- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Key Porter Books; Canadian First edition (May 21 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1554702976
- ISBN-13: 978-1554702978
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 2.5 x 23.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 476 g
- Average Customer Review: 8 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #466,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Canadian Century: Moving Out of America's Shadow Hardcover – May 21 2010
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Quill & Quire
The Canadian Century is tantamount to a manifesto for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a policy think tank for which lead author Brian Lee Crowley serves as managing director. It is a political tract that, at points, indulges in the hard-driving tone and rhetoric of The Communist Manifesto, albeit with a very different agenda.
The agenda here is an argument for fiscal conservatism in line with Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution. The principle is to cut social programs and balance budgets, leaving those in need to the care of private citizens, not government. Government should spend, but only on infrastructure that facilitates economic growth. This, the authors tell us, is the essence of freedom.
For many who consider programs like universal health care evidence of how Canada’s national identity is distinct from that of the U.S. – we like to think that we are more compassionate and committed to the common good – this book will seem, well, un-Canadian. And this is where Laurier comes in.
Laurier’s economic strategy – intended to ensure that the 20th century would be Canada’s time to shine as the beacon of progress, prosperity, and freedom – included elements that sound like today’s fiscal conservatism: small government, low taxes, and free trade. By invoking Laurier, the authors are able to wrap their prescriptions in the maple leaf, suggesting that, rather than being un-Canadian, they are cleaving to Laurier’s national dream and inviting us to “take up Laurier’s challenge and finish the job.”
The authors refer to Canadian history to define the true Canadian identity as fiscally conservative. Given the book’s brevity, there are many omissions. For instance, in their comparison of the pace of government growth in Canada and the U.S., the authors don’t account for the pace of industrialization in the two countries.
One critical premise of this book is that liberty has made this country a desirable destination for new Canadians, and a nation of industrious people. Liberty here is understood as what Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty – freedom as the absence of external obstacles to individual choices. In the authors’ minds, our current obstacle is government management of the economy. They do not argue for positive liberty, which is freedom as self-realization, and which may require external elements, including the government, to provide the means.
About the Author
BRIAN LEE CROWLEY is the author of the bestseller Fearful Symmetry. The Globe and Mail publisher William Thorsell called him "the best writer on public policy in Canada today." He lives in Nova Scotia.
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The book is an excellent re-visit to the key themes of Laurier's agenda for Canada. While it seems that Canada wasn't ready for Laurier's grand plan when he was voted out of office, it may be ready for him now.
With major pillars of his agenda in place (free trade, solid public finances), now is the time to maintain fiscal discipline at the provincial and federal level. It seems that Canadians have adopted that as good national practice and politicians have accepted this is what Canadians want. This book provides a wonderfully non-partisan view of how the 'Redemptive Decade' players spanned all parties, starting with the NDP on the prairies.
The book moves along briskly - too briskly in places. It might have been more enlightening to hear about how the leading provinces built a case for fiscal responsibility and how it differed province to province. From Ontario's Common Sense Revolution to Ralph Klein's more dramatic antics, some more stories may have been entertaining and enlightening.
This book reframes the Canadian identity and that is its stroke of genius. It lets Canadians know that their top potential will be realised when we follow the agenda by one of our greatest Prime Ministers. One has a sense that now could really be the dawn of the Canadian Century. But only if we make it.
Pictures? In a book of this scope, they're called "charts." For example, how does defence spending compare to the US? Mexico? Great Britain? France? Health spending? Original research? What is Canada's balance of foreign trade for the past 20 years compared to the US and Mexico? What are poverty levels, and middle income levels, in comparison?
Consider, for example, that Canada pledged in the Kyota climate change protocol to reduce its 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by 6 percent by 2008-12. Instead, emissions rose by 27 percent and will climb again this year, thanks to the "dig, baby, dig" mentality of the tar sands projects. Is this the cost of balanced budget virtue?
How can a country not be prosperous when it is the largest exporter of petroleum to the US? Why do the Australians want to buy Saskatchewan's potash? Perhaps, just as recent US prosperity was based on credit card debt, current Canadian prosperity is based on the fire sale of its patrimony.
Unfortunately, it is mainly a well-written right-wing screed against government spending. Granted, Canada exists today because government aid to the CPR meant British Columbia did not become 'American Columbia.' Would a little more government spending, rules and red tape have prevented the near extermination of the cod?
Lack of spending for the Avro Arrow was a major benefit to the California aerospace industry -- and now Canada plans to spend umpitty-billions to buy Made-in-the-USA F-35s? DeHavilland Canada produced some of the world's finest aircraft in the 1950s, many of which are still flying: how many did the government buy to keep this gem of innovation in business? Would the CN exist if not for massive government bailouts? Air Canada? Macleans?
There's an emphasis on NAFTA, but no analysis of the Ogdensburg Agreement by which C.D. Howe truly launched Canada into branch plant economic integration. What of the Trent-Severn Waterway, launched as a major defense project and now a prime recreation resource? What about the $1 billion to host the G8 and G20 economic conferences in Huntsville and Toronto?
The book asserts "... we can and do make Blackberrys ..." Perhaps it would help to add the Blackberry Torch 9800 contains $171 worth of parts from the US, Korea, Great Britain, Germany, Japan and Switzerland and is assembled for $12 each in Mexico. Does "Hecho en Mexico" translate to "Made in Canada"?
Perhaps the Canadian "service" economy is better typified by Orillia, where the steel foundries closed by the 1990s and the town now lives on earnings from Casino Rama.
All this should be put into perspective. As the book amply illustrates, Canada launched a wide ranging series of economic reforms in parallel with President Bill Clinton. It all seems very impressive, such as the Clinton decision that the deep water oil industry can regulate itself. But the lack of oversight, as the history of Orillia illustrates, often leads but to disaster.
The book is sadly lacking on these grounds.
But, it succeeds in its assertions that prosperity depends on free people being free to make their own decisions. Canada has largely escaped the teapotty political desperadoes, just as competent government regulation protected Canadian financial services. The basic economic principles outlined in this book are better than gold; the difference between the US and Canada surely is the wisdom to apply and abide by such fundamental values.
However, there needs to be a focus on common sense instead of a plea to go back to the virtues of 1910. To understand today's Canada, read 'Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town' before visiting Casino Rama. Both offer a better descriptions of our times than this effort.
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