Brian Lee Crowley

Ottawa Citizen/Postmedia columns

  • What Taiwan can teach us about managing China November 4, 2013

    Thanks to the Taiwan government’s generosity, I have just returned from a visit to the island as part of a Canadian delegation made up of think tankers and academics. The Taiwanese have built a society that is in many way exemplary and done so in the face of Chinese hostility and intimidation. Yet they have now developed an extremely close relationship across the Straits, a topic that is causing a lot of anxiety on the island. How close is close enough? How close is too close? For my thoughts on these questions, have a look at my latest column in the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers.

    Continue reading →
  • A tale of two Trudeaus September 29, 2013

    In my newest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers I tell the story of what I learned about political leadership by watching Pierre Trudeau when I was a young man becoming interested in politics for the first time. I compare Pierre’s leadership style with what Justin has on offer so far. Can’t say that Justin comes off looking too good…

    Continue reading →
  • Why senate reform trumps abolition August 7, 2013

    New column: why if Senate abolition is the answer we’re asking the wrong question:

    Continue reading →
  • Column: Why government and gambling do not mix July 20, 2013

    In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun and other Postmedia dailies I examine the issues raised by governments’ enthusiasm for casinos. Politicians have allowed their addiction to the ready cash that casinos provide to distract them from vital issues such as where the money comes from and the ethics and economics of a government being a self-interested promoter of gambling.

    Governments should get out of gambling

    Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, July 19, 2013

    Gambling can be a terrible addiction, made worse by government’s addiction to money.

    Ottawa and Toronto are only the latest communities to get caught up in the rush to expand access to gambling. Casinos are all the rage — in addition to Ottawa and Toronto, many aboriginal communities want them, for example. (Of the over 70 casinos in Canada about a fifth are aboriginally owned.) Once Detroiters saw their money going across the river to Windsor’s, they built three.

    But while the discussion about casinos usually focuses on where to put them, and how to divide up the spoils, too little attention is paid to the huge issue they represent for governments and fairness. As one participant in a conference on gambling observed a few years ago, “the Canadian government gambling model focuses on revenue generation and glosses over harm.”

    If you’ve ever sat in a bar watching punters feed loonies into video lottery terminals (VLTs) you’ll know that a lot of gambling has nothing to do with the Hollywood image of tuxedoed high rollers betting vast sums on a roll of the dice. Much of it is cheap and sordid, vulnerable people enticed to throw away the rent money in the eternal quest for the Big Score.

    Knowing that the industry preys on human weakness, governments sensibly used to make it hard to gamble. Casinos were only available in distant places like Reno and Las Vegas, or restricted to private clubs to ensure that low-budget punters didn’t get in to squander that week’s pay. Because they didn’t depend on them for revenue, governments could be the disinterested regulators that potentially dangerous activities require.

    Then they discovered what the Mob has known all along — that gambling generates huge amounts of cash for those who own or control casinos. After that the jig was up. Governments’ insatiable search for money, born of an inability to control their own spending, unleashed a wave of state-promoted gambling dens to relieve the credulous of their cash.

    By a sleight of hand every card sharp ought to admire, these governments shifted the discussion from preying on human weakness to all the benefits that could be created by politicians getting their hands on casino cash cows. Think of all the great public purposes that could be achieved, the good works, charities and sports teams supported, the “community reinvestment” and so forth. And all without raising taxes.

    But in the rush to cash in the chips, governments forgot that it matters enormously to the integrity of public spending how the money spent is raised. Doing good with the money is not enough.

    It is the job of government to decide what public services the community needs and can afford but also to ensure that the money raised to pay for those services meets certain standards. We endlessly debate the fairness of the tax system, the regressive nature of sales taxes, how the tax burden should be shared out between individuals and corporations, how much harder the income tax should hit those at the top of the income scale than at the bottom. We worry about how user fees will affect low income people. Ability to pay is a crucial part of the debate over taxes, as Margaret Thatcher learned when she was driven from office in part by a decision to impose a tax (the “community charge”) that took no account of ability to pay.

    Somehow gambling revenues escape this scrutiny. Yet if politicians are genuinely convinced that the things they spend gambling revenue on are legitimate public purposes, then they should use the established tax system to collect those revenues, making everyone contribute their fair share under the law, and not just those vulnerable to the siren song of Lady Luck.

