Sunday, March 25, 2007

Canada Is A Failed State

One thing became crystal clear this week, Canada doesn't work. Fairness is an illusion, alienation is institutionalized, appeasement trumps common sense. Canada is dysfunctional, asymmetrical, uneven. Canada has a national legislature, wherein a sizable portion of officials don't believe in the state, in fact there motivations are too destroy it.

I'm tired of reading figures like this:
all the $12.7 billion in “equalization payments” that will be transferred this year through the feds from the three “rich” provinces — Ontario, Alberta and B.C. — to the seven have-nots, Quebec will get 56% of the loot, up from 49% a year ago.

Quebec may have 25% of the population, but it will now be getting 33% of the nearly $50 billion the feds will give in total to all the provinces this year for health, education, social programs and equalization.

This year, the average Canadian taxpayer will send just under $1,000 to Quebec, money that will help pay for cheap government auto insurance, and subsidized $7-a-day child care.

Andrew Coyne, with one of the best anti-fiscal imbalance columns, that puts absurdity into context:
All the provinces are now running surpluses: In the aggregate, they took in $9-billion more than they spent last year. The average provincial debt-to-GDP ratio is less than 20%; Ottawa's debt is still 33% of GDP. Provinces pay 8? of every revenue dollar in debt interest; the feds, 15?.

Is the federal government hogging the available fiscal room? Federal spending, excluding transfers to the provinces, is now just 10% of GDP, versus the provinces' 16%. The same holds true on the revenue side. Federal revenues: 16% of GDP. Provincial revenues (including transfers): 18%. And the gap is widening.

I supported distinct society, I supported the Quebec Liberal "nation" amendment, I will always support Quebec as a unique entity within Canada. Having said that, enough is enough with the Canadian dynamic. The principles of equality, all in it together, are lost, because the reality is Canada has a constant, lingering, knife at it's throat. The rest of the country is held hostage by the desires of one sub-section.

The time has come for English Canada to get its act together, when it comes to separation. Too often, the focus is on appeasement, while the drift continues. Mention the word constitution and people scurry like rats. Everyone is focused on keeping the separatists at bay, tweaking here and there, saying the right things to secure support in a critical electoral province. The interest of the nation, in totality, is compromised as there is disproportionate focus on a one region. This fact has largely contributed to Western alienation, which presents a interesting paradox- the efforts to keep the country together, simultaneously demonstrate why the country doesn't work.

Canada is ridiculous. One province has all the leverage, through the threat of seperation. English Canada is permanently on the defensive, because of that threat, and it is forced to act accordingly, pacification is king. However, despite all the efforts, it leads nowhere, the threat remains, in fact it emboldens it. A seat at UNESCO, only raises stature, allowing for more demands and further "autonomy. Fiscal security only furthers the illusion that separation has little cost, that autonomy can be achieved without ruin. Separatist MP's are viewed as a sign of pride and strength, a permanent fixture in an institution which is supposed to bring the federation together.

The situation is untenable, when one province, by any empiricial measure, receives a great share than the rest. Canada is supposedly a collective, with the idea of equality at the core. Isn't it pathetic, that political considerations create a condition where we have classes of Canadians. That is a nation? No, that is an illusion, and it's about time people accept this fact. The kicker, if you polled Quebecers, I'll bet the majority would still see some disparity in how they are treated within Canada, some latent grips. Canada needs a therapist, or maybe a divorce, seriously.


One nation, or several, but not two said...

"The time has come for English Canada to get its act together"

What is this "English Canada" that you speak of?

Miles Lunn said...

I think the problem is intepretation, everyone seems to have a different view on what makes them equal. Another problem is way too many Canadians think what is best for my province rather than what is best for my country.

As much as I hate to praise the United States on some things, I do think when it comes to national unity they do a lot better job than we do. You don't see states bickering as much as our provinces do and most Americans are always American before what state they come from.

Now part of that could be because of high levels of mobility since most Americans have lived in more than one state and likewise here in Canada if one has lived in more than one province they are more likely to see things from a national than provincial perspective.

Steve V said...

"Another problem is way too many Canadians think what is best for my province rather than what is best for my country."

I would argue that mentality is amplified when you don't think the federal government acts in your self interest. In appeasing Quebec, whether through leadership or policies, it forces other regions to see the provincial government as the true voice.

The Americans don't have to deal with the duality, which makes their situation easier to manage.

Radical Centrist said...

While i agree with you that Canada needs a major overhaul, i'm not willing to point the finger solely at Quebec - all the provinces need to go, IMO.

But anyway, you do understand that the reason why Quebec gets so much more from equalization is because the money is based on population, right? And since Quebec has by far the largest population of all the "have-nots", it gets more money. However, if you look at what equalization represents in each province's overall budget - equalization for Quebec is a much smaller % of its revenue than it is for a province like PEI, for example. So while PEI gets much less actual $, that $ represents a far greater % of PEI's total revenue.

