Canada is at a crossroads: Will it re-embrace meritocracy or continue its slide into mediocrity

Brian GiesbrechtIn Civilization – The West and the Rest, historian Niall Ferguson asks why, from about 1500 AD, the West was able to rise from being a backwater of illiterate, unhygienic bumpkins to become the greatest civilization the world had ever seen.

He suggests an answer: the West created what he calls “the six killer apps” that “allowed a minority of mankind originating on the western edge of Eurasia to dominate the world for the better part of 500 years”.

At the heart of these “killer apps” lies the principle of meritocracy, a system that recognizes and promotes the most creative ideas and the brightest minds. Within this framework, stalwarts such as Isaac Newton, Mozart, Picasso, and Einstein found success, leaving their less extraordinary competitors in the dust.

meritocracy mediocrity

Photo by Sora Sagano

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Over 500 years, meritocracy dramatically improved lifespan, wealth, and quality of life, morphing the formerly destitute peasant into a wealthier, healthier, and long-living citizen. Hence, meritocracy – the polar opposite of mediocrity – is the underlying structure of the comfortable lives we lead today.

Although meritocracy continues to prosper in non-western nations like China and Japan, it has experienced a continuous decline in the West, largely due to the implementation of affirmative action policies (AA). Initiated as a short-term solution to rectify historical injustices such as slavery in the U.S. and racial discrimination against Indigenous people in Canada, AA has instead become an enduring and mediocrity-encouraging fixture.

Recently, AA has morphed into “DEI” policies (diversity, equity, and inclusion), a more potent interpretation of Marx’s utopia that champions equality across all demographics. Despite its noble intention, DEI has inadvertently enabled institutional discrimination against certain demographic groups like Asians in America. Superior performance is disregarded, while mediocrity is celebrated under the banner of fairness.

It’s worth noting that groups, such as Asians, who were initially intended to benefit from AA, thrived not due to AA but in spite of it. They utilized the ever-reliable recipe of robust families, education, and perseverance to overcome racism and other hurdles. Likewise, several individuals from groups currently favoured by DEI, like African Americans and Indigenous people, achieved success traditionally, making AA largely inconsequential to their achievements. These groups overcame racism and other obstacles and now punch above their weight on most socio-economic and health markers.

However, the persistent existence of AA, now bolstered by DEI, conveys the debilitating perception that these groups are forever victims, unable to compete with others without governmental aid. This has engendered a hazardous industry that sells harmful misconceptions, such as the claim that Canada is inherently racist and genocidal, degrades academic standards, and enables financial advantages for chosen groups under the banner of “reconciliation.”

Yet, there’s a potential beacon of hope. The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent landmark “Fair Admissions” decision suggests a possible swing towards meritocracy, posing a challenge to elite institutions practicing systematic discrimination against better-qualified candidates. This ruling indicates a possible diminishing of AA and the resurgence of meritocracy, the principle that initially drove America’s greatness.

However, this positive shift is starkly missing in Canada. As our non-western counterparts and the U.S. move back towards meritocracy, Canada is being left in their wake. Unfortunately, AA and DEI in Canada, have metastasized into a virtual industry composed of charlatans peddling the false claim that Canada is a racist and genocidal nation.

Canada is at a critical crossroads: does it re-embrace its meritocratic origins or continue sliding into mediocrity?

The choice we make will not only determine our position on the global stage but also the very essence of our Canadian identity.

Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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