Brian Lee Crowley

Interim Super Hornet Purchase: What the Experts Say

Ottawa’s plan to buy interim Super Hornets will cost more and fail to give the Canadian Forces the fighter it needs. That was the conclusion of a survey of defence experts MLI published in mid-June of this year. On 19th June my co-author David McDonough and I published an op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen laying out the logic of the experts’ large consensus. You can read the text online here.



Minimum wages: compassion or economic common sense? Why not both!

As I argued in an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen on 2 June 2017, the Ontario government wishes us to think that raising the minimum wage is a matter of compassion and that opponents have little of that precious commodity. Rubbish. As the column notes, it is entirely possible to have compassion for those genuinely in poverty and working for low wages but that raising the minimum wage is a costly, damaging and inefficient way of doing so compared to, say, raising the Working Income Tax Benefit (WITB). You can read the unedited text below or find it on-line here.


My very first job (other than delivering newspapers) was as a busboy at the Spaghetti Factory in Vancouver’s Gastown. The hourly minimum wage (MW) then was $1.50.

Had someone asked me then if the government should force the Spaghetti Factory to pay me more, I would have been all for it. After all, who among us believes that we get paid enough for what we do?

But what I learned later in life is that the price of things (including the price of an hour of my labour, which is what wages are) is not set by the seller, which is why we almost universally feel underpaid and undervalued. Nor is it set by the buyer who almost always thinks he or she has to pay too much to get what they want.

Prices are set by millions of transactions in which buyers and sellers discover at what price supply and demand balance each other. If the price of cars or concerts or tomatoes is too high, there will be unsold stock on the shelves. If the price is too low, sellers will find they can’t keep up with demand and their shelves will be empty. If wages are too high, there will be unemployment; too low and there will be labour shortages. The right price is the one that results in neither surpluses nor shortages.

It is a system that works pretty well. Until, of course, governments come along and think that they can set a better price than knowledgeable buyers and sellers.

These are the folks that think that dairy and poultry are too cheap and created supply management that costs the average family about $400 annually in higher food prices. They overpay for “green electricity” and then have to dump the resulting power surplus in neighbouring American jurisdictions at fire sale prices. They create a lettermail monopoly and then try to charge such a ruinous price for stamps that volumes crash, communication moves to the Internet and the postal monopoly is on death watch. All because they think they know the “right” price for things.

This brings us back to the MW, which the Ontario government is proposing to increase by 30 percent– according to the premier, the largest increase in Ontario’s history, radically above the annual inflation adjustment  their own 2014 expert panel recommended. This will have the same predictable consequences as other government price-fixing schemes.

By definition the MW is a rule that no one shall be employed at less than this wage. But employers only hire workers who produce more than they cost. The MW is therefore a rule that no one shall be employed whose hourly productivity is less than the MW.

A high MW is a law that such people—who are among our most vulnerable– shall be perpetually unemployed. The jobs they used to do as retail clerks, counter servers, parking lot attendants and others are disappearing as technology can easily replace them at this level of MW.

But the MW is an anti-poverty strategy cry its defenders. No.  Ontario’s own study found that the vast bulk of MW earners are not primary family breadwinners but rather supplement other family income with their earnings. Fully three fifths of all Ontario MW earners are teenagers or in their early 20s.  Raising the MW pleases these people but does little to alleviate poverty while creating needless unemployment.

There is, however, a perfectly sensible programme called the Working Income Tax Benefit that tops up the wages of people whose low income genuinely justifies it, but leaves it to the market to find the wage level that matches available workers with demand for labour. This balances genuine compassion with economic common sense and should be expanded.

The government wants you to believe you can have compassion or economic common sense, but not both. They’re wrong.