Also, running surpluses has no bearing on whether a province qualifies for equalization. A province could, in theory, be debt free and run surpluses and still qualify for equalization if it can't raise enough own-source revenue to equal the national standard. This would apply only to really small provinces, like PEI, NB, etc. but it would still be possible.

Miles Lunn said...

You are right Steve V. the Americans don't have to deal with two cultures, although it should be noted much like Canada, no one ethnic origin dominates the country. In fact over 70% of Americans have ancestry from a non-English speaking country while in Canada roughly 40% of Canadians have heritage from a country whose first language is neither English or French, and off course here in Toronto that is probably more like 80%.

However, even lack of linguistic differences can still lead to problems. For example in the United Kingdom, all parts are English speaking, yet many Scots and Northern Irish want to leave the United Kingdom.

I think even with linguistic differences, we can simply point out we are a multicultural nation with people from all different parts of the world united in common values and dreams.

Steve V said...

radical centrist

"Quebec may have 25% of the population, but it will now be getting 33% of the nearly $50 billion the feds will give in total to all the provinces this year for health, education, social programs and equalization."

Factor in government contracts and federal agencies, and the disparity is even more acute.

Anonymous said...

I'm depressed - why, because Canada is more divided than I've ever seen in my whole life. Harper is pitting one against the other. His hatred of anything he doesn't believe in is so divisive it reminds me of what Bush did to the U.S.

I'll be 60 in June and have been through a few PM's - never, never, never has politics been so hateful. There was a respect at one time for those who had a different point of view. This is Canada and supposedly a free country, but apparently not now - if you're not with us you're against us.

Harper is destroying Canada slowly but surely.

Ann D said...

Anonymous, you said it beautifully. And the fact that you felt like you had to post anonymously speaks volumes. Canada has changed.

Anonymous said...

Sorry "Ann B" - I nearly always forget to put a name to my comments and I see you are in Peterborough. I live in Northumberland County.


I'm not a regular blogger.

Ed said...


While I'm not certain I agree with your opinion, the fact that we are having this discussion fills me with a deep sadness.

Never have I seen such genuine hatred amongst Canadians. We seem to be going backwards.

I find people are focused on themselves rather than community. People say that the last budget is great because they will get a few hunded bucks in child tax credits. But at what cost? Weakened economy, loss of decent jobs, high interest rates and inflation.

When it all goes pear-shaped politicians point at the outsiders as the reason. The refugees or the criminals. Not the wretched fuckwads that exist only for their own self interests. People who say 'we' are in Afghanistan, when 'they' are sitting on a chesterfeild drinking beer and complaining about $250 in taxes.

The country is not broken...yet. But we need strong and decent leadership to get us out of it. But whither the leaders?

What attraction is there for decent people in politics? Having to deal with Harpo daily would be enough to drive Job to forsake his principles. The man is a relentless predator and creator of misery, because he can capitalise on people's misery

Not divorce yet, maybe councelling, but I think we'd really benefit from better parenting.

Anonymous said...

I became overnight separatist .I want Canada to separate from Quebec realizing it will never work.. nothing else to say.Let Them Go as soon as possible. like in amicable divorce.

I agree with all what Anonymus said I am Frightened now.. /I had deep Distrust before for Harper and his muzzled gang..
/ but now I am just in near panic as I would be seeing some rapist in my house.. I cannot describe the disgust what I feel.Harper is
the Ultimate CHAMELEON with a Good dose of "Napoleonitis " .. the one man Government../what is Dictator in reality..How many skins did he changed on his way to became PM??? like a snake??
Yes he is destroying Canada surely and pretty fast.

Hard to believe it can Go on.

Marta from Vancouver.

ottlib said...

In 1995 Canada came within a hair of losing the Quebec referendum. At that time federalist Canadians stared into the abyss.

As a result, Canadians began to seriously contemplate a Canada without Quebec and the implications of that.

The conclusion many came to was separation would not be so bad. Quebecers began talking about the partitioning of Quebec, which has not gone away because that topic briefly reared its head early in the Quebec election. As well, Canada began developing mechanisms to deal with Quebec separation, the Clarity Act being the cornerstone of those mechanisms.

All of that was unthinkable even just weeks before the beginning of the referendum campaign in 1995.

The "threat" of separation is spent. The next Quebec premier that tries to use that as a weapon is in for a surprise.

Stephen Harper knows all of the above because I remember reading some pieces by him in the aftermath of the rederendum that took a hard line against the seperatists and they were considered to be in line with main-stream thinking at the time.

