is not the way a government is supposed to work. Bogus readings of a consultant’s report and abrupt moves to shutter public facilities just before a summer weekend destroy faith that those in charge are fair dealers.

In Ottawa, Justin Trudeau seems just as out of touch. His government’s recent scandal over the spiralling cost of the ArriveCan app opened the lid on procurement practices of shocking incompetence. Yet rather than vowing to take better care of taxpayers’ money, the government just reached its hands deeper into its citizens’ pockets by raising taxes on capital gains – an odd move indeed for a crew that says it wants to encourage more investment by Canadian businesses.

To be fair, the folks in Ottawa seem just as muddled when it comes to housing policy. Mr. Trudeau recently declared that he wants to make homes more affordable for the young, but keep home prices high for everyone else. Good luck achieving that.

The government’s incoherence on housing reflects its commitment to a similarly befuddled immigration agenda.

Mr. Trudeau supersized immigration after he became Prime Minister in 2015. Exactly why was never clear: Canada’s existing system admitted generous numbers of people, primarily on economic grounds, and was considered a model internationally.

Yet Mr. Trudeau ramped up the annual immigrant intake from a net total of roughly 200,000 people in 2015 to 300,000 by 2019 and more than 400,000 currently. Even more important, he allowed a vast expansion in the scale of programs that admit non-permanent residents – primarily international students and temporary workers – taking that category to more than 800,000 people this year.

The entirely predictable result of this population surge has been housing shortages and soaring rents. Ottawa is now moving to slash the number of non-permanent residents, but that will take time.

Perhaps the key question to ask is why nobody in Ottawa saw problems coming. It doesn’t take advanced economic modelling to suspect that the collision between a drum-tight housing market and an unprecedented surge of new residents would not turn out well.

On this Canada Day, we should ponder why our political class – federally and provincially, left and right – has developed such a knack for making unforced errors. Canada remains great. Sadly, its politicians aren’t.

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