Conservatism is not the issue -

Conservatism is not the issue

Our columnist answers the critics


My recent piece on the federal budget as marking the end point of conservatism in Canada seems to have been the subject of some misinterpretation. Many people have taken it as a lament, as if this were something to be mourned. I rather thought I was just stating a fact.

I hold no particular brief for the Conservative Party of Canada. I was opposed to the party’s formation, preferring that Reform and the Progressive Conservatives should have remained separate parties that formed a strategic alliance — a coalition! — as European  parties do. Nor have I ever been able to see much point in conservatism, as such: why one would want to subscribe to a whole set of unrelated ideas simply because they all fell under the conservative label remains a mystery to me. It’s less an ideology than a grab-bag of habits and emotional leanings, not least the deep nervoses and resentments of a party that has lost too many elections.

The party/movement’s general predisposition towards user fees and private insurance in health care always struck me as simplistic (and not particularly market-oriented, properly understood), its willingness to rent itself out to the provinces in general, and Quebec in particular, has been terribly damaging to the country, and its refusal to deal seriously with global warming was blinkered and counter-productive. Over the years, I’ve had occasion to quarrel with conservatives over gay rights, immigration, drug policy, and the whole tangled archipelago of issues surrounding the Charter of Rights, the notwithstanding clause and judicial review.

But at least these were positions! Conservatives may have been wrong on these things, but anything’s better than a party that is incapable of being right or wrong, because it does not stand for anything. Conservatism may not be my thing, but it is for a lot of other people, and I grieve for their sake that the party they have invested so much of their hopes in has turned to such warm beer. And all Canadians, whatever their leanings, should wish for more balance and diversity in our political choices.

It’s a sad thing, too, that a party that once fiercely defended the rights and prerogatives of ordinary MPs and the party grassroots should have become such pliant captives of its leader — though as I argue in a forthcoming piece, the party has only itelf to blame for that. Harper has utterly had his way with them, abandoned everything the party ever stood for, and no one, not the caucus, not the membership, has uttered so much as a squawk. They have been his enablers.

And yes, I would prefer there were at least one party that understood market economics, that stood for balanced budgets, honest money, and freely set prices, undistorted by subsidies, quotas, tariffs, ceilings, floors, or tax preferences; that had a general preference for competition over monopoly, voluntarism over coercion, open systems over closed, unless a compelling case could be made to the contrary; and that understood their virtues not only in terms of efficiency, but of fairness, freedom and environmental stewardship. And so in that sense I have no party.

But then, I have no party in a lot of wayys — as, in fact, do a lot of Canadians. It isn’t just free marketers who haven’t got a party. Federalists have no party, in the sense of a party willing to defend the national interest against the pull of provincialism and Quebec nationalism. Democratic reformers have no party. Classical liberals (or as Barbara Frum used to call herself, “1950s liberals”), believers in the equal rights of every individual under the Charter — as opposed to group rights advocates, on the one hand, and Charterphobes, on the other — are no less bereft. There’s no party that stands for consumers, against exploitation by producer interests; for the jobless, against restrictive labour laws that prevent them from pricing themselves into work; for taxpayers, against the depredations of rent-seeking special interests; for property owners, against the marauding state. There’s just a vast gap in the Canadian political spectrum, or several of them, while the parties compete to see who can spend the most, devolve powers the fastest, pander most cravenly. Canadians think they live in a liberal, democratic, free-market federation, but there isn’t a party nowadays that believes in any of these things.

I don’t know. I suspect a lot of Canadians might be interested in a party that was all of these things: liberal, democratic, free-market, federalist, with a sensible commitment to equality and environmentalism thrown in for good measure. Yet our political system seems incapable of producing one. That’s worth a lament.


Conservatism is not the issue

  1. “…, but anything’s better than a party that is incapable of being right or wrong, because it does not stand for anything.”

    That’s the very definition of the Liberal Party of Canada.

    One Liberal-style budget passed by the Conservatives with the Coalition gun pointed at their head and Coyne and Well are besides themselves that the Conservative party has gotten pragmatic with its principles, this at a time where stimulus-spending makes some economic sense.

    They’re hidden-agenda reformers that don’t stand for anything. Go figure.

    • Jarid, i’ve read any number of ACs articles on the fact that Sh has not been running as anything but rather as not whatever. I’m sure the same could be said of PW.

    • I’m sorry, “one” liberal-style budget? You’ve got to be kidding me.

      The Tories have been arguably spending more and moving us closer to deficit than Paul Martin ever would have ever since their election in 2006.

      The latest budget may be an acceleration of the trend (the final death knell of conservatism one might say) but it’s not some one-time, out of left field anomaly. It’s just a bit more of what the Tories have been doing since the got elected. Cutting (the wrong) taxes, eliminating budget surpluses, and spending like drunken sailors.

    • Jarrid

      I agree. Coyne and Wells have bailed. Who knew they had such delicate sensibilities.
      Coyne believes that Reform and the Progressive Conservatives should have formed a
      strategic alliance——–unbelievable.

      • They did, it was called “the opposition”

    • Is it part of the Conservatives’ talking points to pretend that there wouldn’t have been a deficit had the Coalition never existed? I’ve seen this in a couple of posts in different places now. What BS. I used to have some sympathy for Harper and the Conservatives until that pack of lies they tried to rm down our throats with the fiscal update.

      Total hogwash.

  2. You’re projecting, Jarrid. But it’s OK. I know you’re hurting.

    • The Conservatives leading by nine in the latest Angus Reid poll. I know that’s up 3 or 4 points for the Liberals since election day but still a looooong way to go for the Libs.

      Speaking of the Liberals, have they formed a new Coalition with the Danny Williams party which holds 7 seats in Newfoundland? The New Liberal party of Canada – staunch provincialists. Danny says dance and the Iggy dances.

      • Not hurting in the polls, Jarrid. That may come. I don’t know. Not in the short-term though, I don’t think. But know, I meant hurting on the inside.

  3. Ac how do you reconcile yr political hopes/w ish list with yr [ and mine] professed desire to see PR come about in this country? Will it be any more or less likey?

    • That’s what the penultimate line is about. You’re not going to see real political choice in this country until we change the electoral system.

      • I agree. False majorities over a long period of yrs has cemented a kind of permanent political bitterness in our federal cons and consequently a sense of entitlement in libs – this coming from someone who admired Trudeau but has come to question what his successors have done with his legacy.

      • That’s an in interesting point. I grant, yes, a reformed electoral system would lead to a greater diversity of parties campaigning on a range of policies instead of needing to cling desperately to the mushy middle to appeal to a broad base of voters, and they’ll win seats.

        But while we’d get a a diversity of choices, and even a diversity of elected choices, would we still see real conservative policy in Canada? I’m not sure. To form a coalition and govern, a majority of seats would still be needed. Now, a handful of conservative MPs, lets say Christian Heritage Party MPs, could exract certain concessions for supporting a governing coalition. But I think it would be very slow, incremental progress at best.

        At its core, I just don’t think Canada is a conservative country. So the other coalition members are only going to be willing, or able, to go so far accommodating the more conservative MPs. And they may find it easier to do business with more progressive members.

        • Slow and incremental yes, even boring [ i lived for a yr in Berlin, and their PR is very good but so boring. That could be just cultural] but i’m tired of what we have now. A bunch of self-righteous clowns who can’t put the national interest first since party rivalries dominate. 30% of the country is not nothing. cons will make out. Yr assuming that everyone else will vote as a block, they wont. People will consider issues more on it’s merits and less by idealogical labl.

          • Look at this another way. Let’s say you’re right. This is a liberal country, but don’t despair conservatives. In a PR govt a natural coalition would be one between libs& cons. Even if libs were the leading partner they would still need to keep cons happy to make the coalition work. If the libs don’t play ball then form another coalition with someone else. But you say, the libs will always have the upper hand. Not necessarily. If people have a real choice then the imperitives that drive moderate voters to line up liberal begin to breakdown. And folks who normally shun conservatives begin to consider their options because the old fears of a hidden agenda are greatly lessened. So, maybe no built in liberal bias. Think about it people voting their interests and not just playing let’s keep the baddies out. Sounds like paradise to me. Nah! Never happen in Canada eh!

          • You’re right, in this and the post below, that PR would shake away some Liberal voters who only vote for them to stop the Conservatives. NDP voters will not jump to the Liberals, but will stay with the NDP and hope that they gain greater influence in any post-election coalition. That could very well make the Conservatives the long-term biggest bloc, and the overwhelming tradition in countries with PR and coalition government is that the biggest party usually assumes the top executive position (i.e. PM). I read somewhere (IIRC) that only twice in the past 100 years – or however long Holland has used PR – has the biggest party not been included in the government. That is the case in Sweden now, although the 4 right-of-centre parties formed a coalition alliance before the last election. Angela Merkel became Chancellor of Germany, even though Schroeder was the sitting Chancellor, and the SPD was still a part of the governing coalition.

            As for AC’s PC-Reform alliance, I don’t know how that would’ve fared. Perhaps voters would have rejected it as likely to mean dysfunctional government, or perhaps Eastern and Western voters (I will assume that the PC’s would contest the ridings in the East, and Reform would contest those in the West), who were thirsting for an alternative to Chretien would have come out to vote for “their” type of conservatism, in hopes of returning the bigger bloc between those two parties, that naturally would have meant winning the PM’s chair (assuming PC + Reform won a majority, or the biggest plurality bloc). Though would Joe Clark ever have gone for that?

      • We need to find a way to abolish all political parties and adopt a consensus government as in the NWT and Nunavut. People would get elected on the basis of representation by population.

      • Right on!

      • yes! reform the electoral system NOW! our current system divides us, pitting province against province, region against region, and global problems — such as climate change — cannot be addressed because they’re left in the bailiwick of Alberta, whose sole concern is rape and pillage of their land to reap top $$$ for fat cat CEOs. Come to think of it, this requires a reopening of the constitution itself, doesn’t it. Well, why not?

    • I am not sure how you think PR will bring you a party that stands for all of those things. It may get you a several parties that stand for each of those things, however.

      I’m a fan of PR in the provinces. I like the notion of bringing real and genuine debate to our provincial legislatures rather than the flag-waving, colour-toting, vote-’em-out-when-you’re-tired-of’em farce that passes for democracy in most of them today.

