Sustainable Policies


Economic Policies

Having been hard hit by the pandemic, Canada falls into the upper-middle ranks (rank 13) with regard to its economic policies. Its score in this area has declined by 0.3 points relative to its 2014 level.

The country entered the pandemic with a stable economy, low unemployment rates and inflation under control. It subsequently fell into the deepest recession since the 1930s, with GDP contracting by 17%. Three million people lost their jobs. Wage subsidies and other responses mitigated the damage, but the unemployment rate ultimately reached above 12%

By late 2021, a recovery was building, with GDP growth surpassing 5%, and unemployment back to pre-pandemic levels. Nonetheless, unemployment rates remain very high among Indigenous Canadians. Federal debt rose from about 31% of GDP in 2019 to 47.5% in 2021. Fiscal sustainability is a serious problem at the provincial government level.

Despite income-tax progressivity, inequality has risen in recent decades. A new digital services tax will impose levies on corporations whose digital services rely on Canadian users. A long-term slide in R&D expenditures has raised concern despite the sector’s comparatively good performance.

Social Policies

Featuring high-quality education at all levels and a generally well-performing, universally available healthcare system, Canada’s social policies fall into the top ranks in international comparison (rank 5). Its score in this area has gained 0.3 points relative to 2014.

The COVID-19 pandemic refocused the country’s health system. Problems with already-long wait times for health procedures became more acute. However, mask mandates were routine, and after a slow start, vaccination campaigns were strong.

Poverty reduction programs in recent years have been successful, but poverty rates remain worrisome within the Indigenous population. Education quality is high, with impressive equity in access. The gap in educational attainment between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations remains problematic Crime rates are low, but violence against Indigenous women has been a serious concern.

A new program is moving toward affordable universal childcare, a critical step given that the net average cost of childcare is very high. Integration policies for immigrants are quite successful. The pension system is relatively effective at reducing poverty among the elderly.

Environmental Policies

With a mixed environmental record, the country falls into the lower-middle ranks worldwide (rank 26) on this issue. Its score in this area has improved by 1.7 points relative to 2014.

Widespread fires and flooding have brought climate change to the forefront of the political agenda. The government has established a legally binding target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Considerable funding is being provided for clean tech. However, a recent report found that emissions have continued to increase, and have grown by 20% since 1990.

A policy imposing carbon taxes in provinces lacking such a mechanism has been criticized for setting the tax level too low to achieve the country’s commitments. The government has also worked to approve and even nationalize highly controversial pipeline projects.

Several measures seeking to preserve marine resources are in place. Additional significant efforts have been made to mitigate biodiversity loss. The government has strongly expanded its contribution to international climate finance.

Robust Democracy


Quality of Democracy

Canada’s democracy is robust, with a fair, open and transparent electoral process, and thus scores well in international comparison (rank 10). Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points since 2014.

Civil rights and political liberties are well protected. While anti-discrimination laws are broad and proactive, the Indigenous community in particular reports persistent problems. COVID-19 measures such as vaccine passports and mask mandates raised rights issues, but were broadly supported despite some vehement opposition.

Private media ownership is strongly concentrated. The law mandating access to government information has been updated, but does not apply to ministerial offices. Voting by mail was extended to all Canadians during the pandemic.

While corruption is minimal by international standards, several recent high-profile cases have emerged, including an influence scandal involving Prime Minister Trudeau. Parties receive individual donations and government funding. Concerns have been raised by past news of top politicians’ “cash-for-access” meetings with donors, and new laws have now increased transparency for fundraisers.

Good Governance


Executive Capacity

Canada’s highly skilled, comparatively powerful government office brings the country into the top ranks worldwide in terms of executive capacity (rank 6). Its score in this area has improved by 0.4 points relative to 2014.

Planning capacity is robust. Draft bills are vetted by central policy and finance-oriented agencies with highly skilled analysts possessing sectoral expertise. Expert advice took on new prominence during the pandemic, as did informal consultation between the federal and provincial governments. A recently passed impact assessment act has considerably expanded the scope of such reviews.

Consultation with external stakeholders is generally robust and wide-ranging, though work with Indigenous communities remains uneven. Communication practices have generally been strong. The government pivoted quickly to public health policy during the pandemic, with great success, although carbon-reduction commitments remain unfulfilled.

The quality of regulatory enforcement is generally high. Provinces have broad policy discretion. Federal transfers help fund provincial services, but rising costs have put significant pressure on healthcare programs. The country has taken a leading role in resettling Afghans following the Taliban’s takeover.

Executive Accountability

With significant legislative and civil society resources, Canada scores well (rank 7) with regard to executive accountability. Its score in this area has improved by 0.8 points relative to 2014.

Surveys show citizens’ policy knowledge to be average in international comparison, with young people displaying a particular political literacy gap. Public broadcasters’ policy coverage is extensive, with news representing a high proportion of content, while private sector broadcasters are more superficial.

Parliamentary oversight powers are generally strong. A federal privacy commissioner can audit suspected government breaches of the Privacy Act, and is also responsible for data privacy complaints. A large number of ombuds offices and commissioners address various specific subject areas.

Political parties vary strongly with regard to internal decision-making procedures. Proposals by economic associations tend to be sophisticated, taking broad societal concerns into account. Other interest groups also offer well-researched proposals or principles on which reforms can be based.
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