    Remember that no matter what the politicians promoting gambling say, gambling revenues from local casinos by and large comes from local people, not outsiders. The casinos don’t generate new wealth for the community. They take money from locals who would have spent it on other things, on clothes and rent and food, and exploit human weakness to transfer that money into the hands of those same politicians to dispense on projects that they think make them look good.

    Yes, we’ve always taxed vice (think tobacco and alcohol) and we should continue to do so. But clearly the scale of revenues governments get from controlling (and not just taxing) gambling have become so large that they no longer focus successfully on the damage gambling does. Governments that should be arm’s length independent regulators of gambling in the public interest are now shabby self-interested enablers. Everything we used to understand about how to limit the harm gambling does has been tossed out the window by politicians in the pursuit of cash. Shame on them.

    Continue reading →
  • Column: Tell the truth, separatism is dead June 21, 2013

    In today’s Ottawa Citizen, and following on the heels of the recent Great Canadian Debate “The Government of Quebec can decide unilaterally to secede from Canada” I argue that for all practical reasons, the idea of an independent Quebec is a non-starter.

    Column: Tell the truth, separatism is dead

    By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen June 21, 2013

    Why will no political leader stand up and tell the truth about Quebec separatism? That truth is that separatism is dead—not, of course as something to dream about and vote for; that, like death and taxes will always be with us. No, the truth is that the hurdle is set so high for it to be done successfully and legally that separation is, for all intents and purposes, impossible.

    Even Stéphane Dion, architect of the Clarity Act and one of the most courageous and rightly admired of Quebec federalists, still maintains the fiction that the key question is whether Quebec gives a clear answer to a clear question on secession. Quebec will not be kept in Canada “against its will.” He said so again the other night at one of the Great Canadian Debates Series organised by my institute in Ottawa. If Quebeckers really want to go, he says, they can.

    True, forcing Quebeckers to stay against their clearly expressed will is a recipe for misery. On the other hand, downplaying the certain costs Quebeckers would confront to get out of Confederation encourages separation fantasies, distorting that very decision about whether to vote to leave. The secessionists, like former Bloquiste Daniel Turp, who debated Dion, strive to make Quebeckers believe that independence would be essentially costless, while creating all kinds of benefits (we will finally be maîtres chez nous, or as the great Quebec chansonnier  Félix Leclerc put it, it would mean the end of the fat greasy fingers of strangers pawing through the family papers).

    It seems clear, though, that if Quebeckers understood the real cost they would have to pay to get out of Canada, the likelihood of such a vote ever occurring would plummet. So by failing to confront Quebeckers with the truth of their legal and constitutional position, the defenders of federalism actually help to foster the climate of confusion and uncertainty that has cost the whole country so dearly, and no one more than Quebeckers themselves over the last half century.

    The Supreme Court had the cojones to make clear just how high the bar to secession sits in its 1998 decision on three questions referred to it by the Chrétien government. Those questions dealt with when and under what conditions Ottawa might be required to recognise a pro-independence vote in a Quebec referendum and negotiate the province’s secession.

    What many people, including the federal government, took away from the Court’s ruling was that Quebec could not unilaterally set the rules of such a referendum. Ottawa is entitled to say it will never open negotiations on Quebec independence unless a clear question has been asked and a clear majority given. The 1999 Clarity Act gives legal form to this requirement.

    Ottawa has remained silent, however, on the rest of the Supreme Court’s decision, for it did not stop at setting the conditions under which Ottawa would be legally obliged to open negotiations on secession.  There were also conditions to be attached to the negotiations themselves. Those conditions include respect of the rule of law, the rights of minorities and the federal nature of Canada.

    Think about what any of those conditions might mean. The rule of law means that secession must be accomplished under the Constitution. Since the Constitution does not contemplate a province leaving, it would have to be amended. Such an amendment would fall under the unanimity rule, meaning that Quebec must negotiate secession with the nine other provinces plus Ottawa; any province, even tiny Prince Edward Island, could legitimately upset the secession applecart all on its own. Nor would any province give its consent unless it got its quid pro quo; Quebec taught us that rule of constitutional negotiation. Federalism doesn’t disappear simply because Quebeckers vote to make it go away.

