Wednesday Night #1475

Good policy is not the property of any political party and good ideas that are in the interests of the country need to be pursued by every political party in every corner of the country, because it is good for the country

Brian Lee Crowley, who was accompanied by his wife, Shelley, proved to be an engaging and highly articulate guest, as had been predicted by Alexandra Greenhill and her West Wing colleague Rick Peterson who has hosted Brian Lee at The Burgundy Lunch Club in Vancouver and enthusiastically endorsed the Macdonald-Laurier Institute project.
Brian introduced Alex Konigsberg, Founding Partner of Lapointe Rosenstein and expert in international franchising.

The Premise

In 1896, just twenty years after Canada became a nation, Wilfred Laurier was elected Prime Minister. While he presided over the greatest period of Canadian expansion, his vision that  the twentieth century would belong to Canada was based on a certain plan.
Apart from recognizing and managing the special economic, social and of course geographic relationship with the U.S., Laurier believed that Canada should develop the comparative advantages to guarantee that the country is not consumed by the U.S. These are rooted in free trade with the U.S., responsible public finances, controlled deficit, lower tax burden than the U.S.
The plan was not maintained and thus the vision remained unrealized. However, in the opinion of the authors of The Canadian Century: Moving out of America’s Shadow there was a “redemptive decade” – dating from the Free Trade Agreement of 1988 and extending to the first balanced budget achieved in ’97-’98 – which set the scene for remarkable economic performance during the following decade. But, there has recently been some backsliding, partly unavoidable because of the world financial crisis. At the same time, many of the remarkable achievements of the U.S. have recently been diminished by what might be termed similar backsliding starting with the Clinton years. The single most destructive factor is the increasing destructive  partisanship that inhibits the development of policies in the interest of the country as a whole.

Healthcare
The massive expenditures on healthcare are affecting the budgets for education, technology and  innovation and it is doubtful that today’s politicians can exhibit the same intestinal fortitude as Paul Martin.
While some Wednesday Nighters advocate that healthcare should emphasize prevention including education in schools, along with training people  to assist in preventing disease, rather than to  deal with complex and rare strategies. Others believe that prevention will not in any way reduce the costs of healthcare.    A related issue raised was that prevention does not attract the interest – or financing – of pharmaceutical companies. But in some views, the problem does not reside in either scientific development or medical knowledge, but rather in public administration.

Natural resources and energy
Canadians can derive much satisfaction from having held a strong position among developed nations, and for having  emerged relatively unscathed from a devastating world economic crisis.  Our wealth of natural resources has been a factor in our success story but interestingly, around the world, the wealthiest nations are often the poorest in natural resource reserves (Holland, Israel, Singapore, Switzerland).
The authors appear to place most, if not all emphasis on economic stability and growth. For some Wednesday Nighters, these have not contributed to the most important factors: environmental protection, literacy, maternal health, reasonable accommodation …  Does the quality of life improve with economic growth? While examples of destruction of the environment by peoples with desperate needs (Haiti), in developed nations, scientific evidence would indicate that quality of the environment does not necessarily improve with economic comfort levels.
Canadian energy policy is a jurisdictional issue. Different parts of the country will be affected as the choice of fuel changes, making the Canadian political and economic landscape difficult, if not impossible, to foresee in the next century. Certainly, even if a cohesive national energy policy were put into place in an attempt to diminish our dependence on fossil fuels, a never-diminishing world thirst for petroleum and petroleum products would ensure the continuing success of the Alberta petroleum industry.

The politics of Canada are coarsening

There is a lack of civility in politics both federally and provincially and an apparent increasing, deliberate attempt on the part of government to emulate American values and government attitudes (“Rovian” politics). But it is hoped that if Canadians recognize what the country has achieved, they will come together to insist that politics pursue the goals.  While this is generally acknowledged by the majority of Wednesday Nighters, there appears to be some disagreement as to whether it represents a long term philosophical change or whether we will ultimately return to the political philosophy of our electoral ancestors.  Certainly demographics, political philosophy and the economic map of the country will shift in time as in the past century, but the path to greatness appears to lie with the philosophy of those who cemented the disparate elements of Canada into a nation.