      But federally, PR is a tough sell. Canadians, rightly or wrongly, are far more attached to their place than they are to any political ideology.

      I also find it astonishing that in this whole “how will the Newfoundland MPs vote” debacle which has unnecessarily preoccupied the media this week, not a single comunist or pundit has posed the hypothetical question of how this would have played out in a PR system. Suddenly, when MPs are shown to be repsonsive to the people in their ridings, hundreds of whom are swamping their offices with emails and phone calls, there’s no electoral reform advocates out to beat the drum saying they ought to answer to their party leadership instead. Most ironic, the NDP (who purport to want PR) are the first ones out the gate criticizing the notion that the Liberal party leadership might consider party unity or discipline.

      If you’re going to advocate PR the morning after every election result that you find distasteful, maybe you should suit up in its defense between elections too.

      Here’s a more reasonable reform that we could bring in to mitigate against provincialism:

      Hold our provincial and federal elections in tandem, as they do in most Western democracies. It would cut down on costs and force national parties to adopt national platforms and national messaging – fewer threats from the provincial despots, and less pandering from the feds.

      • that should read “columnist”, not “comunist”. I would never accuse you of being a “comunist”

      • Some gd ideas. Trying PR at a provincial level’s fine by me. Provincial politics are a parochial joke in this country. Witness Danny – no real opposition. His opponents are reduced to writing posts at..ahem… Macleans. I still bang the drum between elections for PR. It’s just that we don’t seem to care anyway. Yr tandem idea seems like a good one to me, but what do i know? Gotta go bang my drum now!

      • Mark’s comment is so misinformed that it needs a reply/rebuttal.

        First, I think that it is ridiculous to imagine how the past week would have went under a PR system. Why? Because I think that it is quite likely that we would have a very different government under PR, that is one led by the Liberal Party with the support of the NDP and the Greens.

        Or would the Liberals form a grand coalition with the Conservatives to keep out the “socialists”? I doubt they could if they wanted to maintain credibility with Canadians after another election under “you have to vote for us because we’re the only people who can save Canada from the CONSERVATIVE COUNTRY DESTROYERS” platform.

        But of course talking about elections under hypothetical alternative electoral systems is bunk, because electoral reform changes the incentives for parties, activists and voters, so that the party system would not be static under a new voting system.

        Second, I have yet to meet someone active in the electoral reform movement who thinks that all MPs should be forced to vote with party leadership. Indeed, some advocates, like former Fair Vote VP Rick Anderson, are strong proponents of more free votes in the legislature. It is unfair and untrue to state that electoral reform advocates support the centralization of power in party leader’s offices that has occurred under our current electoral system. In fact, many of them support PR because they can see how PR legislatures are LESS executive dominated than Westminster-type parliamentary systems.

        Third, please cite countries that hold state and federal elections at the same time. Off the top of my head, I can think of way more that DON’T have simultaneous elections.

        But a PR critic couldn’t be totally ignorant about comparative politics, I’ve never seen that before ….

        • I’m not a critic of PR in general – I just don’t think it’s consistent with the concepts of representative democracy, or Canadian federalism.

          Under PR, MPs have no constituents, and their selection to parliament is determined by party internal party processes.

          My argument is that while it is a shame that certain parties or ideeologies aren’t represented in the House of Commons, it would be an even bigger shame if communities weren’t. Whether you like it or not, there are 308 ridings in this country. And you cannot convince me that the majority of Canadians are more attached to some notion of partisanship or of ideology than they are to their community. That might be true in urban Canada, and it might eventually be the case as a result of technology’s impact on our concept of what a “community” really is. But in the meantime, I do not think it is an extreme burden to place on political parties in this country that in order to gain representation in the House of Commons they must sufficiently convince a pluarlity of voters in any one out of 308 such communities that there’s ideas are representative of them.

          As for the state v. national elections, maybe that’s a red herring. But if you really want an example the most pbvious one is on our doorstep.

          In a country as diverse as ours, brokerage has served us well for nearly 150 years. There’s nothing unhealthy about that brokerage taking place at the community level, rather than as a result of constant brinksmanship in the legislature.

          I think PR might be a welcome experiment in any of the provinces. Heck – maybe it would spread.

          But nationally, I would far prefer other reforms – like run-offs, the requirement of 50%plus one in every riding, more free votes, and above all – an equal senate.

          I also resent the notion espoused that if you are against PR you are by definition against electoral reform. Back to my original question – perhaps rephrased – how do MPs represent constituents when they don’t have consitutencies?

          • So if PR is not consistent with representative democracy, then what are most Western democracies, including all those of Western mainland Europe?

            You say that under PR MPs “have no constituents” and that their “selection to parliament is determined by internal party processes”.

            You are either a) ignorant of how PR works in the real world, b) being obtuse or c) being disingenous. I’m going to be charitable, assume it’s a) and explain why you’re wrong.

            First, let us not distort the truth that most Canadian MPs are sent to the House of Commons by virtue of “internal party processes”. The majority of Canadian ridings are safe seats and the MP is essentially elected by their local riding association. Why does Rob Anders hold on to Calgary West? Surely, you know of a Liberal or two who wins election based on the party label, rather than their own reputation/good works. But I must admit that I’m a little confused as to why I should have to explain this to former Martin Liberal.

            Second, legislators in PR countries most certainly know who their constituents are. Do you think that a member of the Dutch Tweede Kamer (a PR-list system) does not know the kind of voters that sent them to parliament? Or that members of the New Zealand House of Representatives or the German Bundestag (both elected using mixed-member proportional, MMP, electoral systems), even the “list” members, do not have voters in their local area that they see as their supporters that sent them to parliament? Did you realize that the mechanics of MMP (where list members are largely from opposition parties) means that list members face an incentive of building a geographically concentrated base of support (should their party become popular and not elect as many list members).

            Third, you are correct that legislators in PR countries gain their position based upon “internal party processes”. Setting aside that this is true under our current electoral system, it is fallacious to assert that candidate selection processes under PR systems are any less democratic. Indeed, as a Liberal activist and political observer, you likely know many stories of nomination meeting shenanigans that might not be termed “democratic”. I am no expert on PR candidate selection processes, but I have seen no evidence that they are any more subject to elite control or special interest influence.

            Finally, I would like to address the essential of your argument, which I argue is based on “the ideology of local representation”. There is a great dissection of this in UVic poli sci prof Dennis Pilon’s book “The Politics of Voting”, pages 140-143. Basically, it is argued that “the ideology of local representation” results from complacent academics who passively accept its functional importance in voting decisions and by self-interested politicians who vigorously defend their “representation” of their local riding.

            As an aside, I think it is fair to note that the “local representation” provided by our current political system has led to record low voter turnouts, increasing cynicism and lack of respect for politicians.

            However, when voters are asked about the reasons that motivate their voting decisions, they overwhelmingly cite the party as the primary reason for their vote and are much more knowledge about party leaders compared to local candidates. As a result, I think it is much more important for Canadian democracy that party preference be more fairly reflected in parliament.

          • (replying to myself in hopes that this lines up as a reply to “Partisan non Partisan”)

            Newsflash – we don’t live in a unitary state. We aren’t (for the most part) Dutch, and nor are we German. The Dutch may identify with and squabble about ideology – my premise is that Canadians (for better or for worse) are for more attached to, and divided by, geography. I would go so far as to argue that in our political culture geography IS ideology.

            Go to my home riding and tell the people there that their next MP is going to come from somewhere other than there, based on the prioritization of a list made by a bunch of party hacks in Ottawa. (full disclosure – I was for a longtime a readily identifiable party hack in Ottawa)

            As for Rob Anders, if 50% plus one of the people in his riding want to vote for him, so be it. I may think the guy is a dolt, but I don’t have the right to impose my preference on the people of his riding. If he’s winning with less than 50% plus one, then I stand by my earlier comments about run-offs or even preferential ballots. I agree with you about the shortcomings of FPTP. I just think that PR is an equally flawed response.

            But now that you’re throwing MMP into the mix, then that is a much, much preferable to any straight PR system. The Senate, for example, would be the ideal place for those mixed members to go.

          • Yes – an MP is chosen as a candidate by an internal party process. But the final decision on whether or not that MP goes to Parliament rests in the hands of our voters in our current system. If the party chooses a candidate that the local riding does not like, they can vote for another.

            Under PR that final decision is made by a bunch of list-mongers. Not by the elecorate.
            It’s why it’s always so fun to watch people decry “back room politics” in one breath, and swear by it in the next.

            And also – I’d love to see your causal link between our system of local representation and low voter turnout.

          • Neither commentators have considered the merits of the Single Transferrable Vote system which will be put before BC voters for the second time in May (after receiving 57.5% voter support in the first referendum). It is a voting system in which the vote count is beyond a lot of people’s mathematical skills, but which does achieve proportional results, geographic representation and diminished control of party hacks.

  4. It might be time to turn comments off again.

  5. That’s right Jarrid. In 2007 when the budget was filled with program spending in the guise of targeted tax cuts, it just wasn’t the right time.

    In 2008 when the Conservatives could have passed anything they wanted and had to engineer their own demise to get an election and the conservative agenda failed to materialize again, Conservatives just had to wait a little while longer. More building needs to be done before Canada can be conservative! It’s not abandoning principles, it’s just doing what has to be done.

    And finally, in 2009, you just have to wait *a little bit longer* while we all run around like chickens with our heads cut off panicking about a Coalition that was never going to materialize with a serious Liberal leader at the helm of the party.

    But don’t worry. I’m sure *next* time they’ll come through… but you might not want to hold your breath.

    The Liberals are indeed a party that tries to please everyone and stands for nothing, but that doesn’t mean the Conservatives haven’t become exactly the same thing.

    • Waiting for Godot, CPC Edition?

      • Harper as Estragon esp. at the beginning of Act II. His boots would be CPC policy.

      • Less Waiting for Godot and more Waiting for Guffman.

  6. Andrew,

    Your analysis of the recent budget debacle has been incredibly insightful. I think, too, that your lament for a lack of real stewardship on any single issues other than the accruing of power is shared by many. I’ve been considering myself a small-c fiscal conservative for a few years now, having slowly changed my views from one which believed in the socialist-capitalist hybrid system we have, to one who believes that we must minimize the public control of the economy, and perhaps more importantly, our lives. I lament that we do not have any principled politicians who take a stand on an issues important to people, but only seek to maintain power through the control of image manipulation.

