10, May 2023

The Fifteenth country

It is always interesting to compare Canada with other countries. One astonishing fact is the number of times Canada ranks #15 in economic and economic related  comparisons.  Look at the table below:

Comparison Canada’s rank
Global Innovation Index 15
Human Development Index 15
Patent application by residents 15
Percent of World Foreign Direct Investment 15
GDP by PPP (2022) 15
Index of economic freedom (Heritage Fdn.) 15
World Happiness Index (2022) 15
Rule of Law (World Bank) 15
Legatum Infrastructure Pillar 15


Some of these rankings are more significant than others. And remember to take them with a grain of salt as small changes to the ranking methodology can change the ranking markedly. It’s not always good to have a high ranking, for instance rankings for terrorism and road accidents.  Let’s look at a few of them.

Global Innovation Index. This index is put out by WIPO (The World Intellectual Property Organization) and is now in its 15th year (another coincidence.) They use the definition of innovation from the Oslo Manuel: “An innovation is a new or improved product or process (or combination thereof) that differs significantly from the unit’s previous products or processes and that has been made available to potential users (product) or brought into use by the unit (process).” Their methodology for 2022 included 81 metrics, covering innovation inputs and outputs structured into 7 pillars. Canada also ranked #15 for institutions. Canada’s best ranking was for market sophistication (#6) and the worst was for infrastructure (#30).

Human Development Index. The Index is prepared by the United Nations and has been around for 32 years. It was originally developed to emphases that people and their capabilities should be the ultimate criteria for assessing the development of a country, not economic growth alone. For many years in the 2000’s Canada ranked #1 in this Index. Then they changed the methodology. The methodology addresses health (longevity) income and education.  It looks as if Canada fell in the rankings for two reasons1. 1. They calculated income differently and 2. our educational standards fell. The education ranking is now based on two factors: adults’ average level of schooling, and the number of years of schooling children can expect to receive. Canada doesn’t do that well by the second measure. Children in Canada can expect 16.4 years of schooling, compared with Finland (19.1 years) Sweden (19.4 years) and the UK (17.3 years).

Rule of Law. This Index is provided by the World Bank.  Canada’s rating has remained consistent since 2000.

World Happiness Index.  This Index, now in its 10th year, is written by a group of academics in Canada, the UK and the US, including several from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. It is based on surveys carried out in 146 countries. The happiest country was Finland and the least happy was Afghanistan.

Near Misses. Canada just missed being #15 in the following areas:

  • High tech exports #16 behind Switzerland
  • Agricultural land #16
  • GDP/capita #16
  • Percent of world exports #14
  • Corruption Perception Index ranked #13. Dropped 10 points since 2012, from 84/100 to 74/100.
  • International Intellectual Property Index (#16)

However, Canada ranks #1 in the world by other metrics:

  • Most educated country. The OECD compares the percentage of each country’s residents ages 25 to 64 who have completed some form of tertiary education: a two-year or four-year degree or a vocational program. Based on the OECD’s data, Canada is the most educated country globally, with 56.71% of adults meeting the OECD criteria.
  • Best country rated by the US News and World Report (2021)
  • Best country to live in (2023) (Global Immigration Services)
  • Most AI patents per capita.
  • Most accepting country for immigrants. A Gallup poll in 145 countries ranked Canada #1 for accepting immigrants, just ahead of Iceland and New Zealand.
  • #1 for pension fund assets relative to GDP.

Be mindful of the saying “there are lies, damn lies and statistics” attributed to Benjamin Disraeli. Some of these rankings fall into the “statistics” category, particularly indexes that combine a number of measures using opaque algorithms. Small changes in the algorithm can cause large changes in rankings.

Nevertheless, it is not reassuring that Canada is ranked so low so often. It is a reminder that economic growth, resulting in higher GDP per capita, is the basis for all our social programs and healthcare and should be a high priority for governments at all levels.

Peter Josty

  1. https://carleton.ca/fwoolley/2013/sorry-but-canada-was-never-the-no-1-place-to-live/