However, at the time Mr. Harper was not a Member of Parliament and as we all know that Stephen Harper is alot different from the current Stephen Harper.

The purpose of this budget and its increase of the inequalities within the Canadian federation have nothing to do with the "threat" of Quebec seperatism and everything to do with Mr. Harper's desire to buy a majority government.

So Steve, Canada certainly has its problems but I do not believe it is a failed state. Instead, it has been saddled with governments that failed to put the country before political expediency too often in its recent past, with the current government being the latest of them.

Steve V said...

Just to be clear, I hope my post doesn't come off as an anti-Quebec rant because it's more about the dynamic. The continual separation debate warps the idea of fairness, as we constantly try to "win over" people to the idea of Canada. I think we are at the point where that stops, and let the chips fall where they may, because we are headed on that path anyways.

Steve V said...

"Instead, it has been saddled with governments that failed to put the country before political expediency too often"

Ottlib. I'm curious where you put Trudeau in this context. I ask, because Trudeau tried to stress country, but his steadfast devotion only exacerbated the problems.

Stephen Harper is a political animal, we all know that. However, the nature of the electorate almost ensures an "outreach" to Quebec if a party hopes for sustained governance. Quebecers need to be swayed in a way that is unique within Canada, and this fact demands a warped perspective.

The move towards independence will not stop, even the provincial Liberals now fight for more autonomy- it's just a given. Sovereignty association is a reality within our lifetime, but the problem the rest of the federation is weakened and this threatens the core.

You mentioned a couple points about the last referendum. I think it might be wise for the other 9 provinces to develop a negotiation strategy and lay the cards on the table, rather than all the whispering. That debate occurs regularly in Quebec, within the PQ. It is important for everyone to realize that separation is a negotiation, and the rest of Canada would have certain demands. There is a utopian flavor to some of the debate in Quebec that needs a reality check. Then, and I think this healty, we enter the union with mutual inter-dependence established, as opposed to the cake and eat it too arguments.

Closet Liberal said...

Ahhhh! I'm not alone on this. I posted on this late Friday night.

Ed nails it the fact that we are having this discussion fills me with a deep sadness.

I was hoping I was over-reacting, maybe I still am, but there are quite a few of us feeling the same way.

Frightening, very frightening. Now whadda we do about it?

Steve V said...

closet liberal

Your link comes back to this post??

Closet Liberal said...

Yep, in the Updater at the bottom. One link to your Blog, one link to the post.

ottlib said...


I read your question to me this morning and I have been wrestling with it all day because my response just makes me sound partisan, when I do not believe it is completely the case. (Ironic considering your latest post:)).

I was a teenager at the time of the first referendum and that is my first memory of actually being politically aware. I remember Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Leveques both being smart, articulate and passionate about their causes and how it really looked like we could lose our country. But Mr. Trudeau saw the separatists off.

I was very impressed and after it was over I went back to being a rather politically unaware teenager. What I did not know is that event and Mr. Trudeau's role in it made me a Trudeau Liberal. This is something I found out when I went to university and studied Trudeau and his vision of Canada and I found both very compelling and I remembered those feelings I had during the first referendum.

Mr. Trudeau always remained true to that vision and he never pandered to the seperatists and as you say it probably cost him in the end.

Mr. Chretien was the same way but he fought the seperatists with pure bloody-mindedness as opposed to intellect and Canada suffered a little for it. But to his credit he recognized his shortcomings, which is why he brought in an intellectual to balance his street-fighting abilities. That intellectual is of course Stephane Dion.

Contrast that to the Clark and Mulroney Tories and the Harper Conservatives (I will never call them Tories) who were more inclined to give concessions to Quebec in the futile attempt to buy national unity peace.

Make no mistake, I believe that both Mr. Clark and Mr. Mulroney believed they were following the right path and their motivations were pure. I disageed with their courses of action then and now and I believe history has borne me out on that score. Despite their good intentions they did not buy peace, they merely contributed to the institutionalization of the practice of Quebec demanding more and more in order to play nice for a time.

Mr. Harper on the other hand is just trying to buy votes as evidenced by the fact that he is doing exactly what he railed against first as a newly minted Reform MP and then after he left the Reform Party.

See biased, to the point of being partisan but I have also studies the era before, during and after the first referendum very closely and I believe that my arguments cannot simply be dismissed as partisan, there is some "truth" in them.

Steve V said...


I agree with much of what you said. I only brought up Trudeau, within the context of failure, because he wasn't political, but philosophical and this still didn't resonate. Interesting dynamic that a country elects a Quebecer, and that person argues for the collective, and is completely rejected because of it.

Chretien was a kneejerk federalist, who was never able to articulate a vision and this cost the country.

I view Trudeau as the last great leader of Canada, warts and all, because there was cohesion to it all, that is sadly lacking now.