Brian Lee Crowley ( is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa:


To counter Russian disinformation, the West must rebuild its ability to mobilize ideas

After the Cold War, the West dismantled much of its capacity to oppose Russian propaganda and disinformation. Now our own complacency and an emboldened Vladimir Putin is leaving us prey to bad, damaging, mistaken, misleading and dangerous ideas as I write in an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen that appeared on 21st March 2017. Time for the West to rise to Russia’s challenge once again. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about, as Putin seeks to undermine the trust on which so much of the West’s institutions and prosperity rely.

Is Canada worthy of true patriot love?

Inspired by a new Angus Reid/CBC poll that shows young Canadians significantly less likely than their older compatriots to feel patriotic about Canada, I wrote my Oct. 11th Ottawa Citizen column about why Canada is worthy of our honourable patriotic love. Young Canadians may be being led astray by the teaching (if one can call it that) now available to them about Canadian history. This approach to canadian history focuses with unseemly glee and zeal on episodes from our history that to modern sensibilities seem errors, and sometimes huge ones. Acknowledging our forebears’ mistakes, however, is no bar to love of country, and dwelling on those mistakes to the exclusion of earlier generations great achievements is many things, but it is not history, nor an appropriate yardstick by which to measure Canada.

Trans-Pacific Partnership a much-needed bulwark against China

What do the impending failure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and China’s bad behaviour in the South China Sea have in common? Everything. And if TPP is indeed going to fail Canada and other like-minded countries will need to come up with a fallback strategy and be quick about it, as I argued in my August 12th column for the Ottawa Citizen.

China’s challenge to the rule of law in the South China Sea

Writing in my regular Ottawa Citizen column on July 15th, 2016, I argue that the most recent dispute over the South China Sea is a challenge not merely to Canada but to all liberal-democratic societies that prize the rule of law and the use of international institutions, rather than brute force, to settle disputes between nations.

CPP expansion: Evidence-based policymaking it is not

In my June 16th, 2016 Ottawa Citizen column in the days leading up to the federal-provincial meeting on CPP expansion I urged Canadians not to believe the hype coming from the special interests and big-government bureaucrats. Canadians are just fine saving for retirement on their own. This column also appeared in various other Postmedia papers.

Millenials have to earn their place in the workforce

In my May 20th column for the Ottawa Citizen  and other Postmedia papers I take aim at the attitude that employers must tie themselves in knots to accommodate young workers’ preferences around when and how they want to work. I beg to differ. Jobs are not created for the convenience of employees. They exist because of employers who risk their capital and their reputation. The deal is that employees sell their time and have a duty and an obligation to give their best efforts to meet their employers’ needs during that time. Employees are not doing their employers a favour and if they want their preferences accommodated in the workplace the way to do it is to make it clear that they are diligent, energetic and trustworthy employees.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Friends can buy LAVs

The Grits are fumbling the defence of the LAV sale to Saudi Arabia. And they’re not just fumbling a little bit.  It’s a Bob-Stanfield-dropping-the-football photo op kind of fumble. Yet the arguments in favour of the sale (we’re at war with ISIS in the Middle East and the Saudis are our allies, among other things) are more compelling than the hamfisted “They’re nasty people and we should only sell to nice folks” narrative of the government’s critics. The sale of the LAVs is not bad; it’s the lesser of two evils. And that’s a perfectly acceptable and defensible standard, especially where Canada is putting its own troops in harm’s way in this conflict. Read my full analysis in my column for tomorrow’s Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia newspapers.

Premiers once again fail internal trade test. When will Ottawa step up?

As I argue in my March 26th column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers, the Liberals have chosen internal trade liberalisation as the one issue where they see eye to eye with the Tories in looking to the provinces to tear down those barriers. Yet the premiers’ own self-imposed deadline of mid-March for an extensive new deal has come and gone without a peep from any of them. The truth is that the provinces are too busy protecting local interest groups to protect Canadians’ rights in this area. Ottawa alone has the authority and legitimacy to do it, but not yet the will despite the fact that it is Canadians’ rights at stake. Bipartisanship in Ottawa deserves a more worthy standard-bearer than this.

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Brian Lee Crowley
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