By Arundati Dandapani, MLitt, CAIP, CIPP/C
Nine years ago, I hopped on a plane with a one-way ticket to Canada. It was thus no light milestone to be able to reflect on geopolitics, brands, and the new citizen experience this summer from the US and Canadian North American Independence Day holidays to India’s 77th Independence Day as a South Asian, Indian and as a newly inducted North American Canadian citizen.
Some years ago, I also wrote about “brands we hate because of our ethnicities or origins,” to study the impact of brand hate on racialized, foreign or ethnic customer churn and highlight concepts like “consumer animosity” stemming from geopolitical dynamics and influences, as important factors that depress, enrage or disappoint new citizen experiences.
I argue today that we need creative and evolving measures of the global citizen experience, particularly for those in between South to North identities and nations, transiting new pressures, problems and burdens that come with their growing experiences and embrace of new inflationary societies bursting with their own unforeseen multitudes of xenophobia, racism, sexism, colourism, classism, infertility, ageism, and latent and overt stereotyping and discrimination not always evident in news, movies or advertising. What should these metrics resemble? I discuss three that could influence new citizens’ happiness.
One indicator of a positive new citizen experience is the timely arrival of a new passport, even if it says that it’s (disclaimer) the property of the Government of Canada. Oh. This comes close on the heels of last year’s excessive criticism against Passport Canada for long waiting lines and disgruntled pandemic-and-otherwise stranded citizens. Fast forward to this summery August day in 2023, and I find myself singing with joy at the month-early arrival of the booklet that is ranked #7 (higher than US which sits at #8) for the places it enables you to travel on the Global Henley’s Passport index.
Our World in Data reports that life satisfaction in Canada is only a few decimal points higher than in the US. An interesting (if tedious) exercise for the foreign diplomatic service of any country would be to improve their “places you can travel to without visas” passport ranking on the list. The message here is not just glowing positivity about the timeliness of services in my experience with Service Canada for a new citizen passport, but more about the beauty I experienced beholding the new document with wondrous excitement at the whole new galaxy of places I can go to conferences and swim! The big feat of crossing worlds lends itself to a key value of accomplishment, a feeling that all citizens (“patient” or not) must cherish enough to make timeliness as a metric matter.
Return on Taxes
I teach (among other courses) Research in Society: Enterprise and Governments to my Humber College Research Analyst program students and am consistently impressed by new interpretations the international and diverse cohorts bring to what citizen experience encompasses. While the IRCC has conducted studies evaluating immigration by only using tax filing contributions , citizen experience might better be measured by citizens’ return on taxes paid.
As a global citizen, and someone who has been described since childhood as “export quality” (like err mangoes!) for my early childhood language and collaborative skills (I founded a dramatics club at the age of eight and wrote, directed and produced several plays with the support of my township’s communities and neighbourhoods), I can empathize with the ability to cut across contexts without always finding its immediate reward. We embed active listening and good communication skills into practice until one day sense pours from the heavens about why you care so much about society: for example, because your bread and butter is building policies, products, services, experiences, or industry eco-systems. A lot of things come cheaper for citizens than for recent immigrants, and all these benefits are offset by their taxes paid. Post-secondary education is a good example, and also a hotly debated topic throughout Canada for how it divides people on its utility vis-a-vis enduring value and status versus employability, as ultimate indicators of satisfaction levels and good experiences.
Why are we thinking about citizens today? Because considering the opinions and expressions of citizens helps nation-builders improve their nation, in just the way that the opinions of customers (when taken seriously) improves products that are built for them. If we have moved from an age of satisfaction with products and services or “commoditization” to an age of greater “personalization” where satisfaction with experiences is paramount in the private sector, how does this shift translate for consumers of public services? Vargo and Lusch (2004, 2008) call this a “value in use” common to all consumers and citizens interacting with an experience, product or a service across sectors. Have we been able to move from basic necessities of human rights and infrastructure to post-materiality in Canada or North America, or is that just a myth? Wasn’t the pandemic a rude reminder of the need for universal basic income for the precariat?