One of the greatest threats to that nationhood is the rise of parochialism and regionalism. Even our think tanks tend to spend more time on regional issues than on the matters that fall under federal jurisdiction, e.g. foreign affairs, aboriginal affairs, national security.

Parochialism has served to emasculate the federal government’s ability to act in our national best interest.  It has, however, probably proven to be our strength as well as our weakness.

Canadian energy policy is a jurisdictional issue.  Different parts of the country will be affected as the choice of fuel changes, making the Canadian political and economic landscape difficult, if not impossible, to foresee in the next century.  Certainly, even if a cohesive national energy policy were put into place in an attempt to diminish our dependence on fossil fuels, a never-diminishing world thirst for petroleum and petroleum products would ensure the continuing success of the Alberta petroleum industry.

The massive cost of political campaigns in the U.S. has led to a situation in which lobbyists (with expenditures of $3 billion) and/or large contributors to political parties hold a greater, undue influence over U.S. government policy than do voters and there is some concern that we, in Canada, may be slowly following that path. While there are those who might wish to either curb or eliminate lobbyists, in a truly democratic society, as long as the rules are clear and observed, it is a sine qua non that the opinions of all should be heard, considered and weighed and should constitute a factor along with all others in forming public policy.

In this country where the secular religion is that which speaks with the loudest voice, opinions vary as to whether Canadian government policy is more influenced by businessmen, the military, the religious right, atheists, Jews, Muslims or other identifiable groups. The importance of – and dangers posed by – the influence of the Christian (evangelical) right is debatable for some who counter that militant atheism is more dominant in the Canadian context – particularly in the academic world? – , however one guest suggests that American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America should be carefully studied.  Whatever the difference of opinion on the relative influence of religion or atheism on political thought and/or public policy, what is most important is the strict separation of Church and State. 

Despite our national pride in having emerged from the recent world crisis relatively unscathed, the prosperity gap between the United States and Canada continues; Norway enjoys a much larger per capita income than Canada; and the need for equalization payments remain an indication of the continuing disparity in the level of prosperity among the provinces.

The recent Liberal Party (of Canada) regional public policy consultation in Quebec City included a number of people from the riding (and some Wednesday Nighters), who had an opportunity to meet one-on-one with the Leader, Quebec MPs and other senior members of the Party organization. The regional consultations not only contribute to the development of policy framework, but also help to address the fragmentation that arose during the leadership campaign in 2006.

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Prologue
Wednesday Night seems to have the knack of attracting the most witty and even cheerful practitioners of the ‘dismal science’, therefore we are delighted that Dr. Brian Lee Crowley, Executive Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and co-author of  The Canadian Century: Moving out of America’s Shadow, will join us this Wednesday, following his Montreal book launch at the offices of Lapointe Rosenstein. You are invited to attend the launch, but please register.
The book has received rave reviews from such stars as Alan Gotlieb, Don Drummond and our friend Chris Ragan. It is encouraging – dare we say inspiring – to read that “While the United States has been squandering its advantages-including making a series of bad decisions that precipitated a global economic disaster from which it struggles to emerge-Canada finds itself on a path leading itself out of the shadows into a new prosperity that could, if we stay the course, make us the envy of the world.”

We suspect that there are promising elements of debate in this thesis – given the propensity of Wednesday Night to invoke such issues as Canada’s demonstrated lag in innovation; a current roster of federal MPs who are sadly lacking in ministrable qualities  – can we say ministrability?;  a dearth of inspirational leaders at all political levels; a complacency regarding our esteemed, highly regulated, but venture-abhorrent banking system; and a reliance on our God-given abundance of natural resources to overcome our lacunae in terms of science education, stewardship and governance.

Although it may be unfair to do so without having read his book, we are anxious to explore with Dr. Crowley some of Wednesday Night’s recent/current themes and topics as they might relate to Canada’s role in the 21st century.

