Brian Lee Crowley

The Canadian Century: A “visionary work”, says Globe and Mail’s Neil Reynolds

Columnist Neil Reynolds has devoted his column to The Canadian Century in today’s Globe and Mail.

Finally, amid the pervasive gloom, comes an exuberant expression of optimism – nay, faith – in Canada’s future. Remarkably, it comes from three economists, practitioners of the famously dismal science. The 20th century, they say, wasn’t destined to belong to Canada, as turn-of-the-century prime minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier once asserted it would be. But Laurier, wasn’t really wrong, they say – he was merely premature. Make it the 21st century instead.

What went wrong? What caused a 100-year postponement of Canada’s manifest destiny? Laurier put everything in place for a century of stupendous advance, these economists say – but the country discarded Laurier’s precepts for decades. “We abandoned almost every tenet of Laurier’s plan,” they say, “and we paid a heavy price for it.”

But, bit by bit, Canada has tentatively restored, or begun to restore, Laurier’s lost tenets – a restoration successively accomplished by Conservative governments (notably, Brian Mulroney’s free trade agreement with the United States in the late 1980s and early 1990s), NDP governments (notably Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow’s principled return to balanced budgets in the 1990s) and Liberal governments (notably Paul Martin’s paying down of the national debt in the late 1990s and early 2000s).


Canadian Century celebrates the good beginning that the “redemptive decade,” with its tentative return to Laurier’s lost tenets, provided – apparently, given the great global recession, just in the nick of time. It laments the retreat from these tenets that the recession produced. Now, the economists say, is the time to finish the job – now that Canada’s opportunity has been doubled “by America’s confusion and loss of direction” – and by its own loss of the tenets that produce enduring prosperity.

Good intentions are not enough

In a follow up column to his two-part series on Fearful Symmetry, Globe columnist Neil Reynolds talked about the dissenters among his readership:

“In this space last week, economist Brian Lee Crowley advanced his intriguing theory that demographic changes will compel Canada to return to the classic liberal principles of personal responsibility and limited government. A number of readers dissented. “Don’t be so greedy,” one of them wrote. “We have found in our character a generosity that has mandated, by the authority of democratically elected governments, the equitable distribution of wealth among most of our people.”

“He suggested that people who find wisdom in Mr. Crowley’s newly published book, Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values, possess “hard little hearts.” These hard-hearted people, he said, think that economic losers should be made to suffer.”

Neil goes on to cast some doubt on this proposition in his own way. Now let me add my own view that the dissenters have missed the point. If they ever pick up Fearful Symmetry they will discover in it an impassioned plea for a reform of social programmes so that those programmes will stop doing so much harm to the most vulnerable in our society. Good intentions, the desire to help those less fortunate, are laudable impulses. But we too often make the mistake of simply throwing money at the problem through ill-designed social programmes, such as EI and many kinds of provincial social welfare, that end up trapping our most vulnerable citizens in a near-permanent dependence on benefits. In the book I make the case that this is a far worse fate than being a productive member of our society, even in a relatively low-paying job.

Work is one of the key ways in which we develop our humanity, contribute to our community and become free people pursuing our own goals. These are essential elements of the fully human life. When we design social programmes that make that harder to achieve, we are not being “generous” or “caring”. We are being destructive and using tax money as a cheap salve to our inflamed consciences. If you pick up the book you’ll see that I also argue that this view of the centrality of work and the importance of keeping the most vulnerable out of the clutches of the well-meaning welfare state is increasingly accepted across the political spectrum.

Brian Lee Crowley
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