Canada Turns 150 – Time To Celebrate – But Only In Moderation

Canada, Commentary, Peter Holle

Canada is one of the world’s most successful countries on quality of life and income indicators.  Among the reasons for its success are its foundation of laws, vast natural resources, access to the huge American market, and law abiding citizens.

Canada was founded by the British Government at the height of the British Empire. French-speaking and English-speaking colonies agreed to join, and then spread west along the 49th parallel border with America.

Britain bestowed two important advantages on Canada.  One being the rule of law. Canadians, while extremely law abiding, have common legal challenges: the length of time to reach trial, high court costs, and difficulties in prosecution of sophisticated white collar crimes.

Crime rates are a fraction of American levels and Canadian ‘no guns allowed’ cities are much safer than in America. Canada’s culture of respect is reflected in law abiding citizens and, outside of Quebec, very little real government corruption. Canada regularly scores among the least corrupt counties in Transparency International’s corruption rankings.

The British also left their wonderfully simple parliamentary system.  In Canada, once your party is elected with a majority of the seats in parliament, as Prime Minister you are effectively a benign dictator for 4 years.  The same goes with Canada’s equivalent of the State Governors – our Provincial Premiers.  Do a bad job and expect to lose the next election after 4 years – for the most part, almost all federal and provincial governments last two election cycles.

Unlike the USA, with its complex systems of checks and balances, the system in Canada affords its elected political leaders massive power, albeit subject to the robust rule of the English system of common law, which provides excellent and reliable property rights and contract enforcement.

After a federal election, the winning part’s leader picks his/her cabinet, senior bureaucrats, and appoints Senators and federal judges to vacancies in the upper house and the judiciary. Appointments are long term, generally outlast two election cycles except for judges and Senators, who serve to the mandatory retirement age.

As in the US, Canada has three levels of government – federal, provincial and municipal.  Its British constitutional framework, based on “Peace, Order and Good Government”, has produced strong regional and provincial level governments which control major policy areas like healthcare, education and welfare. While the federal government has superior taxation powers, the provinces benefit enormously by owning and controlling all natural resources.

The second largest country by land mass, Canada has massive natural resources with large gold mines and the third largest proven oil reserves in the world. Its small population (12% of USA’s population) is made wealthy by vast amounts of oil and gas, minerals, water and forests.

Our proximity and close relationship with the USA – 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the border, has been vital to Canada’s success.  Not since 1812 have we had a major war with the USA. The 1812-1814 war and other occasions when America attempted to incorporate the northern part of North America helped drive the consolidation of separate British colonies into Canada in 1867.

For the most part, Canada has recognized and lived peaceably with America. And, the USA has treated Canada better than it has any other country in the world, respecting its independence and providing Canada with massive military protection.  No other country would ever think of attacking Canada, for fear of the USA’s might and reprisal.  Our American relationship has brought great economic advantages – most importantly being almost unfettered access to the enormous US market.

This reliance on American protection has allowed Canada to save massively on military expenditure.  The USA spends around 3.3% of its GDP on defense, while Canada spends well below 2%.  Although we do lose out on the amazing technologies and manufacturing jobs surrounding military expenditures, our lower costs allow a rich fabric of health and social programs.

Both Canada and the USA lag well back in the most recent World Health Organization ranking of healthcare systems – Canada 30th in the world, the USA 37th.  The advantage for Canada is that our single payer universal health care system only costs us 11% of GDP, while in the USA the cost to the USA is 18% of its GDP. Canada’s universal – all Canadians are covered – public system is   preferred by Canadians over the American system which leaves many families unable to afford full health coverage that  system’s private insurers offer.

Canada’s education system substantially outperforms its southern neighbor – scoring high in the top ten rankings in international math, science and reading. Canada’s strong knowledge economy is a great source of innovation and inventions.  The place that invented the telephone (inventor: Alexander Graham Bell) has a technological base that provides a valuable resource for the American tech sector. According to Canada’s National Post newspaper:

 

“Silicon Valley technology companies continue to tap Canadian universities for talent. A 2014 report by Riviera Partners, a San Francisco  recruiting company, ranked the University of Waterloo (in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada’s “Silicon Valley”)outside Toronto second behind only the University of California, Berkeley, in a list of schools that produce the most frequently hired students in the Bay area. Stanford, UCLA, and Cornell tied for third.” (italics section added by author)

 

We model ourselves as an European alternative to the USA – in terms of social programs and enterprise establishment – and that’s not always to the best.  Canada has opened its borders to an increasing flow of immigrants including refugees, putting pressure on government budgets called in to integrate the newcomers. As in the US, the public sector is a chattering class oasis of 1980s style social engineering.  High-priced and rules focused, our governments and media are increasingly fixated on gender and identity politics. Canada’s state funded broadcaster, the CBC, dwells obsessively on grievance, race and victim politics.

Canada’s current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, seems to be more interested in politically-correct platitudes, gender balance in his Cabinet and fighting climate change than in building an economy.  For all its evident faults, the Trump Administration promotes job creation, economic growth by reversing Obama’s regulatory assaults on the conventional hydrocarbon sector. In contrast Trudeau’s Liberal federal government is thickening regulatory obstacles to more Canadian oil pipelines, banning oil tanker traffic along Canada’s west coast, and raising energy costs in a cold, widely-dispersed, resource based economy via a UN-approved carbon tax policy.

Like his father the late Pierre Trudeau, Canada’s Prime Minister from 1968-1984, before him, Justin Trudeau is trying to build a social legacy – not an economic one.

Despite Canada’s leftish drift under young Trudeau, it will remain one of the safest, kindest, and peaceful greatest countries in the world. Canadians believe in service to society more than service to their country, while abiding by the rule of law, and enjoying the value of high-quality and affordable education. Forty-two per cent of Canadians have university degrees (33% in the USA), and unlike some European citizens, Canadians are not afraid of either work or our large and growing immigrant population, who work even harder.

Our current glamorous Prime Minister is strong on EQ  (emotional quotient) , excelling at selfies, platitudes and foreign relations.  Back home in Canada he professes that “budgets will balance themselves” and “root causes” are the reason for terrorism.  But, Canadians are patient, and avoid any and all forms of radical change.

No democracy on earth has a more stable political environment something that allows us to avoid the massive political swings found elsewhere.  Decades long debates in Canada center around social issues, such as whether to have our provinces solely fund child care or rely in part on the Federal Government. Recently, a debate raged about changing three words in our national anthem to make the anthem fully Gender Neutral.  While the rest of the world focuses on terrorism, immigration and youth unemployment – Canadians worry about rising  house prices, protecting and improving a ‘too slow’ health care system, and whether our civil servants get a small raise.

On a global scale, these are good problems to have.