This website—How Canada Performs: A Report Card on Canada—assesses Canada’s quality of life compared with that of its peer countries.

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Canada Gets a “D” on the Innovation Report Card

D grade iconDespite a decade or so of innovation agendas and prosperity reports, Canada remains near the bottom of its peer group on innovation, ranking 13th among the 16 peer countries. Canada performs poorly on most of the 21 indicators, scoring 13 “D”s, 2 “C”s, 6 “B”s, and no “A”s. The “D” grades underline Canada’s relative weakness in all three categories of the innovation process—creation, diffusion, and transformation.

Canada is well supplied with good universities, engineering schools, teaching hospitals, and technical institutes. It produces science that is well respected around the world. But, with some exceptions, Canada does not take the steps that other countries take to ensure research can be successfully commercialized and used as a source of advantage for innovative companies seeking global market share. Canadian companies are thus rarely at the leading edge of new technology and too often find themselves a generation or more behind the productivity growth achieved by global industry leaders.

Canada’s low ranking matters. Innovation is essential to a high-performing economy. Countries that are more innovative are passing Canada on measures such as income per capita, productivity, and the quality of social programs. It is also critical to environmental protection, a high-performing education system, a well-functioning system of health promotion and health care, and an inclusive society. Without innovation, all these systems stagnate and Canada’s performance deteriorates relative to that of its peers.

Canada Gets an “A” on its Education and Skills Report Card

A grade iconCanada ranks second only to Finland among 16 developed countries in the Education and Skills report card. As part of its overall “A” grade, Canada earns “A”s on seven of 20 indicators.

Canada’s strength is in delivering a high-quality education to people between the ages of 5 and 19, with comparatively modest spending. While Canadians are at school, they become well educated (for the most part) in core subjects like mathematics, reading, and science. Canada now has the second-highest rate of high school completion and the highest rate of college completion among its peers. Canada must build on this strong foundation to make the country more innovative, competitive, and dynamic.

But there are areas of weakness as well. Canada needs to improve workplace skills training and lifelong education. Canada’s adult literacy skills are mediocre, with a large proportion of adults lacking the literacy skills necessary to function in the workplace. Canada gets a “C” and ranks 10th out of 15 peer countries on the indicator measuring adult participation in job-related, non-formal education.

Canada also underperforms in the highest levels of skills attainment. Canada produces relatively few graduates with PhDs and graduates in science, math, computer science, and engineering. More graduates with advanced qualifications in these fields would enhance innovation and productivity growth—and ultimately ensure a high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians.

Canada Moves Up to Sixth Place on Economic Performance

B grade iconCanada’s economic performance ranked sixth among 16 peers and gets a “B” grade. While Canada retains its “B” grade and improved its ranking, going from 11th in the last pre-recession report card published for 2008 to 6th place in 2012, the improved showing is more a reflection of weakness among some of its peers than of a stellar Canadian economy.

Unfortunately, Canada fares poorly when compared with the top-performing economies. With the exception of inflation and employment growth, Canada ranks far below the best countries on all other economic indicators. Canada has been a chronic laggard on several of the more important indicators—notably, labour productivity growth and competition for global investment. And even in those areas where Canada has improved, other countries are still doing better.

Along with most of its peers, Canada gets an “A” grade on inflation.

Canada gets “B” grades for:

Canada’s overall ranking is pulled down by “C” grades on income per capita and outward foreign direct investment (FDI), and a “D” on inward FDI.

Canada’s ranking on income per capita dropped from sixth position among comparator countries in 2000 to eighth in 2008, and remained there through 2012. Canada’s income per capita was US$36,138 in 2012— nearly $12,000 below Norway, the top performer.

Furthermore, income per capita in Canada is 84 per cent of income per capita in the United States. The income gap tripled between 1980 and 2012. The importance of productivity shows up in this measure—lower labour productivity in Canada accounts for the largest component of the income gap.

Canada Gets a “B” on its Society Report Card

B grade iconCanada places 7th and gets a “B” grade in the Society report card. Despite the solid performance, high rates of poverty and a large gap in income between the rich and everyone else put stress on a society and on the economy. Rising poverty rates and greater income inequality can mean a weakening in labour force attachment and social cohesion.

Although Canada has a high level of income inequality compared to its peers, it surpasses most other countries in intergenerational income mobility. Canada earns an “A” grade and ranks 5th of 13 peer countries on this indicator. Intergenerational income mobility can be seen as a measure of equality of opportunity, as it measures how likely individuals are to remain in the same income class as their parents.

Aside from these indicators, Canada gets solid grades in other Society indicators. For example, Canada ranks first in citizens’ acceptance of diversity. Canada also gets top marks on measures of life satisfaction, elderly poverty rate, income gap between disabled and able-bodied workers, and suicide rate.

Canada’s performance is the Society category is better than many of its peers, but it ranks below the Nordic countries, the Netherlands, and Austria – all of whom get ‘A’ grades. The U.S. is by far the worst performer overall; moreover, the U.S. ranks last in six of the 17 indicators.

Canada Gets a “C” on its Environment Report Card

C grade iconCanada throws away more garbage per capita than any other country in the developed world. That, combined with heavy usage of energy and water, gives Canada a “C” grade and a ranking of 15th out of 17 countries in The Conference Board of Canada’s How Canada Performs—Environment ranking.

A 15th place ranking, the same as in 2009, place Canada ahead of only Australia and the United States. These three countries are similar: they are three largest countries in terms of land area, and they are the most resource-intensive economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Canada does show some excellent environmental results. Forests are generally well-protected and well-managed. Air quality has improved modestly, energy use per person is down and water quality is still high.

But several of Canada’s dismal results are due to overconsumption. In addition to generating the most waste, Canadians’ water withdrawals are nearly double the average of the other countries and are lower only than the United States. And despite some improvement, Canadians are still the largest users of energy in the developed world.

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Did You Know...

The top five “A” grade spots in the Economy report card for the first three years of this decade are taken up by smaller, non-G7 countries.

Canada has the second-highest prevalence of diabetes among its peer countries. The prevalence of diabetes continues to increase, for both men and women.

Countries with the highest overall scores not only spend more on science and technology but also have policies that drive innovation supply and demand.

Education and Skills
Sweden has a Ph.D. graduation rate three and half times that of Canada.

There is still a 19 per cent gap between the average incomes of men and women in Canada.

Canada generates more waste per capita than any other country in the Conference Board ranking. Canada is also one of the world’s largest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases.

+ Download the 2013 executive summary