Social Progress Index gives Canada top marks for social inclusion, tolerance

OTTAWA – Canada continues to rank near the top of the world in a measure of social advancement that hopes to displace simple economic wealth — or gross domestic product — as the yardstick for national success.

The Social Progress Index, which is headed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, delivered its third annual report Wednesday evening, ranking 133 countries on a basket of 52 different indicators.

Canada came in sixth overall as the most socially advanced country in the world — but was ranked first globally for offering its citizens what the study broadly terms “opportunity,” a group of indicators that include rights, freedoms, tolerance, and access to higher education.

The report comes as Canada wrestles with questions of cultural accommodation, sparked by the Conservative government’s efforts to bar niqab-wearing women from citizenship ceremonies and a general fear of Islamist-inspired terrorism following two deadly attacks last year on Canadian soil.

“Canada’s ranking as the world’s sixth most socially progressive nation is testament to a strong performance across the board, with stand-out results for inclusion, thanks particularly to a high tolerance for religious minorities and immigrants,” Michael Green, the executive director of the non-profit Social Progress Imperative, said in a release.

High Canadian adult literacy rates and a very low homicide rate were also points of note.

Norway, the small Nordic country whose vast sovereign wealth fund built on oil and gas revenues has been frequently contrasted in recent months to Alberta, was ranked as the world’s most socially advanced nation, followed by Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland and New Zealand to round out the top five.

The United States was ranked 16th in the world, having “underperformed” in relation to its relative economic strength, according to the Social Progress Index authors.

Two areas in which Canada does not excel are “ecosystem sustainability” — rated 48th among 133 countries — and “access to information and communication” — where Canada placed 25th.

The Social Progress Index joins other more established indices designed to measure national advancement using metrics beyond wealth.

Canada was rated at the top of the United Nations’ human development index for much of the 1990s and has ranked in or near the top 10 since the index was created in 1990. Canada was ranked eighth in 2014.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has a “Better Life Index” and various global polling firms publish happiness rankings that assess a wide basket of national indicators.

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