‘Etherized upon a table’

Susan Delacourt alerts us to Deborah Coyne’s call to arms in today’s Star, and reminds us that the government’s diminished capacity is not just a figment of Ms. Coyne’s imagination.

Eyes glaze over when such facts are laid out, but Canadians must resist and recognize this trend toward fiscal weakness means our national government will be unable to fulfill its duties across the broad spectrum: national standards for social, educational and environmental programs; comparable national public services and infrastructure; strategic investments in innovation and leading-edge industries; adequate support for our troops; equity and justice for aboriginal Canadians.

Almost every aspect of our daily lives, every serious challenge, has a global dimension necessitating global cooperation and solutions. Yet Canada’s influence and effectiveness on the international stage are being undermined by our internal incoherence and diminished national strength.




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‘Etherized upon a table’

  1. Deborah Coyne is Andrew Coyne's cousin, and the mother of Pierre Trudeau's daughter, Sarah.

  2. What fiscal weakness? The State already takes more than 50% of our wealth through one tax or another. How much is enough or am I expected to work for no reward.

    The only reason why there is an issue about money is that chattering classes seem to think the Fed government has a broad spectrum of duties that have global dimensions. Here's a suggestion: let governments focus on a few vital programs and let private enterprise and regular people take care of the rest.

  3. Yawn – Jolyon – you enjoy the strength of collective purchasing and protections..so you don't have to bunker down with a brace of AK-47's like our sad friends to the south.

    As for Ms. Coyne – if my memory serves – this is the second excellent piece she has written this year…

  4. Are you overlooking the possibility that maybe Jolyon *wants* to bunker down with a brace of AK-47s?

  5. Nepotism be damned – I think Andrew should give Deborah a permanent forum. Canadians simply aren't apprised of the true danger in our decentralization. They aren't going to hear it from our risk-averse federal politicians, who are content to bow into irrelevance rather than offend a Premier. Hers is a voice crying in the wilderness, and it ought to be heard.

  6. What fiscal weakness? The State already takes more than 50% of our wealth through one tax or another. How much is enough or am I expected to work for no reward.

    The only reason why there is an issue about money is that chattering classes seem to think the Fed government has a broad spectrum of duties that have global dimensions. Here's a suggestion: let governments focus on a few vital programs and let private enterprise and regular people take care of the rest. Canadians don't need to be treated like three year olds who need to be mollycoddled our entire lives.

    • "The State already takes more than 50% of our wealth through one tax or another…"

      You make it sound like it's all going to Argentina or something. You also make it sound like it's simply a one-way payment, and that no collective benefit – police, army, health care, education, roads, etc. – results.

      Yes, taxes are mandatory. But to characterize them as a straight up surrender of wealth isn't fair.

      • No, no, you're forgetting. All taxes are evil. All of them.

        The Prime Minister said. Stamped it, no erasies!

    • From 2001 to 2009, total government spending (Fed/Prov/Mun) fell from 49% to 39% of GDP. Federal government spending is currently at 15% of GDP and declining. Harper believes that governments should not spend more than 30% of GDP. At that level, Canada will cease to exist as a funtioning nation, and the CPC hidden agenda will have been implemented.

      When that happens, I hope you have enough money to repair the potholes or sewers in front of your home, because local governments won't. As for health care, pray that you don't have a heart attack because you won't be able to find a hospital bed.

      But hey, you will be able to afford 6 plasma tv's from Wal-Mart – they will be cheap. Of course, electricity supply might be a bit of a problem.

      • Harper believes that governments should not spend more than 30% of GDP.

        Source, please.

        • I've seen this "quote" repeated several times – apparently the source is a 2001 speech. Perhaps a better Googler than I can find it (or refute the statement by not finding it).

        • I've seen this "quote" repeated several times – apparently the source from a 2001 speech. Perhaps a better Googler than I can find it (or refute the statement by not finding it).

        • As IanBC writes, it is indeed from a speech in 2001 or 2002. If I can find the transcript, I will post the relevant quote.

          I remember, at the time, being struck by the number as it happened to be the total government-spending percentage of GDP for….wait for it….the U.S. of A. Just a coincidence as I'm sure there are sound economic reasons for choosing that limit.

      • Collectively, Canadian governments spend more than $300 billion annually. Let's say, arguendo, that you are correct and I have to start worrying about potholes soon. Don't you wonder where all that money is going and why you have to worry about potholes? And if I can afford plasma tv's from Wal Mart, why can't I afford to fix sewer in front of my house?

        • Because you've wasted your money on plasma tv's.

