Brian Lee Crowley

Ottawa Citizen/Postmedia columns

  • What Canada can, and cannot, do about inequality April 24, 2015

    To hear the critics talk, inequality is growing in Canada because of a mean-spirited effort by governments to reduce the tax burden and leaving the most vulnerable to fend for themselves. As I point out in my column for this Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen, this view ignores important facts. First of all, the level of progressivity in Canada is growing, not falling. In other words far from cutting taxes for the wealthy and washing our hands of those on low incomes, if you look at taxes paid and benefits received Canada’s social safety net is highly progressive and increasingly so.

    Rising inequality is therefore not an artifact of Canadians failing to shoulder their responsibilities. The issue is that the inequalities created by globalisation, technological change and returns to skills and talent, market generated inequalities are growing even faster. So is the solution even more taxing and raising benefits? No. On the contrary, as the research I cite from Philip Cross and Munir Sheikh clearly shows, we are at the limits of what we can do through high taxes and passive income transfers. The rest of the progress we need must come from improving economic opportunities and incentives and equipping Canadians to benefit from them, both of which are made harder by high taxes and poorly designed transfers.

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  • All Japan all the time! April 3, 2015

    Thanks to the generosity of the Japanese government I have just returned from two weeks in the land of the rising sun. A fascinating visit that gave me a week’s briefings with government officials, think tanks, academics and others, plus a few moving days in Hiroshima and about 5 days in Kyoto, all during the time that cherry blssom season was slowly gathering way.

    I put some of my impressions in two columns published last week.

    In the first, written for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB, I wrote about my assessment of the chances of success of Abenomics. The summary: losing 250,000 people every year is a huge sheet anchor for the Japanese economy to drag along as the government tries to stimulate it into resurgence. And, well, Keynesianism on steroids is, after all, still just keynesianism, and its track record is dubious at the best of times.

    In the second, written for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia urban dailies, I struck a more positive note, delving into the arguments behind my conviction that Japan remains a better partner for Canada in Asia than China.


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  • No moral high ground here March 1, 2015

    The Tories are often rightly criticised for ignoring inconvenient expert advice and knowledge in pursuit of their political objectives. This is decried by the opposition as crass pandering to the Tories’ political base. But the Liberals have no moral high ground to occupy on this issue. The past examples of them ignoring expert advice to pander to their own political base are many. Nor have they stopped doing so, as their position on e.g. Northern Gateway shows. Read the details in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.

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  • Money politics in Canada and the US January 31, 2015

    As the Koch brothers and their friends publicly contemplate spending nearly $1bn in the 2016 US election cycle (about the cost of a major presidential campaign) to reward their political friends and oppose their enemies, the extent to which money dominates US politics is on display for all to see.

    The dependence on money the US political system imposes on virtually all politicians, successful and less successful, is in marked contrast to Canada, where the major parties spent roughly $20m each in the last general election campaign.

    Does this affect our respective politics? You bet. I lay out just a few examples in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other PostMedia newspapers.

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  • The legacy of Sir John A. Macdonald: He lives on in us…. January 2, 2015

    In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen I celebrate the opening of Sir John A.’s 200th anniversary year with a paean to our principal founder and his vision for what Canada could be. 150 years after Confederation, Canada stands at the front rank of nations. Given the circumstances of 1867 and the unprepossessing materials he had to work with, you have to admire the guy’s vision and…chutzpah!

    Interestingly, roughly a quarter of the Twitter response to my piece has been folks disparaging Sir John as the author of outrages against Indigenous peoples. To them I say that each generation must confront a two-fold challenge: first, to understand and appreciate the legacy we have received from the past; second, to pass that same legacy on improved to those who will follow us. Alas, you churlishly fail the first part of the challenge. Happy to work with you, however, to make sure we get the second part done, including the long overdue reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians.


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  • Obama loves us and leaves us…again December 5, 2014

    On his first visit to Canada, President Obama proclaimed “I love this country.”

    He failed to specify his love was of the tough variety. Ever since Canada’s relationship with the US president has been a long list of disappointments punctuated by the occasional outright provocation.

    The latest punctuation mark is how the president is trying to sell the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal) to Americans: by saying that it will be a good trade agreement, not a bad one like–wait for it– NAFTA was. What is this man thinking?

    Read my latest column in the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers for my thoughts on how Obama has NAFTA all wrong. Like Keystone. Like the new crossing to Detroit. Like country of original labelling. Like how he agreed to Canada joining the TPP talks. Like…well, do I need to go on?

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  • Punish powerful transgressors, protect the innocent: what’s good at home also works abroad November 7, 2014

    In the rush for everyone to prove how intolerant they are of powerful people using their power to hide sexual abuse of the innocent here in Canada, they seem to be forgetting that this commits them, logically and morally, to do the same abroad. So by all means root out abuse at the CBC and parliament, if it is proven to exist. But let’s not forget that far worse crimes are being committed against the innocent in Nigeria, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. A bit of consistency goes a long way, folks! Here’s the link to my Ottawa Citizen column as I originally wrote it. Those of you who enjoy such things might like to compare it to what the editors thought passed muster in the paper itself (-;

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  • The viper in our bosom October 24, 2014

    Two soldiers dead within a week, killed by lone wolves professing to be inspired by jihadist Islamism. Many Canadians are stunned that other Canadians, people born and raised in Canada, could commit these cruel, heartless and destructive acts against our country. And yet treason and treachery are hardly new ideas. They have a long history in every society, including western democracies blessed with freedom and the rule of law. In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers I talk about the history of such betrayals and the unpleasant work we need to do to protect ourselves.

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  • Breathtaking municipal hypocrisy over Uber across the land October 10, 2014

    Passengers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your dirty, expensive and surly taxi experience–at least that’s what I argued in my column today for the Ottawa Citizen (available here in a much expanded version to what appeared in the paper) as I looked at the truly appalling behaviour of cities across Canada in their struggle to keep Uber from spoiling their little taxi racket.

    Uber is a smartphone ride-sharing app that allows people looking for a ride to connect instantly with available drivers. This technology is being rolled out around the industrialised world, including in various large Canadian cities.

    High-tech ride-sharing represents a huge threat to the taxi industry, which is a cosy collusion between incumbent service providers and municipal governments. Cities limit the number of cabs, driving up the price of a taxi ride and creating inevitable shortages at periods of peak demand. In return the lucky owners of taxi permits give their political support to the chummy politicians who keep this game going. When Uber threatens their cosy racket, they cry “Attack on public safety” and try to shut ’em down.

    But as I point out in the column, the problem is that Ottawa, like many cities, is an avid promoter of carpooling, which is indistinguishable from what Uber does, except Uber charges for its service and its drivers’ time. Oh, and Uber is much more effective at promoting ridesharing than cities are at promoting carpooling.

    No wonder cities don’t like Uber but consumers do (-;

    P.S. The reaction in the Twittersphere to my piece gave rise to the following, which is one of my all-time favourite exchanges:

    Taxi guy: Your an idiot.

    Me: I bow before your superior argument, but I will point out that at least I can spell (-;

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  • Buying those boots to put on the ground September 26, 2014

    How the tune has changed!

    Not so long ago, the federal government’s defence critics were decrying its unjustified hawkishness in a demonstrably ever more peaceful world. Now the criticism is that with Putin in Ukraine and IS in Syria and Iraq, we are embarrassing ourselves by not being able to contribute to any serious military response.

    As I argue in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia dailies, this just goes to show that we can’t base military procurement on the transitory circumstances of the moment, but on a sober assessment of Canada’s interests and what an uncertain future in a dangerous world may bring.

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Brian Lee Crowley
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