    Respecting minority rights means that Ottawa would almost certainly have to protect the interests of at least two minorities: Aboriginals (who have zero interest in leaving Canada) and federalists who voted to remain in Canada. Accordingly, Quebec could not possibly get out of the negotiations with its territory intact. Minorities given short shrift in the negotiations could turn to the Supreme Court for relief.

    Fond fantasies aside, Quebec cannot, by majority vote, wave away its legal obligations. Quebec would crave and need international recognition, but that recognition will only be forthcoming if Quebec leaves according to the rules. Those are the ones the Supreme Court has laid down.  Virtually any imaginable secession deal that could emerge from such negotiations would be repugnant and unacceptable to Quebec nationalists. Result: economic devastation and deadlock, no matter how much Quebeckers might wish to leave.

    Breaking up is indeed hard to do; so hard in fact that the chances of it ever occurring are microscopic. We should say so and act accordingly.

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

    Continue reading →
  • Latest Column in Ottawa Citizen: “The problem with ‘tax the rich’” June 7, 2013

    In today’s Ottawa Citizen, I try to make the case that in a world of finite resources, simply taxing the rich may cause more harm than good for the economy.

    The problem with ‘tax the rich’


    When asked why he robbed banks, notorious gangster Willie Sutton is alleged to have replied, “Because that’s where the money is.”

    Some of the debaters at the recent Munk Debate on whether we should tax the rich more felt like they were channelling Willie.

    By way of context, the Munk Debates are sponsored by Canadian businessman and philanthropist Peter Munk. They bring together global intellectual heavyweights to debate hot topics of world interest.

    The last debate, held May 30 in Toronto, was no exception. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, and famed economist Arthur Laffer debated the motion “we should tax the rich more.”

    Surprisingly, given the ideological gulf between the debaters and their impressive intellectual firepower, the debate seemed to me to fail to tackle the central issue: not “do we want more government?” but “how do we get the best value for society out of our scarce resources?” We can all think of pet projects we would like government to undertake, and most of us would be prepared to accept higher taxes if it meant that project went ahead. But we go badly wrong when we frame the question this way.

    The reason we go wrong is that it makes it sound like the money is free, that taking it from “the rich” leaves everything else as it was, and just gives us the benefit of greater public spending. But when you take money from someone, it is not as if they had no plans for it. They were going to use it to buy goods and services or to save and invest. All of those things are good for everyone, creating growth and jobs. But if you take their money through taxation, society does not get that benefit. Instead it gets the very different benefit of increased public spending.

    Which of these is more valuable? Again if tax money just magically appears, any benefit from public spending is a pure gain for society.

    But if private spending also creates public benefits like growth and jobs, you must subtract the lost benefits of the private spending from the benefits of the new public spending. Remember, the decision is not whether the dollar is to be spent, but by whom and on what.

    For a lot of reasons, including that we spend our own money more carefully than we spend other people’s money (Senate expenses, anyone?), a dollar raised in taxes costs more than a dollar in lost economic activity. A very conservative estimate would be that this so-called deadweight loss is about 20 per cent. In other words a dollar taken out of private hands and spent by government doesn’t just mean a dollar less in private activity but $1.20 less.

    That would be fine if we got $1.20 in value from a dollar spent in the public sector but governments are notoriously wasteful and inefficient. Decisions are slow and cumbersome and are often taken for reasons of political expediency rather than economic impact (flown out of Mirabel lately?), so a dollar in public spending produces less than a dollar in actual economic benefit. The net public benefit of shifting that dollar by taxation is starting to look pretty skimpy.

    That brings us to the other great undefended assumption of the debate, namely that larger government is the best friend of the most vulnerable. If you accept that premise, then resisting higher taxes for the rich sounds like mean-spirited denial of benefits to the needy.

    Leave aside the fact that government itself does many things that leave the most vulnerable worse off, such as agricultural supply management that makes their food more expensive, or employment insurance, whose benefits go predominantly to the well-paid, and that much public spending goes to comfortable civil servants, not the poor. Is more public spending what the poorest need?

    Not if Canada’s experience of the 1990s is any guide. In the decade that followed the Chrétien government’s great fiscal reforms, we saw the size of government go from 53 per cent of GDP to 39 per cent, an unprecedented fall. We balanced the books and cut taxes to boot. Yet we simultaneously saw the number of people living in poverty fall dramatically.

    Why? Because we unleashed a torrent of private investment and economic growth that pulled previously unemployed people into work and the very best escape route from poverty is more family members able to work more hours. We made government smaller while generating a tide of growth that lifted all boats.