At the top of our list is the forthcoming G8/G20 extravaganza [note that extravaganza is not an exaggeration: Fake Muskoka costs real bucks] and how Canada will fare as host country, especially on the question of maternity health (and abortion). We know that climate change will not be an issue (despite, or perhaps because of, Paul Martin’s advice).  We understand that agreement has been reached (aren’t sherpas wonderful!) on the proposed global bank tax – it won’t happen. Countries will be able to define their own forms of protection. We would ask how this individualistic approach can be monitored and enforced, creating a world-wide safety net. It is nice to know that the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Communiqué recognized the need to work together so as to foster the wide-spread application of the overarching principles of propriety, integrity and transparency in the conduct of international business and finance. Why are we not feeling warm and fuzzy about this declaration?
The current issue of Policy Options explores many aspects of the G8/G20 and is worth pondering.

Greece and the related European economic turmoil are never far from our agenda.
Tony Deutsch forwarded the somewhat alarming news that Hungary Warns of Greek-Style Crisis , but adds the following explanation.
The government, then in power for five days, tried to pretend that their predecessors left a much worse budgetary mess than they actually did. The idea was to convince the IMF and the EU, Hungary’s creditors, that the new government should not only not have to carry out the austerity programme the country is committed to, but also to start on new spending programmes the incoming crew got elected on. The pretense of the underplanned budget, which the new government asserted but could not produce evidence of, would have produced the necessary liquidity to do all this, while shifting the blame to the predecessor government.
Orban, the new PM, went to Brussels on Thursday, where Barroso responded to this story by telling Orban that nothing doing. (The appropriate IMF official will be here in Budapest tomorrow.) On Thursday the government embarked on a Chicken Little publicity programme, which wrecked the exchange rate of the forint and scared Wall Street into believing that the Greek disease is spreading across Europe, starting Friday’s slide. Hungary’s Central Bank, which does not support the government, issued a restrained statement suggesting that the government is publicising hot air. Thereupon the government beat a complete retreat, pleading strict adherence to the IMF-EU programme, and posturing as the saviour of the nation. This, hard to understand situation, provides the government with the IMF-EU to blame for “postponing” the implementation of its electoral promises which it should not have made in the first place.

For a cogent explanation of the debt crisis, please view Bert Revenaz’s offering

What – if any – leadership role is there for Canada in the on-going global economic and financial crisis, given the relative ease with which our country weathered the storm?

While it is good to know that Canada is helping out with technical advice, assistance and support for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill  – and we hope the Government may learn from this event  – there remain many pertinent questions about Canada’s leadership in global debate on the environment starting with the pathetic performance at Copenhagen and including the recent sleight-of-hand announcement in the “ Climate Change Plan for the Purposes of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act“); regulation of the exploitation of energy and natural  resources, e.g. the tar sands, off-shore and Arctic drilling; sale of natural resource companies to foreign interests; failure to embrace green technology as a valuable generator of jobs, export goods and services; and apparent abandonment of nuclear energy development, given the likelihood of the sale of AECL by this government.

Canada’s international and global governance role … Does Canada still have ambitions to be elected to the UN Security Council? It would appear that David Cameron has indicated a willingness to support the candidacy, but what does Canada bring this time? Afghanistan? International development aid? Africa? Support for Israel? Arctic policy gaffes? Climate change?

What kind of governance example is the current federal government setting with its lack of transparency, avoidance of accountability (Rights & Democracy might be a good place to start), muzzling of civil servants and MPs, the introduction of the Omnibus Bill to by-pass  proper (albeit annoying) oversight by Parliament … the list is long.

It will be enlightening and enjoyable to hear a positive spin on these issues and to learn why the 21st century belongs to Canada for reasons other than our reliable banking system.

We would like to call to your attention two policy-related items on Iran that you may have missed. The first is David Jones’ review of Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History, published in American Diplomacy. The second is Ahmadinejad’s Sugar Daddy – How Brazilian ethanol could help Iran outwit American sanctions in Foreign Policy.

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