    People are also not so narrowly defined by an ideology as ambiguous as “conservatism” either. I have strong socially liberal, or libertarian, views on how our society should be managed, while believing in small, responsible, transparent, and ultimately responsive government. Despite the high sounding words from the current government, we have not seen this delivery. We are asked to wait for a small sign of even one of these important principles, whilst watching the House of Commons degenerate into watered down versions of ideas and values, whipped by the party, and enforced with brutal and swift response to dissidents.

    We do not elect ideals and ideologues, but only powerful interests and corporate party structures that seek to control power through controlling the message. Perhaps it was naive to have ever thought differently, but then, perhaps I am not quite realistic enough for politics.

  7. As a liberal i look forward to the day when we in Canada can elect cons in DT Toronto and Montreal, NDP or Greens in Quebec city, libs in Calgary. Maybe even a couple of Rhinos to keep everyone happy. It’s not a commie plot Canada. it’s done allover the world everyday. Or we can keep on doing it the old way, after all, it’s working so well now isn’t it?

  8. Why, in 2009, do we still not have a legal way to voice displeasure with ALL the parties when we make the effort to go to our polling stations? Could ‘None of the Above’ have won the last election? If so, is that not a good baby-step for electoral reform? Would having reporters drill the ‘winner’ on why a large group of Canadians think none of our parties are fit to govern be more effective than a meaningless footnote at the end of coverage reporting on another drop in voter turnout?

    • Or maybe we could just work to give every Canadian, in every riding, a vote that actually elects someone – with proportional representation! By joining the movement to renew our democracy –

  9. “And yes, I would prefer there were at least one party that understood market economics, that stood for balanced budgets, honest money, and freely set prices, undistorted by subsidies, quotas, tariffs, ceilings, floors, or tax preferences; that had a general preference for competition over monopoly, voluntarism over coercion, open systems over closed, unless a compelling case could be made to the contrary; and that understood their virtues not only in terms of efficiency, but of fairness, freedom and environmental stewardship. And so in that sense I have no party.”

    If you are going to lead a debate like this, please start with a bit of intellectual honesty. This is exactly what the Liberal Party of Canada stood for under Chretien and Martin. You never supported them or the party. What total tripe.

    • I think if you look back you will find I gave them plenty of support, where we were in agreement. I applauded the 1995 budget, and I was one of Chretien’s few media defenders on constitutional questions: social union, Clarity, “the constitution is not a general store” etc

    • I had the same thought — this was the Chretien Liberals right?

      But it also wasn’t that far off from the Harris Conservatives in Ontario.

      I’m somewhere in the middle of those two. I voted for both. I don’t have a party anymore.

  10. Sigh …. sounds like it’s time to go to Mozambique and start over …

    • Why? Are they sane there, or just saner than here. Oh! I think i’ve answered that one. Wants some help getting started?

  11. Your (accurate) observations depress me.

  12. I don’t think the comment about the “Charterphobes” passes the smell test. The Charter that you put on a pedestal, Andrew, has a great many nods to group rights, as you well know; it isn’t entirely about the equal rights of every individual, as both the text and its subsequent interpretation keep revealing. it is not a document that classical liberals should obviously get behind — nor is it obvious why “1950s liberals” should be so attached to a document from the 1980s.

    While I’d love to see more individual freedom in Canadian society, it would necessarily come at some cost to social equality. That’s generally understood, and that’s why political parties strike compromises or are simply vague about such things. A party that insists on being classically liberal “with a sensible commitment to equality” will probably in the end have to choose; a party that values democracy will have issues with a Charter that makes Parliament subservient to itself; and the question of how to square free-market values with environmentalism is one lots of voters, not just politicians, have struggled with. Also, when did “federalist” come to mean a believer in the supremacy of the national government? It has to this point meant the opposite, right?

    • Parliament is not subservient to the charter. If laws are struck down parliament always has the option to ammend and rewrite. In fact the courts have complained that parliament has shirked some hard decisions and simply abdicated its responsibilities in favour of the courts.

      • But that’s just it. Hardly any government (and no federal one) wants to bring in statute law or use the notwithstanding clause to override a court decision involving the Charter. It’s a total abdication of Parliament’s responsibilities, but that’s been par for the course for ages now. Everyone is so deathly afraid of telling hard truths to the people of Canada, that the place has become paralyzed in the face of any truly serious debateable point.

        Our media play a great role and disservice to Canadians in all of this by constantly running truly idiotic pieces that take the tack of someone who just landed on this Earth yesterday. One day it’s Harper the control-freak ideologue, replete with pining for a more flexible leader. Then if he shows any of that requested flexibility, next it’s Harper has no principles, and is doing anything to hold onto power. It’s constant heads-they-win, tails-you-lose. But the biggest loser in it all is the Canadian electorate, who get zero context from the people whose job it is to be covering events up in Ottawa FOR that electorate. It’s amateur hour all around, and leads to a sense that we are not yet a serious and mature country.

        As for AC’s “end of conservatism” piece … I think it’s well-known by now that AC has a tendency once a year or so to go totally overboard in his reaction to a big story of the day.

        • I’m sorry but blaming the charter and or the media [ dispite its love of gotcha and 2nd guessing -which is basically their job disciption ] for parliaments and this PMs lack of coherent leadership is a cop-out.

          • That’s not really the only issue here, kc. Once, we had laws written by a democratically elected parliament; now they are made in many cases by the Supreme Court justices, as per a Charter that no Canadian voted for. The loss to democracy there, and the relative rise of the judiciary and legal experts, is undisputable, no?

            And in the case of gay marriage, to take one example, there was simply no option to amend or rewrite the legislation, given that the high court had already indicated what it wanted the law to mean. I suppose Parliament could provoke a constitutional crisis by defying the courts, but it seems unlikely the MPs would triumph. What’s more, Parliaments will amend their works and admit mistakes rather more frequently than the high court — judges being one of the few groups more hubristic than politicians. The courts’ decisions (undebated in public) can throw the system into chaos — remember Regina v. Feeney, which freed a murderer so the justices could invent a new Canadian right?

          • Sorry Gary, but the beast ate my earlier post. In a nutshell we did choose the charter since we are a representitive democracy. And yes a little more explaining and less priestly stuff would be welcome.lastly there was no golden age pre-charter -think of our dreadful treatment of Aboriginals, all care of our free parliament.

    • “While I’d love to see more individual freedom in Canadian society, it would necessarily come at some cost to social equality. That’s generally understood,”


      I don’t think that’s understood at all !! Generally or otherwise.

      I would bet that most within our Canadian society (as within other societies likewise) could not handle individual freedom. If we would be able to handle individual freedom, it would NOT come as a cost to social equality. In fact, being able to handle individual freedom truthfully would be THE cure toward social equality.

  13. Andrew,

    “Canadians think they live in a liberal, democratic, free-market federation, but there isn’t a party nowadays that believes in any of these things.

    I don’t know. I suspect a lot of Canadians might be interested in a party that was all of these things: liberal, democratic, free-market, federalist, with a sensible commitment to equality and environmentalism thrown in for good measure. Yet our political system seems incapable of producing it. That’s worth a lament. ”

    I would suggest to take off from where you’ve finished: take off, for a change, by trying to unravel the average voter. What is it that the average voter expects from a democratic system, or, what is it that the average voter expects from our politicians? Trying to answer those sorts of questions might bring about a lot more than is worth one’s lament!

    I believe the concept ‘democracy’ has lost its understanding. This misunderstanding forms the basic problem for politician and voter alike. Here, in our modern world (and I could be sullying the understanding of ‘democracy’ already by not referring to a post-modern world instead!), we, collectively, must come to agree within a clarified and renewed understanding of democracies at large.

    Electoral changes within our system, or any other system, would only band-aid the deep wounds our democracies have to show for. Band-aids won’t stop the blood seeping forth from such deep, and self inflicted, wounds.

    For far too long we have traded in common sense for overvalued expertise.

    Or, let me put it another way: who, here, gets goosebumps when hearing or when singing our National anthem? Who, nowadays, truly believes that a nation is partly as an extension of the self?

    I am not talking about pathetic patriotism; I am talking about feeling sheer love for one’s country.

  14. Andrew, you say: “Nor have I ever been able to see much point in conservatism, as such: why one would want to subscribe to a whole set of unrelated ideas simply because they all fell under the conservative label remains a mystery to me.”

    I thought Tasha Kheiriddin had shared a rather stark observation, namely that: “But this isn’t a debate about ideology. Any student of history knows that conservatism is actually a reaction against ideological excess. […]”

    She goes on to say:

    “Conservatism provides an approach to solving public policy problems based on experience, tradition and prudence. It rejects the socialist notion that man — or his society — can be remade by government. ” (NP Feb. 2)

    Could her remarks be used for starting to unravel your perceived ‘mystery’? I would think so. It would be a very good start indeed.

    • Generally, the textbook answer is that conservatism is a reaction against liberalism, which itself was a reaction against feudalism. Socialism is a reaction to the perceived failure of liberalism.

      The main argument of classical liberalism (post-Hobbes) is that in feudal society, man was a product of his society, and government’s role was to enforce this process. Liberals wanted man to be free of the limitations imposed by government. Conservatives wanted government to keep restricting individuals. At this time, of course, whoever had the biggest army was the government, and the knights only followed royalty.

      Anyhoo, come the 19th century, feudalism’s long gone, the government isn’t repressing individuals, but the socialists think individuals still aren’t free, being restricted by wealthy commoners (capitalists). They believed governments should prevent capitalists from restricting the rights of individuals.

      Wonderful thing, textbooks. Don’t believe everything written in them, but at least read the dang things. How do they get through J-School without at least one PoliSci class?

      By mid-20th century, nobody knows what ideology they are. Everything’s been tried & failed. Governments were falling to socialist ideologies, so both the liberals & conservatives started looking at “welfare state” policies to save their butts. Keynesianism was designed to be a slightly more proactive version of “let them eat cake”, except that the government should give them the ingredients. Keep the working class working for the capitalists, but make their lives good enough that they don’t become socialists.

      Right now we have neoconservativism, which is a reaction against Keynesianism, and libertarianism, which is a lot like classical liberalism with added gun ownership & bad hygiene. The rest of us don’t know what we are, because every ideology has failed us. We are living through the failure of neoconservatism & even its gurus like PMSH know it.