    In Willie Sutton’s terms, the rich may be where the money is; that doesn’t mean substituting government’s decisions for their decisions about how to spend it produces the best outcomes, even for the poorest among us.

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

    Continue reading →
  • MLI Study in the Vancouver Sun: First Nations support key to future of pipelines May 31, 2013

    Following the release of MLI’s latest study The Way Out: new thinking about Aboriginal engagement and energy infrastructure to the west coast, part of our ground-breaking series Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resources Economy, my project co-leader Ken Coates, and I write in the Vancouver Sun that First Nations support will be one of the most important aspects for any energy project in Canada.

    First Nations support key to future of pipelines


    Just a few weeks ago, proponents of pipelines between the Prairies and the West Coast were preparing for the worst. Adrian Dix, the apparently victory-bound leader of the B.C. NDP, had already declared Enbridge’s Northern Gateway would be dead on his watch and, mid-election, pronounced a similar sentence on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion plans.

    The subsequent Liberal upset victory, which many analysts attribute to the NDP’s fervent opposition to wealth-creating pipelines, has given the Northern Gateway project a partial reprieve. But despite strong federal backing and now a pro-growth provincial government, the project hangs by a thread.

    Premier Christy Clark has significant reservations, and knows that proceeding would attract cries of outrage from environmentalists. B.C. has its own problems with Alberta, and the souring of relations between the two western provinces over pipelines has the potential to cause great economic harm to the country. Neither issue, however, is the greatest barrier to the project’s success.

    First Nations along the pipeline route hold the hammer on this project. If they remain opposed to the Enbridge proposal or to the idea of energy corridors to the coast, no pipeline will be built. Full stop. First Nations have primary social and cultural standing in this debate. If they cannot be convinced that the pipeline serves their interests and provides adequate environmental protection, the project is not going to proceed.

    Equally important, First Nations have growing legal clout, best embodied in the Supreme Court recognition of the government’s duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal interests, which could hold up construction indefinitely. Even with strong federal government support and an approved environmental plan, the Northern Gateway Project likely cannot proceed.

    With strong aboriginal support, however, much becomes possible. The most intense environmental activists will oppose Northern Gateway, no matter what. More practical environmentalists and conservationists, including the B.C. public, realize that resource development can be properly and safely managed. First Nations’ support, with its environmental credibility, would likely weigh heavily with them. With aboriginal backing, we think a majority of British Columbians can be brought on board.

    The First Nations’ power over development arises out of a complex web of unresolved land claims, legal victories, constitutional recognition of aboriginal rights, and indigenous self-government. Aboriginal Canadians are now indispensable partners in resource development – including major infrastructure – and this reality is not going to change.

    Nor is this a bad thing. Most First Nations are supportive of development, provided it proceeds on their terms and with appropriate returns in the form of jobs, revenue and business creation. There are dozens of major projects underway across the country in real partnership with First Nations, bringing substantial benefits to local communities, Canadian business and the national economy.

    How will this work for Northern Gateway? Some First Nations along the pipeline route, including the Haisla on whose traditional lands the Kitimat terminus is located, are willing to proceed with properly managed development projects. First Nations along the route will have to agree to participate in Northern Gateway, ideally as equity partners (the Enbridge proposal includes 10-per-cent aboriginal equity ownership). In addition to equity participation, a proper arrangement would involve a commitment to the world’s highest standards for environmental protection along the corridor and on the coast, plus arrangements for aboriginal business development and job training, and sustained revenues for First Nations communities.

    Assuming Northern Gateway gets suitable environmental and regulatory approval from the current Joint Review Process, a new approach to First Nations participation will still be needed. That almost certainly means more substantial equity ownership (not least because the equity must be shared among so many First Nations) and aboriginal involvement in environmental and project management and oversight. First Nations must be assured that they will be primary beneficiaries from a project that crosses their lands, bringing opportunity and employment instead of the unregulated socio-economic change and environmental risk they too often experienced in the past.

    The way we develop resources in Canada is changing profoundly. Like it or not, Northern Gateway is a symbol for the new order. The project’s current trajectory stokes vigorous aboriginal opposition that alone could be enough to stall or even kill a project that could create vast wealth for Canadians.

