Brian Lee Crowley

Ottawa Citizen/Postmedia columns

  • Canada could have used more Jim Flaherty April 11, 2014

    Something quite close to the heart today: my reflections on the character and achievements of a man I greatly admired, Jim Flaherty. His death yesterday of a heart attack brought back a flood of memories of the man I came to know when I had the privilege of being the Clifford Clark Visiting Economist at Finance Canada early in Flaherty’s tenure as minister. Happily we were able to keep the connection over the years as he kindly invited me back every year to chair his summer retreat. Canadians hardly knew what a grand man he was…. My column in the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.

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  • Why Russia’s Crimea caper should matter to us March 28, 2014

    Much of the commentary I’ve read about Russia’s smash and grab of Crimea misses the point about why this kind of behaviour must engage the west’s attention. Much more is at stake than Neville Chamberlain’s famous “quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.” Read more in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.


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  • Why we need Clarity Act Mark II before next referendum March 15, 2014

    In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers I call for Ottawa to supplement the Clarity Act with another law that fills in the gaps left by that original landmark legislation. Mark I gives legislative form to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Secession Reference, but only with regard to the Court’s rules about the standard Quebec must reach to trigger an obligation on the ROC to sit down and negotiate. The SCC went on to say a lot about what would have to happen wrt the negotiations themselves for them to be regarded as constitutional and respectful of the rule of law. Once the April 7th Quebec election is out of the way, if the PQ has their majority Ottawa should table Mark II, laying out what its negotiating mandate would be in any eventual negotiations (e.g. protection of minority rights, which means dismembering Quebec), and well as how Ottawa should respond if Quebec flouts the SCC rules on things like a clear question. Stern but bracing stuff!

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  • Saving the elephant March 1, 2014

    Elephants have come to symbolise the struggle to protect humanity’s dwindling wildlife heritage. At a recent world conference in London about the illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products much was made of the imperative to kill off the entire ivory trade, legitimate or illegal. If we pursue this strategy you can kiss the elephant goodbye, which would be a huge tragedy for humanity and the planet (not least because the strategy’s success requires us to rely on the corrupt and ecologically irresponsible Chinese to suppress their home market for ivory. Good luck with that). Far better that we get serious about distinguishing the legitimate trade from that controlled by criminals and terrorists and, crucially, that we give local people a stake in the successful husbanding of wild creatures like elphants. If they participated fully in the value created by the legitimate trade, they could be the front line in the defence of elephants. Read more in my Ottawa Citizen column:

    Full text follows:

    What animal most personifies the grace, majesty and power of nature than the elephant?  Try to visualize the African wilderness and few images will come more readily to your mind’s eye than the elephant herd peacefully ambling through the savannah.

    But a far darker side of the elephant’s life was revealed in all is awful detail at the recent conference on the illegal trafficking of wildlife products held in London, England.  At the conference the case was made that last year alone 30,000 elephants were slaughtered simply for their ivory, their carcasses left to rot in the veldt. Because of the vast sums to be made in delivering such products to consumers, principally in Asia, organized crime and terrorist organizations have become part of a global criminal enterprise devoted to the uncontrolled killing of this global natural patrimony. These despicable activities rightly shock the conscience of humanity.

    The world’s governments gathered in London committed themselves to work to defeat this $10-billion trade through more stringent bans, harsher enforcement, and destruction of captured ivory and other illegal products.

    America, for example, is engaging in some impressive moral posturing, designed to make Americans feel good about themselves, regardless of the consequences for the poor and dispossessed in the developing world, let alone for elephants. They propose an outright ban of all ivory trade, legitimate or illegal, in the US, and are pushing for one worldwide. And under pressure from western countries, several African states that depend on the legal ivory trade have agreed to submit to a ten year moratorium on ivory harvesting. Campaigners call for the outright banning of the ivory trade in China to destroy the market.

    As laudable as the good intentions of these governments may be, however, the question that they should be wrestling with is whether more energetic enforcement of a policy that has already failed so badly is the right answer. You know what they say about insanity and doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.

    Remember, for example, that these criminal slaughters of innocent animals take place in parts of the world where the state is the weakest, such as sub-Saharan Africa. Poorly paid and equipped local game wardens and police are no match for highly organized criminals armed with bribes, powerful weapons and helicopters, for example. If the banning strategy is to have any hope of success it depends on authorities in China, the most important market, shutting down a highly lucrative trade when they are unwilling or unable to keep melamine out of milk. I personally wouldn’t stake elephants’ future on China’s trustworthiness.