      Nobody’s a liberal these days. This whole Liberal-equals-godless-commie meme is a product of the American neoconservative military-industrial complex propaganda. Conservatives are afraid to be conservatives. Libertarians are afraid of everything that isn’t just like mommy made it.

      If reality starts to look like it makes sense & follows rules (kind of like an ideology), that just means you’re not really looking at it. Give me a competent non-ideological government over one of any ideology any day. The Taliban had ideology. Lots & lots of ideology. Don’t want to live under the Taliban.

      • Excellent, Shenping. Post of the day.

  15. One last note before I turn myself in:


    “Civil liberty, the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court has written, means liberty of a citizen, not the abstract liberty of an individual in a state of nature.”
    (Out of The Lesser Evil, Ignatieff, but I think Mr.Harper would whole heartedly agree with the sentiment quoted above. Wouldn’t you agree?)

  16. Yet our political system seems incapable of producing it. That’s worth a lament.

    Andrew, I hope you will continue along this thread, i.e. what are the parlimentary reforms that would be necessary to improve the lot of Canadian politics.

    Participatory democracy (perhaps as advocated by Reform) or proportional representation are of course obvious (but rather dramatic) solutions although I don’t believe we would ever see Canadians agreeing to try anything that radical in one step. (I know such things exist in other countries, however we would be leaping from a very rigid first-past-post, with highly centralized parties to a very different political dynamic… the idea that this would not lead to issues is naive)

    A workable start would be to significantly enhance the authority of individual MP’s. One concrete suggestion would be to tie the federal political party funding (which AC hates) to the individual riding associations. This would allow Green for example, to develop some winning candidates through a more organic process.

  17. Wait, so you’re not a Conservative Andrew?! Tell me it’s true!

  18. Actually, I feel energised by this excellent piece. It’s not so much a lament as a funeral song for Canadian politics over the last 10 years. And what do you do after a funeral? You stamp on the earth a bit, get drunk (or not), and eventually realise that life must go on.

    As long as we have pundits like Andrew Coyne, sanity will always remain. And where there is one real Andrew Coyne, there are thousands of followers lurking, unknown as yet even to themselves, in the hinterland. Tons of Canadians would vote for a liberal, democratic, market-economics party — and where demand exists . . .

    I feel better about the nation’s future now than I’ve felt for a good while. Thanks to Mr. Coyne.

    • “I feel better about the nation’s future now than I’ve felt for a good while”

      Okay, now I’m feeling nervous. . . Sanity is simply an inability to see reality in its full messy glory.

      Whatever, let’s go for a drink. Make it a made-in-Canada drink to help the economy. This is the new drinking responsibly.

      • Yes, a new drinking responsibility; Let’s do it while we still can.

        I was at a Superstore just yesterday, and since the Superstore has a drugstore within, it cannot sell smokes in the main store any longer, so now they have installed a tiny little store inside of the Superstore building which sells cigarettes. It felt really eerie entering into that little side store, very sterile with everything but the cash registrar kept out of sight. It felt like stepping into some, I don’t know exactly what, but it felt eerie.

        Maybe soon we will see sterile bars where one can order a drink which must be hidden at all times.

  19. “Yet our political system seems incapable of producing one. That’s worth a lament.”

    Is it the political system that is the problem or is it that purism is just not possible once a party makes it to the government side of the Commons?

  20. Andrew: As a fellow non-member of the Conservative Party, but one who supported the amalgamation in order to halt our decline into a one-party state, here’s a blog post I wrote on budget day that may also explain to a degree your position:

    Betrayal. Flip-flop. 180 degree turn. Just some of the terms that are being used to describe today’s budget.

    Nevertheless, and without challenging the appropriateness of these descriptions, I expect that fiscal conservatives will accept what they never in their lives imagined a Stephen Harper government would deliver — a return to huge deficit spending. Just as social conservatives have accepted Mr.
    Harper’s deep-sixing of efforts to put abortion back onto the public agenda.
    And just as his Alberta base accepted recognition of the Québécois nation.

    The explanation is simple: what unites Conservatives above all is their disdain for the Liberals, otherwise known as the natural governing party.

    For Brian Mulroney’s Conservative Party, the motivation was primarily one of envy — and Mr. Mulroney skilfully played to the desire of lawyers and lobbyists for a turn at the trough. That sentiment is not entirely absent in Mr. Harper’s Conservative Party, but it’s subordinated to a genuine disgust at the sense of entitlement that comes with one-party rule. And, for those inclined to forget quickly what life was like under three successive majority Liberal governments, a very un-Obama like decision of Michael Ignatieff, reported in yesterday’s La Presse, will remind them of the

    “Don Boudria will begin serving today as Michael Ignatieff’s adviser on parliamentary strategy. … Mr Boudria says he will deregister as a lobbyist for all his clients as soon as possible for the duration of his assignment with Mr. Ignatieff … which he expects will be no longer than two months.”.”

    • Well, at least Spector can be credited for bluntly saying that this is and has always been about sticking it to the Liberals.

      What Spector seems to fail to understand is that conservatives everywhere are now wondering if, after sidelining the Liberals, things have improved much under the Harper regime.

      All this plotting, all this money spent on attack ads to discredit the “Liberal enemy” and for what? A return to deficits and a budget that surpasses what the “Liberal enemy” has put forth in the past?

      • PolJunkie:

        Yep. Suckahzz!

        Hatred and anger against the “goddamn Liberals” was never more than a tool to enable the other crew of power-crazed egomaniacs to bogus their way to power. For most politicians, power — recognition, limos, State ceremonies, giving speeches, and above all, applause — are the real aims. Most politicians I’ve met aren’t really all that interested in public policy per se. The narratives they sell are incidental. They simply borrow whatever narrative is dominant within the political subculture their personal history has caused them to happen to affiliate with, and compete to see who is best at the combination of pandering-to-the-narrative (regurgitating the narrative’s key talking points) and organizing campaigns to pack delegate selection meetings. It’s these two skills which, together, determine one’s relative power in a political movement within a representative democracy.

        Policy has very little to do with it. As one prominent political organizer once said to me, when I was taking my duties as a Riding policy chair too seriously: “Policy, schmolicy. Policy is something you worry about once you’re in Cabinet.” — and at that point it’s all about interest brokerage, rewarding your friends, punishing your opponents, calculating advantage.

        In a broad sense, it’s just as well. Ideology just leads to crazy policy. Lenin, Hitler, and Pol Pot drove their regimes on ideology. Pragmatism is less prone to creating mega-disasters.

    • N.Spector
      One question you didn’t bother to address is if life under the NGP was so heinous, then why an earth should Canadians simply accept another one. Oddly SH doesn’t like this question either.

      • I can understand why Harper may not want to answer the question, but I don’t mind it at all. In fact, I’ve written that a competitive party system requires regular alternation.

        • So ican take it as given that you don’t dream of the death of the liberals. Unfortunately far to many cons do. Mr Hs stated preference for a 2 way con/ n

          • sorry – con/ndp split is disingenuous at best.
            What are the chances of PR coming to BC with the next election? This would be a very welcome pilot project , or at least a start to modernize our creaky system wouldn’t you say?

  21. This has nothing to do with conservatism or parliamentary pressures or anything except Harper’s pathetic loss of nerve in the face of most significant crisis he has faced. The two most successful conservative politicians in recent history have been Thatcher and Reagan; both took the risk of standing against the economic orthodoxy and both succeeded resoundingly.

    Harper failed to stand and deliver on his core economic beliefs when it mattered. This is not the death of conservatism but the death of Harper’s leadership of conservatism.

    • i’ll 2nd that with a qualifier. While aspects of Thatcher/ Reagaism were needed. But in the UK [ i was there for her 1st term ] much harm was also done. Thatcher’s methods in particular were unnecessarily brutal and heartless, many Brits hated her deeply ; and they were’nt pampered whiners like many of todays left either. People really hurt. There were alternatives mrthods, as Blair’s successes show [ yes i know he got to reap what she sowed ] I have issues with Blair, but that’s another story. Britain has both benefited and lost from her ideas. The loss being a general sense of a loss of communal qualities in favour of a narrow, selfish it’s a dog eat dog attitude which now pravails. This i for one will never forgive her for. I don’t recognise the country i grew up in anymore!

  22. What was people’s problem with the original article? Coyne presented a thesis and argued it. As always, he argued it well. I disagreed with many of his conclusions, largely based on the premises from which he began, but I don’t see why anyone would have any objection to the article per se.

    Unless, of course, Canadians are becoming intolerant of disagreement….hmmm…

  23. I’m staying out of this discussion, since I can’t for the life of me figure out what most “conservatives” mean by conservatism.

    I had always assumed that at particular periods in history, people would notice that social/economic changes had taken place (many for the better), thus establishing new benchmarks for what is considered arguably “normal.” A re-invigorated conservatism would then support any deviation from those benchmarks only with a great deal of caution and skepticism. Boy was I wrong. For too many conservatives, it seems to entail turning back the clock to a time that may never have existed and throwing out the baby with the bathwater. That’s not conservatism; that’s Maoism, with all the year-zero fantasies that entails.

    In my defense though, I never imagined conservative thinkers would turn out be as appallingly irrational as the ones we’ve had in the last few decades and never thought they’d ever be taking seriously by the news media.

    • I agree that it’s not hard to get lost in the morass of social conservatism (which is as much about social engineering as anything on the left), but fiscal conservatism is pretty straightforward, and that is clearly been thrown overboard by Harper.

      • I don’t why why fiscal conservatism was ever such a pressing issue to begin with for Harper. It was that long period of Liberal government that gave us an appreciable degree of that.

        What Harper threw overboard was limited government, but that never had any hope so long as a significant proportion of conservatives believe (and this is true, despite the denial) that true conservatism has to imposed by the State.

        The incongruity here is glaring and insoluble. All we ended up with is a type of movement conservatism that’s taking forever to acknowledge reality and is wasting a lot of our time and resources in the process.

  24. Political systems versus purisms?

    Liberal versus Conservatives?

    Or, being liberal versus being conservative?

