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Canada, more so than many countries, feels the effects of events and trends elsewhere. As a small nation, we are at the mercy of a global economy that can be kind or harsh, or—as it has been recently—both at the same time.

The Conference Board’s annual benchmarking exercise, which we started 12 years ago, presents Canadians with a portrait of themselves in an international context. It’s easy to applaud our achievements and lament our failings by looking only at our own record. But this tendency can become a trap that prevents us from learning from others—and a trap that can lead to delusion.

The rules of the game have changed. In the new global economy—where companies distribute production around the globe in search of higher efficiency and lower costs for each component of the final product, and compete vigorously for international investment and trade—Canada needs to do better not only in absolute terms but also in relation to other nations.

The Conference Board began benchmarking for two reasons. First, we wanted to provide a reality check by assessing our economic, social, and environmental performance relative to that of other countries. Canadians had become too complacent about their place in the world. Second, while Canadians were content to plod along, other countries were transforming themselves. We saw a need to identify and learn from the best practices of Canada’s peers so Canadians could improve and sustain their high quality of life.