    A more promising approach would come at the problem by strengthening the incentives for locals to husband and humanely develop the resource that elephants and their ivory, for example, represent.

    Consider that there is not a single domesticated species in the world that is endangered. That is because there are people whose livelihood depends on the health and well-being of those animals.

    Wildlife are in the opposite circumstance. Other than the indirect benefits of, say, nature tourism, most locals see too little direct benefit from the protection and husbanding of the elephant population.  By contrast the incentives to poach and participate in the ivory trade are huge. Banning the ivory trade doesn’t eliminate it; it only drives it underground and enhances even further the reward for criminal elements who then control the entire trade.

    A properly run legal ivory trade can and is carried out without harming the elephants. They can be periodically put to sleep and their tusks painlessly and humanely removed, which incidentally destroys the incentive for criminals to kill them. No elephant need die to supply the market for ivory. Indeed local owners will have every incentive to keep the elephant population as large and healthy as possible, whereas criminals must, by the nature of what they do, smash and grab, caring nothing for the long term consequences.

    When local people have the right to harvest the ivory and sell it commercially in properly regulated markets, they realise a huge economic benefit, it creates legitimate local industry and, most importantly, creates a local pool of people highly motivated to battle the poachers, who are now stealing the locals’ livelihood. Western governments looking to defeat the criminals could equip the local owners with the protection and enforcement tools they need (including surveillance drones), perhaps selling seized illegal ivory to help pay the bill.

    Put this together with the emerging controls allowing buyers and governments to distinguish legitimate ivory from the illegal variety and we can have a big impact by separating blood ivory from the legal kind, just as we do with diamonds.

    The trick is to find ways to reward people for looking after elephants. Then both can flourish.

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

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  • Mr Obama, you’re no Jack Kennedy February 3, 2014

    Barack Obama is often compared to assassinated US President John F. Kennedy, including by Kennedy’s late brother Teddy when he endorsed Obama for the Democratic nomination 6 years ago. But judged by his foreign policy at least, Obama is no Jack Kennedy. In his inaugural address, Kennedy famously declaimed:

    “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

    Stirring stuff. Especially when compared to Obama’s foreign policy, which can be summarised as “Comfort your enemies and afflict your friends”. Find out why in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.

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  • Provincial liquor monopolies’ Achilles’ heel January 20, 2014

    If you’ve ever wondered why it is that provinces, who have no constitutional authority to regulate either interprovincial or international commerce, seem able to stop you from buying directly from your favourite Scottish distiller or French vintner or the micro-brewery in the province next door, go to the head of the class. That is the real question we should be asking as we contemplate the future of the provincial liquor monopolies. The place to go to defeat these quaint holdovers of a more moralistic and censorious age is not the province. It is Ottawa first, whose legislation confers on provinces their local monopolies, and the courts second, because it is far from clear that Ottawa has this anti-free trade power to give. Read all about it in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.

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  • How winter shapes Canadians for the better January 7, 2014

    In a column that caused quite a flutter in the Twittersphere I wrote last week in the Ottawa Citizen (and other Postmedia papers) about how the winter helps to shape the character of Canadians. My good friend Barbara Kay tweeted: “unusual to find an original and poignant take on Canada’s cold weather; this is it.” Thanks Barbara!

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  • Making up for decades of neglect of Aboriginal peoples isn’t cheap December 22, 2013

    The Fraser Institute’s Mark Milke made headlines recently with his report on the vertiginous rise in spending on Aboriginal peoples by governments in recent decades. But he neglected the context, which is renewed commitment (both judicial and constitutional) to treaties and Aboriginal rights, the appalling social and economic starting point of many Aboriginal people and the often unsung progress that has resulted from increased resources. Money is not the solution to everything, but solutions do cost money. Read my latest column in the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.

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  • Apartheid: what I saw in South Africa in the 1980s December 13, 2013

    The death of Nelson Mandela inevitably makes one think about the death of apartheid, the cruel and poisonous system of institutionalised racism he helped to topple. But all too few today remember exactly what apartheid was or the toll it took on everyone involved. I spent 3 months in South Africa and Zimbabwe in the early 1980s and have written about my experiences of the time in my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.

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  • The Canadian Senate: No place for angels November 11, 2013

    In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen I explain why it is pure fantasy to think that “getting the politics out of Senate appointments” will fix the Senate. James Madison explained 200 years ago in the Federalist Papers that if human beings were angels, we wouldn’t need to worry about checks and balances and well-designed institututions. But since people are fallible, we need to design institutions to compensate. That’s why we need to fix the Senate, not the appointments process.

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Brian Lee Crowley
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