From time to time I like to imagine that I deeply understand our country. And then I encounter a book like Brian Lee Crowley’s Fearful Symmetry, and come face to face with the great gaping holes in my education.
I admit to having almost a phobia over Canadian political and sociological books and their tendency to describe a Canada that doesn’t exist, and never could exist except in the mind of a fanciful author.
But I know and like Brian so I thought I would do him the great favour of reading this book. It turns out he did all of us the great favour of writing what is one of the most insightful books ever written about this country.
The premise is Canada is once again about to enter the broad sunlit uplands of modestly sized government, a self-reliant population, strong families and extraordinary opportunity.
This may sound like a dream to conservatives and a wild fantasy to liberals but whatever it is, it is not just the product of Crowley’s imagination.
Explodes the myth
He argues brilliantly that Canada was that country until the 1960s but because of the rise of Quebec nationalism and high unemployment, government ballooned and the nation lost its way.
In the course of making this argument he explodes the myth that Canada has always aspired to be an allegedly progressive country like Sweden.
Perhaps it is my imagination at work but I think I detected the author taking pleasure in quoting old Liberal prime ministers as they decry the growth of government and lament how it erodes the work ethic.
He even trots out Tommy Douglas, who as we all know is our greatest Canadian, and reminds us that Douglas believed in workfare.
All of these facts are inconvenient if you are making the argument that we must embrace our old collectivist roots because it turns out we don’t have any collectivist roots.
In the end this is an extraordinarily hopeful book because he makes the case that the two side of this fearful symmetry are losing their power to terrorize mostly because of our ageing population. Both Quebec nationalism and high unemployment will be undermined by the hard math of demographics.
Going forward, elections will be about something other than Quebec’s place in confederation and whether you should be able to collect employment insurance simply because you have a pulse.
The country would be a much better place if certain party leaders would suspend their disbelief for a moment and drink deeply from this very wise book filled as it is with facts, evidence and reason.
If this actually happened a certain leader would immediately come before the bar in the House of Commons and seek the forgiveness of his colleagues for proposing an unemployment insurance plan that would provide a year of benefits after nine weeks of work.
I know I am prone to exaggeration which is probably why I was able to have a 15-year career in politics, but I do not exaggerate when I say this is the best book I have ever read about our country.