Are the lack of basic needs and amenities (e.g. prohibitive costs of healthcare or even the cost of groceries and daily living) still hindering new immigrants and citizen experiences? For a nation of migrants where closer to 1 in 4 is a foreign-born national, citizenhood is more a journey than a state of being or even completion. Remember all those statistics about citizen churn from Canada to the US, with new (and old) citizens migrating South for better higher-paying opportunities and more affirmative action type policies that enforced diversity, inclusion and equality? The topic of Canadian brain drain to the US hit its peak in the 90s especially for high-income earners, owing to the US economy and immigration policy. In recent years the brain drain trend seems to have reversed with more Canadians staying in Canada than before. Racialized Canadians however, are more likely to believe that there are better opportunities for them in the US than Canada, according to a Leger poll for the Association of Canadian Studies, in contrast to their white counterparts.
From Journey to Reward or Hope?
“Career” is the top factor contributing to a meaningful life across adults aged 30 – 49 years surveyed by Pew Research Centre across views from 17 advanced economies in their “What Makes Life Meaningful?” study. Younger adults (18-29 y/o) from the same study valued “friends, community and other relationships,” whereas those aged 50-64 valued “family and occupation” and those aged 65+ years valued “physical and mental health.” Given all these diverging and converging definitions of what constitutes a meaningful life, can a decline of satisfaction with life beyond the basic expectations, rife with social frictions, multicultural tensions, inequities and socioeconomic divides at every level of aspiration mar what could be a truly better, richer, or seamless citizen experience?
The emotional aspects of immigration, nationalism and geopolitical influences and attachments, must not be ignored in all this. Some move from better conditions to worse as they immigrate, while some in the reverse, and in many cases it’s not always black or white, with tradeoffs or thresholds marking critical points of emotional experience with relation to belonging and satisfaction levels / metrics. Try asking a racialized Dutch or even a Danish passport-holder about their Canadian dream, and you will likely get a vapid stare. How are immigrants or new citizens feeling, is not something that can be captured by numbers, even if there are various data and analytics to support stats on churn, returns, satisfaction, etc. A new idea of nationhood or identity can only be enriched by the complete experience of social and economic well-being, where adequate support systems exist to meet the evolving needs and wellness states of new citizens.
Unsurprisingly, countries with the least gap between the richest and the poorest keep making comebacks in all the happiest places to be lists versus those with just the richest groups or individuals in the world. The 2020-23 World Happiness Report further charts levels of happiness across a country’s expanded sense of citizenry (all residents regardless of their place of birth or origin), with Canada at #13 and USA at #15, and the Nordic countries leading the charge with Finland and Denmark in the top two spots.
Countries where citizens exhibit more “pro-social” behaviours (e.g. generosity, virtuosity, social connectedness) were found to be stronger in life-satisfaction than countries that were not as pro-social. These reports condense the defining factors of life-satisfaction into three: the ethos of a country – are people trustworthy, generous, and mutually supportive? The institutions – are people free to make important life decisions? And the material conditions of life – both income and health.
Are new citizens satisfied with the thresholds and the trade-offs it takes to turn their rough and tumble journeys into dream destinations? Or do we need stronger social support systems and more dynamic definitions of happiness that lend to enhanced measures of citizen experience that foresee and prevent citizen churn or worse illness and early mortality? Canadian passports may still rank (only) one slot above American (US) passports—but this minor difference may not hold any consequence for those who experience an abject lack of opportunity in their own (new) homeland.
 Esteban Ortiz-Ospina and Max Roser (2013) – “Happiness and Life Satisfaction”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/happiness-and-life-satisfaction‘ [Online Resource]
 IRCC (2023, April 18). Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada Research Reports. Government of Canada. Retrieved August 15, 2023, from https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/reports-statistics/research.html
 Mueller, R. E. (2006). What Happened to the Canada-United States Brain Drain of the 1990s? New Evidence from the 2000 US Census. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 7(2), 167-194. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-006-1008-y
Arundati Dandapani is the founder of Generation1.ca and the author of an upcoming book on nationhood and identity in post-global times “What is the Point of Canada? A 21st Century Guide to Newcomer Integration” from which this excerpt is inspired.