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July 1, 2013

Is the glass half-empty or half-full? It's the question Canadians need to ask on every Canada Day. Our country offers so much for which to be grateful – abundant freedom, an extremely high standard of living, a relatively strong social safety net and a desire of many to strengthen the common good.

Yet, it would be Pollyannaish to ignore the troubling signs that afflict our country – an ever-expanding individualism with no regard for others, a disregard for the effects our riotous standard of living has for future generations and a widespread refusal to accept the existence of objective moral standards.

Canadians pride themselves on living in a land that supposedly treats both its own citizens and those from other nations better than does the United States. We have medicare, we say, and the extremes of wealth and poverty are not so noticeable here.

However, there are extremes, and even if some extremes are hidden on remote First Nations reserves, they still exist. Religious and moral structures are slowly crumbling. Where religion does remain strong, it is often a super-structure laid on top of the culture and has little effect on the daily decisions of commerce, recreation and politics.

We live by the personal liberty principle - that if an action does not obviously harm someone, it is legally and morally acceptable. This individualism will be our ruin if it is not brought in check. Our lack of protection for the natural environment, our growing financial debt and the erosion of firm moral standards will leave a heavy burden for future generations.

Natural resources are finite, and we should not greedily hog them all for ourselves. Financial debts must be repaid, and it is unfair to make our grandchildren pay for our extravagances. A nation that does not hold to moral standards leaves its children incapable of facing life's hardships.

Yet, we cannot say all of this – and more – without acknowledging that those who come to Canada frequently say this is the best country in the world. They say that because they have experienced persecutions, poverty, corruption and violence in their homelands and they find Canada relatively free of such hardships.

"Canada is a paradise," one immigrant told me on several occasions, his comment echoed in various ways by others.

If we are to accept that tribute, we must also be vigilant in protecting "paradise." Current trends will destroy paradise, perhaps sooner than later. The only way out is to acknowledge that God is greater than I and that individualism is a dead end if it is not tempered by a priority for the common good. So when celebrating Canada Day, take stock, not only of the paradise in which we live, but also of the dangerous path on which we tread.