    Just because the Liberal party happens to have the name ‘liberal’ attached does not automatically mean that the party members are liberal. Perhaps we should shed that notion first and foremost. It is not so much that the conservative mindset is against the Liberal party by disdain, but by impression that Liberal automatically stands for liberal. Such confusion, I believe, can be traced back to the changed notion of what individual freedom really stands for.

    Individual freedom stands for individual freedom to make choices.

    Making choices means one has to be able to be reasonable. For when one is reasonable, one is then able to stick with the choice one has made. We are judged upon our actions, not our thoughts.

    I think in words, Mr.Ignatieff has been praised for being an intellectual and for having great potential. Yet, the real test will be how Mr.Ignatieff will be able to transform theoretical liberal thoughts into practical liberal actions.

    Mr.Ignatieff, too, will have to make choices. And if it is true that he appointed Don Boudria to serve as adviser on parliamentary strategy while still being a lobbyist, then such appointment is Mr.Ignatieff’s choice.

    The voter must then wonder if Mr.Ignatieff has been reasonable, whether he has been able to put the theoretical liberal thoughts into practical liberal action, or if Mr.Ignatieff’s theoretical thoughts differ from his practical actions.

    To be praised into the heavens for having written several books on human rights and so forth, while not being able to put those words into matching actions, must be seriously considered. And if we, as the voting public, are not aware of the difference then we are to blame equally for letting the political process down.

    Individual freedom, the possibility to make choices, is very much related to the idea of conservatism. We have to understand the meaning of individual freedom before we can talk about the subject any further.

    Individual freedom does not mean doing as one wishes; individual freedom simply means that choices have consequences. And btw, not making any choices is a choice also, and the consequences arising out of making no decisions are also real.

    • Good post. I think there can’t be any doubt that, theoretically at least, Ignatieff is a classic small-l liberal. For instance, he wrote the definitive book about Isaiah Berlin.

      • Yeah, well, he may be up to speed on Mr.Berlin, but what does it mean if Mr.Ignatieff’s actions point in other less liberal directions? Well, it means that he will still be considered leader of the Liberal party. What then, does the liberal within Liberal stand for?

        • Well, he’s only been leader for a few weeks. I guess we’ll find out before too long.

  25. Individual freedom automatically looks at the collective, or the common good, for if the common good is not served well, individual freedom is also severely undermined.

    When one makes individual choices, one is automatically confronted with the other. I don’t try and say this in a sappy manner. But I seriously believe that if we will not consider the other we will not come to consider ourselves. For what is dished out to the other will ultimately be dished out to the self in turn. We see that in our daily lives and we see that happen within political life. There is to be no difference in that regard.

    And so, yes, emphasis on the common good is essential for liberals and conservatives alike. Both parties, in essense, approach the direction toward the common good as coming out of the individual, while perhaps the NDP starts off its approach by insisting the collective comes first and the well being of the individual appears out of that. But those are differences of approach, each approach offering a valid argument.

    Typically, voters either associate themselves with one approach over another.

    My voting preference is based on the belief that the individual approach toward the common good will be more effective. But that means a heavier burden is placed onto the individual voter, for the individual voter needs to be informed in order to sift through the contradictions and confusions. In other words, for the individual to approach the common good, one needs to come and understand the other. Coming to understand the other is not always easy.

    For a lot of people it would be much easier if the common good is served first and foremost by a few individuals (so called leaders) who will then somehow secure the individual freedom for all. That could work also. But personally I am a bit leery about having a few individuals (so called leaders) set the tone for all.

    • I think there is a very clear difference between liberals and conservatives: liberals believe that government should be an agent of change for social and economic purposes, while conservatives (with some exceptions) do not. In this sense the liberals are on the same side as the NDP.

      A stimulus package of the kind introduced by Harper is clearly an artifact of liberal economic beliefs – not conservative.

      • Bill,

        We clearly disagree on that point ( the Liberals being more like the NDP).

        Take, for instance, the 50 billion dollar cuts proposed to businesses and see what happened during the past election.
        For the NDP, the objection to the cuts was clearly coming from that collective approach, namely to have the collective (the businesses in this case) clear the path for the individual. According to the NDP, taxes being paid by businesses are first and foremost a direction toward the common good.

        Whereas the Liberals and Conservative clearly see the individual aspect within businesses first and foremost, and when such individual endeavours play out well, the collective will be served accordingly.

        It was therefore so ironic to see Jack side with the Liberals when agreeing to the cuts (in contrast to having opposed them during the elections) in order to be able to form the coalition agreement. But in reality, Jack had moved closer to the Conservative and the Liberal side when making that decision, yet, Jack’s agreement to the coalition was for being against the Conservatives, for replacing the Conservative government.

        We need to see these bigger treads. Why had Jack opposed the tax cuts to businesses during the past election (and it had been a major plank! if not the biggest one). Because such approach is exactly what gets him his core votes, namely the ones who believe in the collective first.

        Now, when the Conservative government handed the banks (businesses also) some relief by easing up credit, and the banks in turn were most reluctant to spread this ‘ease’ onward (to the average consumer, being the individual in turn), the Conservative government criticised the banks for a good reason; if businesses are regarded as individual endeavours first and foremost, and if the government is willing to ease some of their burdens but such easement is then not passed into the system, the businesses do not live up to their end of the bargain, namely considering themselves to be individually responsible for seeing their businesses expand, thereby being of service to the collective.

        Jack and the banks wanted it both ways, and that is the clincher: you cannot have it both ways, ever.

  26. “But then, I have no party in a lot of wayys — as, in fact, do a lot of Canadians. It isn’t just free marketers who haven’t got a party. Federalists have no party, in the sense of a party willing to defend the national interest against the pull of provincialism and Quebec nationalism. Democratic reformers have no party. Classical liberals (or as Barbara Frum used to call herself, “1950s liberals”), believers in the equal rights of every individual under the Charter — as opposed to group rights advocates, on the one hand, and Charterphobes, on the other — are no less bereft. There’s no party that stands for consumers, against exploitation by producer interests; for the jobless, against restrictive labour laws that prevent them from pricing themselves into work; for taxpayers, against the depredations of rent-seeking special interests; for property owners, against the marauding state.”

    Andrew Coyne makes a fair point, but an interesting counterpoint is that – despite lacking a party that stands up for those values, Canada does quite well on many of them. Indeed, this suggests a paradox to be explained: why do Canadians with no party to represent them to well, relative to other countries.

    1. The Fraser Institutes economic freedom index lists Canada as the 7th freest country, ahead of the United States for the first time in aeons. Yes, we have just launched into a large stimulus, but as a % of GDP it is smaller than many other advanced industrial countries – and our stimulus is from a position of balanced budgets, rather than pre-existing deficits.

    2. When it comes to individual rights as well, one can make a strong case for Canada. We have gay marriage, and despite no blanket decriminalization, very liberal laws regarding possession of small amounts of marijuana. There are some group rights counterpoints, like our enshrinement of multiculturalism, and our policy towards natives, but even these are limited. Multiculturalism as a policy doesn’t really do many explicit things. Canadian aboriginal policy consequentially creates group rights, but largely has its origins in past treaties, and so is also contractarian. Canada is also 18th in press freedom, the highest ranked G8 country (sure, Denmark beats us, but what exactly of import goes on in Denmark worth covering up?).

    3. As for rent-seeking, Canada has comparably low agricultural tariffs, and a fairly minimal military industrial complex (which tends to involve effective subsidization of particular firms).

    I would go so far as to argue that with proportional representation, and a party system where those interests had parties, you would get WORSE, not better outcomes on those fronts. In plurality voting, swing voters are king. The parts of the country where the above ideals are strongest – the 905 and parts of British Columbia – are swing regions precisely because there is no “free market” party, making those voters the belles of the ball.

    Under PR, those regions of the country would presumably have some party close to their values. That party would be far from a majority – rather it would be a bit player like the Free Democrats in Germany. Occasionally forming coalition governments with other parties. Iversen and Soskice (APSR 2006) make the case that this is part of why PR democracies redistribute vastly more wealth – despite having parties like the Free Democrats, Progress Party or the UDF.

    Iversen and Soskice develop a model with three social classes, L, M and H. In first-past-the-post systems, you get broad representative parties – LM (rich and lower, the left) form one, HM (rich and middle, the right) another. Yes there are other parties in Canada, but they have no chance of forming government. Middle class voters are more likely to fear the LM party, which can redistribute wealth through taxes away from L and M voters towards the poor. Since the MH party can only cut taxes, the worst it can do is eliminate redistributive effects. Thus, under FPTP, there is a bias to the right. Under PR, L, M and H have separate parties. M is not afraid that L will radically redistribute, because it can negotiate with L in the coalition-formation stage. They can agree to soak the rich, for the benefit of L and M. By contrast, under FPTP there is always the risk that L will take full control of the party. They then show this with some statistical regressions.

    So what is my point? Representation (voice) is not the best defense a citizen has. Rather, it is fickleness – the threat of exit – that makes any group of people influential, particularly in a political system where small shifts of the vote can yield large policy u-turns. The things Coyne laments about, are well-served in Canada (compared to the rest of the world) precisely because they are poorly represented. Does that mean we will never have a charismatic pseudo-libertarian champion? Probably. I think Mike Harris is as close as we will get, and even he had to cloak his actions in populism.

  27. Applying the above to Canada:
    For the record, the Liberals are not really an L party. Canada has historically had two MH parties, the Tories and Liberals.

    For instance, from the 1993 federal election survey the Tories and Liberals were similar in income distribution. Only the NDP and Bloc had a lower class majority of voters. Only in 1988 did the Liberals resemble more of an LM party – and they lost horribly because most middle class voters went to the Tories.

  28. I liked the last article and this one. The one point I disagree with however is that Bush and the Conservatives did perform a service to protect Plant Life. With supposed learned scientists actually saying we should treat Carbon like Nuclear Waste, you have to wonder what would have become of us if we’d been Gored … doing something like scrub the atmosphere of an essential nutrient for plant life because of a theory whose foundation was proven incorrect a century ago and only merit is its role in advancing super computer technology while setting modeling methodology back a couple decades.

    The damage done to the planet and human societies while we did all these inane stupid things in the face of the most intransigent political Orthodoxy since Copernicus would have been greater than the economic crisis … so having the brakes on will soon be seen as fortunate.

    The Real World will be presenting itself in the current Grand Minimum we are entereing and James Hansen will become the laughing stock of the scientific community. It has already become a joke that you don’t want Al Gore to speak in your community because the cold follows him. :D I guess that is similar to the black political cloud that used to follow him.