    A much better outcome is possible, one that meets the objections of most who oppose the project on environmental grounds and that assures aboriginal people of sustained and long-term benefits from the construction and operation of the pipeline. Northern Gateway could, with political will and openness to new arrangements, be transformed from a symbol of the new-found power of aboriginal people to stop vital national projects into a model of the real partnerships that henceforth will be the indispensable key to responsible resource development in Canada.

    Brian Lee Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Ken Coates is the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. They are co-authors of The Way Out: New thinking about Aboriginal engagement and energy infrastructure to the West Coast, just released by the institute and available at

    Continue reading →
  • Column in the Ottawa Citizen: Anti-Islam prejudice is no way to defend freedom May 24, 2013

    Please read my latest column below, published in Postmedia outlets including the Ottawa Citizen where I write that the greatest protection Western nations have against terror is to steadfastly punish culprits who cause or call others to cause violence, while simultaneously safeguarding and defending the freedoms and liberties that protect us all.

    Anti-Islam prejudice is no way to defend freedom


    As the outrages of militant radical Islamists become ever more horrific, the temptation in western societies to give in to anti-Islam prejudice becomes ever stronger. When the Toronto 18 were arrested, several mosques were vandalized in the Toronto area. Post 9/11 in the U.S. and post 7/7 in the UK, movements have emerged to oppose the building of mosques.

    Expressions of hostility to Muslim immigration or dress are never far from the surface, and every beheading of a soldier in the streets of London, or mass shooting by a madman shouting “God is great” gives extra cover to people who cannot distinguish between radical Islam and ordinary law-abiding Muslims.

    Yet being able to make this distinction — to punish wrongdoers while defending the freedoms of everyone who obeys the law, including Muslims — is the bedrock condition of being both free and safe.

    Because the free society is not a mutual suicide pact, we have developed ways of protecting our freedoms from those hostile to them, while protecting everyone who respects our core values.

    Central to this is drawing a clear distinction between belief and action. We may believe whatever we want; our minds are private and not the province of legislators or police. But we are not entitled to act on beliefs or ideas that impinge on the protected sphere of rights and personal security that we promise to all other members of society. I cannot insist on this too strongly: it is not illegal, nor should it be illegal, to be a radical Islamist, to believe that infidels are a disgrace in the eyes of God, or to believe that the Quran supersedes human-made law. What is illegal is to act on these beliefs when doing so infringes on the rights and freedoms of others.

    In the free society we are not entitled to use each other as things to be used to satisfy our desires. People are not things. They are individuals with rights. This means that we are forbidden to use any kind of coercive means to impose our views on others, up to and including murdering people who disagree with us as a means of intimidating members of our society and of undermining our institutions.

    Robbing or defrauding or assaulting someone is to use them for your own ends without their consent. And so, too, is blowing them up with suicide bombs, derailing trains in which they are passengers, or releasing anthrax in the air.

    The thing all these acts have in common that makes them morally reprehensible is that it takes human beings who are entitled to rights, respect, and autonomy and treats them as playthings, as objects to be bent to your will, or casually destroyed.

    We do not allow this, and we punish severely those who do not follow this most basic rule of civilized behaviour in liberal democratic society. This is the foundation stone of such societies.

    Only the weak-minded cannot — or fear to — distinguish between religious freedom and promotion of terrorism.

    Such promotion includes conspiracies to incite people to break the law. Doing so under the cover of religion cannot be an excuse for us failing to recognize the corrosive and destructive nature of such acts, which by their nature deprive themselves of the protection of religious freedom.

    Those who counsel criminal acts within the mosque or the madrassa, for example, cannot expect to enjoy the protection of freedom of religion for their words.
    They are illegal and unacceptable and no genuinely liberal-democratic society can or should tolerate them.

    If we allow our legitimate fear of radical Islamism to outweigh our commitment to religious freedom, including for Muslims, tenants of one of the world’s great religions, we become intolerant authoritarians.

    If on the other hand we kid ourselves that radical or militant Islamism is not a serious threat to public order and public safety, we risk a serious decline in public trust, as fearful citizens lose confidence in the safety of their society and bullies have their way with us. Either way, freedom is deeply endangered.

    The right balance requires that occasionally we must act in ways that make us uncomfortable. We must ensure that our houses of worship, schools, prisons and other institutions are not being used to promote illegal acts, no matter what thin veneer of religious respectability their proponents may fashion for them. We must do this for the same reasons we take vigorous steps to ensure anti-Muslim extremists cannot act on their beliefs.

