Canada serves two predominant roles in modern American discourse. It is the place where Americans threaten to move when things aren't going well at home (this is, perhaps surprisingly, true of both liberals and conservatives in America). It is also the butt of endless jokes, generally involving Canada being America's hat or Toronto's crack-smoking mayor or Robin Sparkles.
Today is Canada Day, when our northern neighbors celebrate their country's birth in 1867. And its a good as time as any to thoroughly explore the question: How great, exactly, is Canada? Should we be pining to move there, or mock it viciously?
Before we get underway, an important disclosure: I am a dual citizen who was born in Canada and lives in the United States. I've had a pretty great time in both countries, but my allegiances lie with Canada when it comes to Olympic hockey and other equally important world events.
1. The world thinks Canada is awesome
Canada has a great reputation internationally — the best reputation, in fact, if you look at an international survey last year that asked 27,000 people across the globe what they thought about the safety, public policy, efficacy of government and other attributes of 50 different countries. Canada came out at the very top of those reputation rankings, edging out Sweden:
2. Canadians think living in Canada is awesome
The OECD's Better Living survey asks people in 36 countries to rank, on a scale of one to 10, their general satisfaction level with life. Canadians ranked their life satisfaction, on average, at 7.6, coming in third out of all countries. Residents of Norway and Sweden were the two countries that bested Canada, whereas Americans had an average life satisfaction ranking of 7. For what it's worth, both Canada and the United States do better than the OECD average life satisfaction rating of 6.6.
3. One possible explanation: Canada is pretty safe
Canadians report the lowest rate of assaults of any country in the same OECD Better Living survey.
An estimated 1.31 percent of Canadians report have been assaulted in the past year. Seventy-six percent of Canadians say they feel safe walking outside at night, which is higher than the OECD average of 69 percent. Canadians are significantly less likely to get murdered than Americans, too, although neither country's homicide rate is really something to brag about: both fall in the bottom half of the 36 OECD countries when ranked on murders per 100,000 people annually.
4. Canadian health care is better than ours too
A Canadian born now can expect to live to 81 years old. This puts Canada more than two years ahead of the United States and one year above the OECD average.
Comparing American and Canadian health care (or comparing any international health system, for that matter) is difficult — and the most recent research suggests Canadian health care might not be as much of an improvement over American care as single-payer supporters think.
The Commonwealth Fund's recent rankings of 11 large countries heath care systems ranked the United States dead last. But Canada didn't do too much better: it netted 10th place. Canada has struggled with longer wait-times than the United States, and the Commonwealth Fund also gave the country low marks for running an inefficient system.
Canada does, however, pay significantly less than the United States for its slightly-better health care system. Our northern neighbors spend about half the amount per person that America does on health care.
5. Canadian 15-year-olds are smarter than American 15-year-olds
Canadian students average top scores in the Programme of International Student Assessment, a regular survey that tests kids' reading, math and science abilities in 44 countries. Canadian high school sophomores came in fifth internationally in the most recent PISA ranking with a score of 522, above the OECD average of 497.
Canada and the United States are roughly equal when it comes to school completion; the same proportion of people have high school diplomas in the two countries.
6. Canadian air is less polluted
Head across the border and you'll find fewer pollutants in the air. The average large city in Canada like Toronto has a lower number of particles in the air than large American cities.
7. No, Canada can't do everything the best
They are, after all, just human. Canada turns out to have some of the worst voter turnout in the world, with a paltry 61 percent of registered voters who say they cast ballots in the most recent election. More people turn out to vote in Hungary, Slovenia, Mexico and pretty much any other 35 OECD countries.
This might help explain the otherwise baffling electoral success of crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
8. But of course, Canada is awesome at hockey
Sure, no Canadian teams have won a Stanley cup since 1993. Yes, that is frustrating. But us Canadians do have a way of rationalizing it: many of the actual players winning the tournament are originally from up north, and that means Canada's prowess at ice hockey shines during the Olympics, when Canadians actually play for their home country.