    • Gosh, I’ll have to tell the climate scientists I work with on a daily basis that they’ve just gotten it completely wrong. Where have you published your most recent refereed journal articles, Len? I must immediately bring your results to the attention of my colleagues – they’ll be so relieved to learn that CO2 doesn’t trap infrared radiation after all. Whew, that was close! We were so worried! Now we can relax, thanks to your brilliant work. Damn, this is great, now I can give up my boring day job and take up the guitar full time. Excellent. P.S. Don’t forget to send us the detailed peer-reviewed studies you’ve written, so we can rewrite the next IPCC report and sound the all clear. Thanks so much. And hey – see you in Stockholm, genius!

      • Don’t Worry about Stockholm, try New York on March 8th. If you need directions to the location of peer reviewed science as opposed to IPCC peer reviewed ADVOCACY … just look it up on .

        Don’t worry, I moved 5 hours south of where I was to preserve my version of a Canadian Winter and work at a Coal Fired Power Plant. Hopefully, the government doesn’t spend too much money refrigerating the flue gas to send it down a pipe line to do tertiary recovery on old oil fields before this all gets uncovered. In the mean time I will do my best to keep real pollutants out of the atmsosphere, however for the real GHG, water vapor, with the dry cold and chapped lips … I have difficulty worrying about it :D

        • You need to go spend some time reading, Len. And no, the fact that the scientists blogging on it don’t agree with your preconceived views doesn’t mean they’re “biased”. They’re real scientists, doing real science, both fieldwork and modeling, and all of them are excellent professionals highly respected by their peers. None of them are idiots, fools, incompetents, or rogues making shit up to provide excuses for government interventions aimed at destabilizing the capitalist system, or whatever crock-of-shit conspiracy theories deniers have been sold by AEI. CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide really do trap infrared radiation, and the consequences of increased concentrations can be calculated, with some margin for uncertainty due to difficulties in estimating the size of feedback effects in a complex non-linear system (which modeling attempts to address). The greenhouse role of water vapour depends on the balance between albedo effects and heat-trapping, and continues to be intensively investigated, but it does not somehow cause the CO2, methane, or nitrous oxide-driven greenhouse effects to disappear. And the output of the sun has been carefully measured and shown to account for very little of the GMT temperature trends in recent decades… all this has been very, very carefully assessed by scientists committed to empirical reality, not to bolstering preconceived ideology. Science is not about ideology. It’s about an unblinking view of reality. IPCC is not an advocacy organization, it’s a comprehensive review of peer-reviewed literature. None of what I’m saying will have the slightest chance of diverting you from your comical certainty in your beliefs, of course, and you will simply dismiss realclimate as “biased” because it doesn’t support your beliefs. Non-scientists (and some scientists, but not most of them) filter the information they expose themselves to in an effort to bolster their existing belief-commitments, that much is clear. Sigh.

  29. I miss the sweet reason of the old Jeunes Patriotes.

  30. A very good piece by Andrew Coyne. This is the type of writing I read him for.

  31. Having fully abandoned the CPC after the recent budget debacle, the only way I will support a party in a future election is if a new libertarian party is created with Barry Goldwater at the helm. Some Goldwater quotes:

    “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can. ”

    “On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.

    I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
    And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.”

  32. “on a per capita basis NL’ians have contributed four times as much as the next nearest province”

    contributed what exactly? 4 times as many Danny Williams governments? 4 times as many oil workers migrating to Alberta?

    Did you know that Manitobans eat the most deer meat per capita – as much as twelve times more than the next nearest province? Perhaps you’d be interested in the fact that people in Whitby, Ontario are more than 43.3 times more likely to see a UFO than the next nearest Canadian city.

    The funny thing is, I pulled these facts straight out of my a$$, which is the same place you pulled your “NL contributes four times more per capita” bs from. Its this level of enlightenment that has Danny Williams enjoying 112% approval ratings.

  33. nice post, the oppinions are more interesting than the topic =)

  34. I blame the media. How many sacred cows are there in Coyne’s list of principles that are deemed as illegitimate and/or trite subjects of political debate by the CBC and CTVGlobeMedia and CanWest and CP? (note that I exclude Quebec for obvious reasons).

  35. Groping for the middle seems what we get now in politics in Canada. Until someone or some party can come up with a vision and a list of directions to achieve it, and run with it as a political choice for voters, we will see the center parties changing into each other’s clothes. Harper is just the most recent lame example of a person who just wants power but doesn’t seem to know why. As AC points out, it leaves the rest of us confused as heck.

    I do disagree with AC’s rant about free markets with environmental protection in the same breath. Government needs to spend a lot of time cajoling business interests to leave the environment intact in the interests of the public. Pollution and degradation are products of free market behavior run amok. I don’t understand how conservative ideology missed that one. The free market system is nice a motivator but completely dangerous without rules and policing.

    • Of course groping for the middle is what we get. What the hell are we supposed to get? An unbendable rushing toward the fringe? Rightist revolution? Leftist revolution? What the hell do you think the “middle” is? Why do we call it the “middle”? It’s called the “middle” because it’s what the broad plurality of society wants. And it’s the job of government in a representative democracy (worthy of the name) to deliver just that. Arrogant ideologues who think they know better than “the middle” are invariably only able to carry out their programmes after seizing totalitarian power. Arrogant ideologues who thing they know better than “the middle” gave us National Socialism, Stalinism, Maoism, Cuban Communism, the Spanish Inquisition, McCarthyism, Pharaonism, Zionism, Islamism, and every other God damned ism that has slaughtered millions and subjugated billions through history. Screw ideological purity. There’s nothing on Earth more dangerous. The only “ism” worth supporting is principled pragmatism.

  36. “Having fully abandoned the CPC after the recent budget debacle, the only way I will support a party in a future election is if a new libertarian party is created with Barry Goldwater at the helm. Some Goldwater quotes:”

    The same Barry Goldwater who opposed civil rights legislation and mused about nuking Vietnam? The same Goldwater whose alignment of the GOP with southern segregationists ultimately created the downmarket bible-thumping party that exists to this day? And, in a sense, the same Goldwater whose principled extremism allowed LBJ to win a massive victory, and launch into the greatest expansion of the welfare state in history?

    The greatest champions of libertarianism are rarely its loudest adherents. In Canada the same Mackenzie King who called those on the left “Liberals in a hurry” presided over and maintained a laissez-faire economy – using the supreme court to axe the Tory new deal. Similarly the same Chretien that said the “deficit, she take care of ‘erself”, and who called the opposition unpatriotic for discussing Canada’s productivity growth presided over the largest budget cuts in Canadian history. In the United States, Bill Clinton, who was elected on a promise of universal healthcare instead cut funding for everything and brought in welfare reform. By contrast, Reagan, though hailed as a hero of the right, brought in massive deficits, increased spending if you count defence, and even his tax cuts were partially reversed later in his term. Mulroney, elected to bring Thatcherism to Canada, instead brought us our largest deficits.

    My point is this – rhetoric is misleading. Rhetoric is misleading in particular because politicians are driven largely by reelection motives (or in the US presidency, are driven to maintain high approval so they can shame congress into doing their bidding). Those that are captivated by rhetoric can be taken for granted by politicians (like say the anti-war Americans that voted for Obama, but are now getting a SoS that voted for the war in Iraq, an NSA that is a Republican, and a president that supports FISA – not to mention a pretty conservative economic team). Great libertarians are more likely to be those that face libertarian swing voters, as opposed to those who have a libertarian base. Mike Harris (and possibly Ralph Klein) is probably the only Canadian politician to take power in recent history on an explicitly libertarian platform (he even refrained from using social issues) – propelled into office largely by fortuitous circumstances, and even then, faced with libertarian swing voters in the 905. But of course it is always more fun to be inspired than to get results, isn’t it?

  37. “I do disagree with AC’s rant about free markets with environmental protection in the same breath. Government needs to spend a lot of time cajoling business interests to leave the environment intact in the interests of the public. Pollution and degradation are products of free market behavior run amok. I don’t understand how conservative ideology missed that one. The free market system is nice a motivator but completely dangerous without rules and policing.”

    You are incorrect – markets work fine, the problem exists with a tragedy of the commons. Clean air (this can be extended to global warming or clean water) is not owned privately, it is owned collectively by us all. In the absence of private property, you can’t have a market. The status quo is sort of collectivist – our common property (the public good that is clean air) is given freely to corporations, rather than being treated as an input like trees are for a lumber mill. If air was just another input to the production process, corporations would minimize its use, because inputs are costly.

    Your impulse at the end, I think hits at the reality of markets. People assume that any old unregulated trading is “the free market”. It isn’t (Polanyi’s work is pretty good on this). Trade prior to the 18th century was rarely governed by profit motives (many long distance voyages were organized by the state, after all). The champagne fairs that predated the modern free market, indeed, would not have existed without the military presence of a strong state. This is why you didn’t have the emergence of a free market in the commercial republics of Italy or the Netherlands (whose motive was more power than wealth in itself). Rather, free markets in the modern sense first emerged in Britain, a fairly centralized state. Similarly today markets in the commons need a push from governments to extend the frontiers of capitalism into air. For instance, they could create emissions trading markets, as the US has for sulphuric acid.

    Here is a chart showing progress in the US:

    • Yes. And we should also extend markets to other behaviors. It’s ridiculous, for example, that mothers are expected to look after their children without the little beggars even paying mom a dime for the service. And why are men expected to be courteous to women, free-of-charge — kiss girlfriends, smile at mothers-in-law, give up their seat to elderly ladies? Show me the money, bitch. Also, I’m really peeved at this ridiculous thing where people are allowed to walk down sidewalks for free. That’s socialism. Somebody else paid for that sidewalk. Sidewalks should be privatized. You want to walk, buddy? Ante up. Can’t pay? Fine – the private security cops will take you away, beat your ass up for wasting their time, and dump your ass in a ravine out of town, if they can find some public property where it won’t bother the owners. While we’re at it, why do we let people breathe for free? That’s just wrong. Air is a resource. If you want it rationed efficiently, create a market. Can’t pay? Die, loser.