    If we are serious about freedom we must police the frontier between thought and act without fear or apology. Not to do so is to prove ourselves unworthy of the heritage of freedom we enjoy and for which so much has been sacrificed.

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

    Continue reading →
  • Finding Peace Through Strength April 27, 2013

    In Postmedia outlets across Canada today, MLI’s Brian Lee Crowley writes that if Canada wants to be a great nation, Canada must be a strong nation.

    Finding Peace Through Strength

    By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen April 27, 2013

    Whether Edmund Burke actually said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, there is no disputing the aptness of the sentiment.

    At a time when North Korean megalomaniacs brandish nuclear weapons while Iranian ayatollahs look on with scarcely concealed missile envy, Syrian strongmen toy with chemical weapons of mass destruction and China gleefully goads Japan with gunships over the Senkaku Islands, bad people the world over are proving yet again that evil, like rust, never sleeps.

    Bullies are a fact of life, among people and among nations. They despise the effete practice of respecting the beliefs, persons and property of those who stand between them and what they want. They regard invitations to talk, to work out our differences, to try and get along, as a sign of weakness, but a weakness they are perfectly willing to exploit for their advantage.

    Living in the West, where we respect the rule of law and generally resolve our differences peacefully, it can all too easily appear that all the world’s the same. And if that were true, then much of the world’s spending on arms and defence would indeed be a wasteful travesty that enriched the arms industry for no worthwhile purpose.

    We hear this argument made over and over again, especially in hard economic times, in America, in Canada and in Europe. We have heard our fair share of it here at home as critics have attacked plans to acquire new fighter aircraft, re-equip the navy or buy new helicopters. As one such American critic once quaintly put it, “It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

    Alas, though, in a world with bad people in it, the idea that we can choose between schools (or health care or pension or welfare) and muscular defence isn’t just a mistake, it is a dangerous delusion that exposes us to great risks.

    The Romans stated the underlying principle succinctly: peace through strength; that policy is just as right today as it was then.

    For bullies will only submit to the rule of law, only agree to resolve differences through discussion rather than intimidation, when they see that breaches of the rules will be punished. Disarming the good people of the world is merely an invitation to the bad ones to throw their weight around secure in the knowledge that no one can stop them. A different way of thinking about this is that peace without justice is just submission, and so anyone who elevates peace as the single overriding value, the one that should trump all others, is offering to trade away both peace and justice for a world where the strong make the rules to suit themselves.

    If the West did not hew to this line of peace through strength, today the Falklands would be under Argentine military rule, Islamists would be in charge in Mali, Somali pirates would be attacking more ships, not recovering after punitive raids, Saddam Hussein would not only still be in power but would have absorbed Kuwait, Iran would be using nuclear weapons to dominate the Middle East and South Korea would be under the heel of a madman in Pyongyang, to name but a few recent instances.

    Genuine peace is only possible when good people take responsibility to protect it from those who would abuse and destroy it. We’d all like it if that job could be done by talking alone, but it can’t.

    And for those who think Canada should carry more weight in the world, that its voice should be heard more loudly in the concert of nations, consider this. The nations of Europe with highly developed welfare states and shrinking militaries matter less and less because they increasingly lack the means to carry their share of the responsibility for peace and the rule of law. With the occasional exception they are ceasing to be players and becoming mere spectators.

    Asian countries like Japan, South Korea and India, by contrast, matter ever more because they have the means and the will to put themselves on the line for what they believe in, as the Japanese prime minister recently announced his country would do in the face of Chinese aggressiveness over the Senkaku islands.

    Yes, being strong carries dangers, and we have to guard against abuse; but being weak is far worse.

    In the years ahead Canada must decide which camp it’s in; whether it wants to be a player, a force for peace and justice, or just a moralizing kibitzer that can safely be ignored. Canada can be a great nation, but taking its share of responsibility for the maintenance of world order is the unavoidable price.

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



    Continue reading →
  • Why the Liberals need a Margaret Thatcher April 12, 2013

    Appearing in major newspapers across Canada, the Macdonald-Laurier Insitute’s Brian Lee Crowley reflects on the true legacy of Margaret Thatcher and the meaning of “Thatcherism”, and why the Liberals need their own Margaret Thatcher.

