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National pride

You know that Scotiabank ad telling us “You’re richer than you think”?

I react to that ad in the way some people cringe when nails scratch down a chalkboard.

I am under no such illusion. Most days, reality is closer to: “You’re more in debt than you care to admit”.

But, it turns out, the bank itself -- Scotiabank and three other Canadian big banks -- are richer than we all thought.

Thanks to fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis, Bloomberg News now ranks four of Canada’s banks among North America’s top 10 banks.

Just last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a chest thumping speech in Brampton, Ontario, where he urged Canadians to shed their modesty and trumpeted how great our nation is, partly because our banks are doing so well.

As news erupted about the latest ranking of our banks, CTV’s venerable news anchor Lloyd Robertson began gloating about national pride, which led me to wonder: Am I the only Canadian who doesn’t measure the worth of my nation by the wealth of its banks?

I expect banks to do well. They take our hard-earned money and make us pay all kinds of fees to get it back. Only fools and schemers can mess that gig up.

But the test of a nation pivots on a vastly different bottom line: How well do we treat the most vulnerable among us?

Income inequality –- that gap between the rich and the rest of us –- widened over the past generation. It widened in good economic times and it will continue to widen in bad economic times unless we do something different.

Our child poverty rate is no better than it was in 1989, when Parliament unanimously committed to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.

The majority of Canadian parents work. It’s the only way the middle class survived the last 15 years. But Canada still has no national affordable early learning and child care system to make sure our children get the best start in life as their parents do what it takes to put food on the table.

Housing eats up the biggest chunk of our pay, causing many Canadians to be 'house poor' and to take on bigger debt than they can afford, yet Canada still has no national affordable housing strategy.

When there are jobs, Canadians take them. But a person could work full-time, year-round in Canada and still live in poverty if they earn the minimum wage.

I could go on but I won’t, because I truly love my country.

The more I travel, the more I realize I am Canadian to the core. I couldn’t live anywhere else. But we can do better.

Canada was built on the backs and hopes of previous generations who expected better. Canadians who built public services the envy of many nations with far fewer resources than we have today.

They knew Canada was a rich country to live in –- and they weren’t talking about our banks.

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