  38. Andrew, it would appear that you called this entire mess with eerie prescience nearly four years ago (

    I bring this up because a) I think that particular column is more of a must-read now than ever and b) I was hoping you could also predict upcoming winning lottery numbers.

  39. WoW! Andrew! I might become a fan of your again!

  40. No political party reflects free market values because political values are the opposite of free market values. Politics is about voting yourself someone else’s property or voting for restrictions on another person’s right to conduct free trade.

    Allegedly pro-market parties and politicians, like the Tories of Mike Harris and the Libs under Chretien and Martin are not really free marketeers at all. At best they temporarily halted or slowed down the growth of government, that is, the cynical encroachment of elites onto private property in the false name of “the greater good”. But there is no doubt that these politicians shared nearly all of the redistributionist and racketeering propensities of their alleged “left leaning” opponents. If they did not share most of these beliefs then they would not have been elected.

    The charter and rights and freedoms is not a document which enables or allows rights and freedoms, but is a catalog of the many ways in which fundamental rights and freedoms can be violated by democratically enabled tyrants. And an open-ended catalog at that.

    • This is the view of the sort of obsessive who thinks that private property rights are the only real or important human right. That’s the core of your dogma. What you actually believe in is plutocracy, not freedom or democracy. See my post, below.

      • You are a piece of work. Advocacy Science, Tyranny of the Majority … you must have jumped on a time machine from 1920’s Russia to declare the end to the monarchy. Sorry, if you want to espouse silly ideas that won’t even sell in Continental Europe the only places left for you are Cuba and the NDP of Canada.

        • What planet are you on, Len? I live in continental Europe. I work with scientists in Germany and the UK (mostly Oxford University folks, a hotbed of silly ideas invented by crazed ideologues masquerading as scientists if ever there was one). “Advocacy science” is a fiction invented by PR types working for outfits like AEI who are trying to confuse the public about the state of climate science in order to protect coal and oil company business models; they’re promoting advocacy pseudo-science in direct opposition to real science, and only complete fools fall for it. As for “tyranny of the majority”, sorry dude, not my thing. But your head is obviously filled with lots of little labeled boxes, so that you can smugly dismiss any and all ideas that don’t conform to whatever incoherent grab-bag of paranoiac right-wing conspiracy tropes you’ve soaked up from the latest Rush Limbaugh performance. What a joke.

  41. This column deserves a special title: “Coyne’s Manifesto”. It’s the clearest expression I’ve seen of AC’s political beliefs, collected in one place.

    As usual, I find myself agreeing with nearly all of AC’s elegantly expressed tenets, except his core article of faith in “free market” dogma.

    As a principled pragmatist, rather than a Believer, I notice that the nations with the highest standards of living, fairest social conditions, etc., are countries in which the State spends the highest share of aggregate GDP: Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Germany. And the countries where the State has a low share of GDP are corrupt, dysfunctional hellholes: Afghanistan, Nigeria, El Salvador. Moreover, as annoying as labor unions can be, evidence suggests that without them (see USA since the 1970s), middle classes stop making progress and all new wealth aggregates at the top. (Paul Krugman has made this point repeatedly.)

    AC doesn’t want to see it, and I am pretty certain won’t ever admit it — ideologues are never much impressed by mere reason and evidence when their core dogmas are questioned — but the clear and inescapable correlate and consequence of his private-property, anti-government-engagement-in-the-economy fanaticism, if it should ever be implemented with the unconditional vigour he espouses, is not liberal democracy. It is plutocracy.

    Where the State is weak and nearly all decisions are made according to “free actors in a free marketplace”, what is actually happening? Well, money is power. What is happening is that those who have money have power, and make the decisions about where people’s efforts are directed (others, not just their own), and those who have no money have no power, and make no decisions. This is the definition of “plutocracy”, not “democracy”. If the State is largely irrelevant in people’s lives, then in what sense can a “democracy” — by definition the rule of the Demos, the people — be said to exist?

    The whole purpose of the democratic State is to be a countervaling force against the power of money or family connections. The democratic State is a social compact in which the principle of “One Person, One Vote” is brought into roughly equal balance with the principle “One Dollar, One Vote”. AC favours a society in which “One Dollar, One Vote” is overwhelmingly the more powerful principle, because, in his view, private property rights are far more important than human rights — or, as he probably sees it, private property rights ARE the most important of human rights. In a polity designed by AC, the State would be largely or entirely stripped of its power to redistribute dollars amongst the people. And this means that AC is an advocate of plutocracy, not democracy.

    It is an empirical fact that fully capitalist economies, in which government-mediated redistributions of wealth are largely or entirely absent, result in radical concentration of wealth: a small class of rich people ruling over huge mobs of poor and just-getting-by people. If AC’s passionate vision of a fully “free market” society came to pass, most of us would be poor-ass peons working for peanuts, and a huge and growing proportion of aggregate economic activity would be bent towards serving the increasingly outlandish whims of the small percentage of increasingly well-heeled people, who would be the only folks with discretionary money to spend. Canada would be like 19th century Britain. No thanks.

  42. “The whole purpose of the democratic State is to be a countervaling force against the power of money or family connections. ”

    The opposite is true. The democratic state is right now, as you read this, in the process of bailing out people with money and connections, allegedly for the greater good, but in reality because you and your fellow voters let them.

    Without government intervention, people and corporations who refuse to treat their fellow humans in a honest and fair manner are shunned by customers, employees, lenders, investors and suppliers. They either mend their ways or they go broke.

    When political intervention is possible, those with money and connections can easily subvert the process in order to tilt the table towards themselves. They do so by bribing some of the voters with welfare benefits, fooling some voters with B.S. emanating from a priestly class of pundits and academics, and they bully the remainder with threats.

    That’s what the “stimulus” is. Giving billions of dollars to people who are powerful and wealthy, but facing insolvency. Promising chickenbleep make-work jobs and “retraining” to the little people who are losing their jobs in the bursting bubble. Scaring everyone else with economic apocalypse if they don’t play ball.

    • If you really believe that, go live in Nigeria, El Salvador or Afghanistan for a few years, where the State makes no real attempt to redistribute money, collects very little in taxes, and everything is privatized in practice — including all government services (that’s what bribery is: in poor countries, civil servants are paid so little by the State that they extort private payments for their services instead). You should find it paradisical, because your theory will be in action.

      What your lot doesn’t understand is that a strong State and high taxes are just as necessary for the generation of a nation’s prosperity as a strong entrepreneurial class. It’s not enough to have a right wing or a left wing. A nation, like a bird, needs both wings flapping in harmony to fly. The roads, schools, and hospitals don’t build themselves. And if you leave them to be built by for-profit corporations with no state involvement, they’ll only cater to the few who have the money to pay them handsomely; again, you quickly find yourself in Nigeria, not in some kind of prosperous libertarian Utopia. Pay attention to the evidence and forget Hayek’s ideological simplifications. Notice, even, that wealthy people are most abundant, most safe, and most relaxed in countries where there are high taxes and a strong middle class – not in Nigeria or Afghanistan. Common wealth, built by tax levies, enables private wealth accumulation, it does not oppose it. Indeed, being born within a strong infrastructure of common wealth — schools, roads, and hospitals paid for by someone else — is really the only foundation on which an honest man can go from being poor to being wealthy. Consider, too, that you paid for only the tiniest fraction of the goods and services you enjoy every day. Your entire life is immersed in the stupendous benefits of taxpayer-supported common wealth infrastructure, built by past and present generations of Canadian taxpayers. You’re like a fish that doesn’t realize it’s swimming in water.

  43. Please exit. You personally, not NL. Go live on whatever planet of angry angry people suits you best. But don’t piss on my country, you f**cker.

    • Er, to clarify: This one was aimed at NL_Expatriate. Thanks for listening.

      • Just so ya know, conspiracy wanker, I’m from Vancouver, not central Canada. But whatever. I haven’t been to Nfld, but apart from Joey Smallwood’s allowing himself to get suckered (or bribed?) by Hydro-Quebec, which had nothing to do with the feds, I don’t see that Confederation somehow adds up to an evil scheme to suppress the “minority” provinces. If anything, Confederation has harmed people in the tiny provinces by being too kind — by buying votes through pogey regulations that allow folks to work for ten weeks in summer and take the rest of the year off at the expense of taxpayers (you know, taxpayers in provinces where people have year-round jobs…?). This created a culture of pogey addicts in the Maritimes (and on Native reserves) which, in the long run, has not been salutary. But where did the demand for pogey come from? It came from fishermen and loggers, seasonal workers. The political market responded. Alea jacta est. Not sure what your crazed hate-Canada beef is about, but I suggest you keep in mind that Canada, notwithstanding its flaws, remains among the best places on Earth to be a citizen. Count your blessings, dude. And by the way, it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever for PEI to be on a par with Ontario in terms of influence on national affairs. Why should PEI residents have 100 times as much political power per capita as Ontario people? That just makes no sense.

  44. “… its refusal to deal seriously with global warming was blinkered and counter-productive”

    Andrew, you must have missed the news. Maybe you were on vacation? Sometime last year, around the time that GWB and Stephen Harper started giving it lip service, the SS Global Warming steamed away from the dock. It ran into rough water as soon as it left the harbor, turned around 180 degrees and tried to re-christen itself SS Climate Change, floundered on its own wake, and sank.

    It’s now lying on the bottom next to the SS If We Don’t Invade Them Over There They’ll Nuke Us Over Here, and the SS There Is No Real Estate Bubble.

    It left a hell of a lot of bills unpaid, and there are a lot of people trying to refloat it who were hoping to get rich using it to ferry $$$$ between 1st world taxpayers’ bank accounts and 3rd world dictators’ bank accounts in the carbon credit carry trade. But it’s gone. It sunk like junk.

    Too bad, but if you really like gigantic global enrichment rackets then you’ll have to get behind something else. Maybe an international central bank, the fabled New World Order. Use your imagination – there is after all one born every minute, and two to take ’em.

    • Must have missed the news, Al Heck. None of the climate scientists I work with are aware that they’ve been completely wrong, and CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide don’t trap infrared radiation after all, thus making their concentration in the atmosphere irrelevant. Damn, you’d think that scientific professionals working full-time on this stuff would have heard about the foundering of the SS Climate Change! But my colleagues just haven’t heard. Guess we’re all too busy making up fake science to justify a massive scam of some sort – and without even realizing it, too! Shame we aren’t aware of the scam – shouldn’t we be getting a cut? Damn, I should have studied commerce instead of physics.