    Why the Liberals Need a Margaret Thatcher

    Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, April 12, 2012

    She was a liberal in the classical sense.

    Having lived in the United Kingdom for the first half of Margaret Thatcher’s time in office, I saw her handiwork up close, just as I saw the electrifying effect she had on the British people, for both good and ill.

    But in all the commentary I have read very few writers have, in my estimation, rightly understood her politics. And no one has mentioned how very relevant the Thatcherite legacy is to the Liberal Party of Canada, whose new leader is about to be chosen.

    To begin with, anybody who thinks Margaret Thatcher was a ‘conservative’ mistakes packaging for substance. What were her signature policies: the individualism of middle class aspiration and opportunity; a mistrust of monopoly and unaccountable institutions; free trade; a muscular and moralistic foreign policy; moderate taxes; and responsible public finances.

    These are not the policies of British conservatism, which is the party of privilege and class, of deference to established institutions and authority, of paternalism, trimming and compromise. Truth be told, the Tories shared responsibility with Labour for the sad decline of Britain during the years before Thatcher. Long known in British politics as the stupid party, they allowed Labour to generate the ideas, with the Tories simply promising to run things better than the socialists. That produced a rudderless leftward drift.

    Thus it was that Margaret Thatcher’s rise to the leadership of the Conservatives was resisted by the party establishment. She wasn’t just a woman, and a conviction politician. She represented a liberal insurgency that ripped the Tories from their moorings. The Conservative Party was the first British institution to be pummelled by her famous handbag.

    Margaret Thatcher’s ideas were unambiguously those that had animated the British Liberals for generations. Her father, whom she revered, was a prominent Liberal and she learned her politics at his knee.

    If Thatcher had heroes in Britain’s political past, they were not Benjamin Disraeli or Stanley Baldwin. They were Edmund Burke and William Gladstone. Her Conservatism, she said, “would be best described as ‘liberal’, in the old-fashioned sense. And I mean the liberalism of Mr Gladstone, not of the latter day collectivists.”

    The British Liberal Party, however, abandoned Gladstonian liberalism, a transmogrification that began under David Lloyd George. The party sank to third party status where it remains mired today, albeit in coalition with the Conservatives. By losing the balance between Gladstonian and big government Liberals, the party’s forces were scattered to the winds, with most, like Churchill and Thatcher, ending up as an influential minority within the Tories.

    But when, by force of personality and moral conviction, Thatcher imposed her views on the reluctant mainstream of the Conservatives, she revealed that while classical liberal ideas might no longer dominate in any party, they continued to resonate with the great British public. When offered real liberalism after years of socialist-Tory drift, they embraced it with enthusiasm. When Mrs Thatcher strayed, as she did with the poll tax that helped bring her down, they would not follow.

    The real measure of her success was that the Labour Party became unelectable until it too embraced the basic tenets of liberalism. They jettisoned anti-liberal policies like nationalization of industry and overweening trade unions that had been Labour orthodoxy. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

    As for the Liberal Party of Canada, prior to the Sixties they were enthusiastic Gladstonians. Virtually every tenet of Thatcherism they would have claimed as their own. They were the party of liberty, the individual, responsible finances, middle class aspiration and opportunity.

    In the 1960s the party became divided between classical liberals who celebrated individual freedom and those who thought the burgeoning state could solve all our ills. The tension was a creative one for a while, but ultimately gave way to a party less moved by ideas and more preoccupied by the management of client groups clamouring for the state’s largesse.

    Classical liberalism’s last hurrah within the party was the fiscal reforms of the 1990s that tamed the very state whose growth they had so assiduously cultivated since Lester Pearson. That was no break with tradition, but a return to the party’s roots. Like Thatcherism, it was highly popular at the time. But since then they have reverted to post-1960s type.

    Perplexingly for Liberals, the Tories are now where classical liberal ideas are most welcome, while the NDP is the more convincing advocate of the big government alternative. Can the centre hold?

    If the Liberal Party of Canada is to have a hope of revival, it must have a leader capable of holding those opposites together again, staking out that distinctive middle ground and promising to be more than just the least offensive dispenser of the state’s munificence. That’s a job that calls for a doughty handbag-wielder; alas, there are none on the horizon.

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

    Continue reading →
Brian Lee Crowley
Get Adobe Flash player