  45. I ask a very simple question: how can we have a functioning democracy when a third of the population pays no tax on assessed income and half the population pays less than 4% of total income taxes collected. A majority of the population directly benefits from incme redistribution. (Canada Revenue Agency Income Statistics 2006). Unfortunately we are not alone in this; the US has the same ratios. There is no way that the financial contributors to the community can guide the direction that community takes when a majority in that society benefits from structural wealth transfer. Do not think from this comment that I am a heartless conservative. My belief is that we have narrowed the base of tax payers to a point that it is no longer functional. We need broad based participation in society at all levels: consumption and contribution for society to function.

    A second question comes as a result of the budget. When cash transfers occur during a period of stress and society as a whole is not prepared to repay the transfer (less than half the population is responsible for the expense), then we are falling into the income/tax trap that defined the dark days of the 1980s & 90s. At a certain point you stop the wealth creators from contributing. I can recall the rise in tax rates that were needed to deal with the “deficit”. My behaviour was changed: I no longer was interested in working for the State for diminishing returns. I stopped producing and went home. After spending my entire working life helping to repay the excesses of the last major recession (I was 30 in 1982) I cannot accept a solution that subjects the next generation to this outcome. Can some-one explain how new debt is an acceptable solution to a crisis created by excess debt?

    • I agree Sandy, but at least Canada has Community Health that isn’t run by a patch work at the county level like in the US. I’m back (3 years) after 5 years there and its better here except Canadians (especially Ontario) should worry about the quality of their schools.

      I’m not sure what to say except that there is a competition of ideals and although we may be the milch cows of society and this may well modify our behavior in a negative way as you suggest, the only option we have is to surf the Realpolitik. ;) I’m not sure given our social nature and tendency to ‘group action’ (probably evolved and hard wired) if there is a better answer. Just be thankful our tendencies for the most part in modern times simply allow us to be duped by Cdn in Europe’s advocacy science and excuse ourselves for taking the unearned fruits of someone elses labor … and not the more horrific manifestations that have erupted from time to time like in the early 20th century.

    • But Sandy, the entire money economy consists entirely of debt. Surely you’re aware that the money supply expands almost entirely by the issuance of credit by banks (plus a small amount of government fiat money)? And that the money supply at any given time consists of “principal” loaned out to debtors by banks, whereas at the same point in time, “principal plus interest” is owed to banks, so that it would be mathematically impossible to pay back all debts at any given point in time, and everyone is locked into an eternal spiral of more and more debt, since the only way to enable payment of principal PLUS interest to banks is for the banks to issue even more money as debt…? The entire economy is a Ponzi scheme of compounding debt. If you don’t like that, then you have to figure out another way to control the money supply. For example, return to a gold standard (serious problems related to the arbitrariness of who owns how much of this finite commodity), or have government spend money into existence rather than borrow it into existence. Your recommendation?

      • Yes, money is just “debt” in a certain sense, but that’s ok as long as the people borrowing it are different from the one’s lending or creating it. When governments decide to borrow money that they themselves have created, we are certain to end up in the wrong place,at a minimum with hyper or excessive inflation and with other ill effects to follow. The system will support a certain amount of incestuous circulation, andagain, when done between private agencies with their own sense of risk and reward, this is not injurious in itself. When distorted by central banks and governments (one way to do that is not to punish poor risk calculation), then we are liable to get into trouble.

        • You mean private agencies like AIG Financial in London, which manufactured trillions in sub-prime derivatives mislabeled AAA in cahoots with corrupt rating agencies, so that the brokers could earn huge commissions, even though they surely knew doing so would eventually bring down AIG and screw millions of shareholders and policy-makers? Or their counterparties, many of them hedge fund managers, who knew what was going on and availed themselves of huge free profits? This is what has caused a global crash: Private agencies doing their thing. Unregulated private markets have a way of being manipulated by crooks, Bill. The Austrian/Chicago school lionization of the infallibility of “free markets” is wrong on a number of counts, but the failure of their model to recognize the inevitability of self-dealing criminal behavior getting the upper hand in unregulated markets is obviously one of the core blind spots in the ideology. The trouble is, you won’t recognize it, because your commitment to an ideology prevents you from an unfiltered view of empirical evidence. So Austrian/Chicago school true believers continue on their path, even when their path is presently leading through the smoking ruins of the real-world construct of fakery and corruption caused directly by the implementation of their ideology. Sigh. —

          And by the way, “When governments decide to borrow money that they themselves have created, we are certain to end up in the wrong place,at a minimum with hyper or excessive inflation and with other ill effects to follow”; This is a faith statement, not a fact statement. There is nothing inevitable about this. It is possible, but not inevitable, that hyperinflation, etc., will follow: it depends on whether governments are responsible about the amount of fiat money they create year-on-year, i.e. whether it reflects the amount of additional real economic activity. To prevent hyperinflation, it would be possible to create regulations and transparent, accountable non-partisan money supply boards that would manage risks and regulate the money supply based on measurable, quantitative criteria. And so there is, in fact, no reason for governments to borrow money for stimulus packages: as long as they stay within certain bounds, we could stimulate the economy with fiat money, by spending it directly into the economy on high-economic-multiplier infrastructure projects (e.g. weatherizing homes for energy efficiency) without creating a significant rise in inflation. Remember, the risk in a recessionary economy is DEFLATION; so during recessions, it’s legit to temporarily increase fiat money spending, in order to stimulate the economy without burdening future generations with debt.

  46. Well, there sure isn’t any party supporting the rights of English-Canadians in Quebec.

  47. Andrew, Andrew, Andrew,
    You of all people… I can’t seem to find even one journalist who isn’t whining about the budget. They all seem to be saying the same thing “the Conservatives are spending too much.”

    But nobody, not even one of my favourites, … you, has anything unique to say about the budget, or the issue it is attempting to solve.

    The problem is that nobody knows what to do because the economic meltdown is more than just an economic issue. There is a psychological issue at play and the economists are perhaps the least equipped to deal with the emotional driver that powers our economy.

    Although we like to think that these stimulous packages are intelligently designed, the fact is that they are more an elixir of hope then strategic solution.

    So it’s time the journalists stop whining about the budgets and the spending, and start realising that the media holds a lot of responsibility for unraveling the public confidence. Time for each one of us to put this unspoken control over public opinion to good use.

    Public confidence is completely vital to a growing economy.

  48. I’m onside with most of Andrew Coyne says except the part about, “and no one, not the caucus, not the membership, has uttered so much as a squawk.” My MP would certainly take exception with that as well (assuming my letters were read). While I am utterly disappointed with the direction of the Harper government and am seeking a new political home (I don’t believe that the country is bereft of movements which espouse some of the values Andrew Coyne mentioned), I think it has more to do with bowing to the whims of the internationalists who give the marching orders to all governements in the (so-called) free world.

  49. I think you quite mischaracterize the NDP’s decision in dropping the tax cut issue when entering the coalition, Francis (in what is otherwise a well-said comment).

    The coalition was able to argue its case because there was (and is) a large amount of common ground between at least the stated principles of the two parties. (I won’t get into how they perform in government, I think the NDP were hoping that when backed up by a partner the Liberals’ principles would end up with a little more starch in them.)

    There are also major points of disagreement; corporate tax cuts are a big one. But the coalition’s action statement largely sets these aside in favor of the status quo in whichever case… which to me is an obvious, and very responsible, case of realizing that the perfect is the enemy of the good.

    A coalition government could knuckle down to business on points of mutual agreement for easily more than the 18 months guaranteed by the agreement, working hard and well, and still not have exhausted the list of things they agree on. How people can criticize the NDP for setting aside a plank, even a major one, in favor of [i]much of the rest of their platform[/i]… I just do not understand.

  50. Andrew, we understand market economics quite well. It’s market fundamentalism that is the problem.

    And as long as conservatives (big “C” or otherwise) try to solve the inconsistencies in their coalition by depending on it, they’ll be the problem too.

  51. Conservatism per se may, indeed, not be the issue. What is an issue, however, is the sad fact that anyone who holds power in Ottawa invariably ends up being a colossal moron. In other words, as a Western Canada, I see the merit, more than ever before, of sending a Dear John letter to Ottawa and telling them all to go and ……..

    • Gee, Werner, it’s a shame that everyone on the planet is an idiot except you. If only you could be Leader, then all problems would magically melt away!

      Dismissing everyone who holds power in Ottawa as “morons” is the laziest, shallowest, and yes, most moronic form of cheap cynicism. The real world is complicated, Werner, and politicians are interest brokerage actors who are in constant negotiations with everyone around them. It’s not a simple job, and there are few simple solutions in the real world.

  52. I fail to see why the citizens of this country seem to get a free pass on blame for this debacle of government we have. It’s the system’s fault. It’s the political party’s fault. What a load of nonsense. It’s all our faults. We demand nothing. There are no demonstrations. No outcries for change. We plug along in our same old ways, one region whining about another region. There’s no maturity or respect towards each other or ourselves for that matter. We can’t bring ourselves to even attempt the simplest Sesame Street lessons of co-operation. Help each other? Oh no, it’s obviously a covert attempt to screw us. So Albertans will vote Conservative regardless of the fact they govern like the Liberal Party so universally despised. And Quebecers will continue to vote for enough separatists to keep the Federalists giving them bribes to stay in the country. And Ontario will continue to vote predominantly Liberal because hey the Conservatives really just want to avenge deemed injustices perpetrated on the west in the past….can’t risk that. It’s pathetic. But WE are to blame for it. There are no parties to vote for? We don’t give ourselves parties to vote for. Our fault. Period.

  53. “And so in that sense I have no party.”

    But, by that point, you had me

  54. Mr. Coyne is right on the money! I read the article and agreed with nearly all of it. I wonder though how he thinks we’ll get to Proportional Representation? The referendum in Ontario went absolutely horribly, so will it go any better federally?

    How do we mere citizens get the ball rolling on this now that it was trounced in the biggest province? Any suggestion at the change will no doubt be met with “Well, Ontarian definately don’t want the system changed, so what’s the point?”

  55. Its not the end of Conservatism despite recent events. However it is obivious that certain people in the media industry CTV, CBC, MacLeans,etc would LIKE to see the end of Conservatism.