          There really is a difference between private and public priorities with regard to the spending of money, contrary to what you read on CPC flyers and bumper stickers about who spends money better.

    • Can you provide a bit more detail? What are the top 3 vital programs which the federal government would provide?

      • If it was up to me, the three things Fed government would be in charge of are armed forces, law/order and infrastructure.

        What I never understand is why so many people think if government stops doing something, than the service will disappear entirely. I don't know how many times I have been told that if government gets out of education, say, then there will be no schools. It is bizarre. Like parents are going to stop caring whether their children get an education or not.

        The problem is that too many people think the government has to be responsible for every freakin' thing under the sun. Governments collect more than enough money to provide adequate services to everyone. The problem is that government is always getting bigger and bigger and taking on more and more responsibilities when there is no need for it.

        • Taking your example of (K-12) education, what would be the downside (if any) of shifting that service to the private sector?

          • A lot of parents would fail to send their children to school; and the more proactive parents would enable their students to attend the good schools, while less interested parents would let their children get a terrible education. All well and good, except that it would create a generational cycle of undereducation and underemployment which would harm Canadian society. (Please no blubbering about "justice.")

          • A lot of parents would fail to send their children to school; and the more proactive parents would enable their students to attend the good schools, while less interested parents would let their children get a terrible education. All well and good, except that it would create a generational cycle of undereducation and underemployment which would harm Canadian society.

          • You are assuming that government would both give up delivering the service as well as step away from setting standards – not an unreasonable interpretation of jolyon's post, but I wonder if that is really what he meant.

          • How is that any different than what happens now? French immersion is just one example. Another is that parents know which schools are good/bad and plan accordingly

          • Question of degree, I think.

          • "proactive parents would enable their students to attend the good schools"

            How is that any different than what happens now? French immersion and Catholic schools come to mind. Parents know which schools are good/bad and plan accordingly

        • "If it was up to me, the three things Fed government would be in charge of are armed forces, law/order and infrastructure."

          Ah, the rightwing fantasyland. Well, the US gov't currently runs Medicaid and Medicare, ostensibly covering those who can't afford healthcare. And the US healthcare system is STILL a disaster. The free market doesn't serve Americans *with* insurance well, and it leaves 1/6 without insurance at all.

          This is the model you want to apply to schools? I'm sure that will work out splendidly.

          • How is 18% of Canadians not having a GP all that different than 1/6 without insurance? At least in US, you can pay for treatment if you don't have insurance. And good luck trying to see a specialist here without GP referral.

            Without the US and their private system encouraging new drugs, treatments and equipment we would still be using leeches, opium and snake oil to fix ailments.

          • "How is 18% of Canadians not having a GP all that different than 1/6 without insurance?"

            I'll let today's Star answer that: "The survey found that among those who have no regular physician, 64 per cent chose to go to walk-in clinics, 12 per cent visited a hospital emergency room, and 10 per cent visited a community health centre."

            The difference is that these people were inconvenienced and possibly served poorly. They did't have to choose between rent and health and they didn't have to declare bankruptcy to survive their illness. But of course, pointing to shortcomings in Canada's health care system hardly proves your argument. The fact is that only one first world country leaves health care (partially) to the free market and it's a disaster.

            Here's my promise to you – when the US infant mortality rate improves to match that of Cuba, I'll be open to the possibility that the free market can solve health care. Until then, your position is closer to religious belief than empirical argument.

            As for all that encouragement of new drugs, let's not forget that the US is one of the largest sponsors of public-funded medical research in the world, and the private sector has enjoyed huge profits by leveraging that research into marketable products.

          • And in America, the uninsured go to hospitals, which can't deny them treatments. That's why so many are massively in debt or bankrupt.

            And your Cuba comparison is hysterical. You are arguing that a country that can't produce enough toilet paper for its citizens and encourages tourists to bring aspirin to tip resort staff with has a better health care system than US.

            The reason that Cuba has a better infant mortality rate is clear:

            "The primary reason Cuba has a lower infant mortality rate than the United States is that the United States is a world leader in an odd category — the percentage of infants who die on their birthday. In any given year in the United States anywhere from 30-40 percent of infants die before they are even a day old.

            Why? Because the United States also easily has the most intensive system of emergency intervention to keep low birth weight and premature infants alive in the world. The United States is, for example, one of only a handful countries that keeps detailed statistics on early fetal mortality — the survival rate of infants who are born as early as the 20th week of gestation.

            How does this skew the statistics? Because in the United States if an infant is born weighing only 400 grams and not breathing, a doctor will likely spend lot of time and money trying to revive that infant. If the infant does not survive — and the mortality rate for such infants is in excess of 50 percent — that sequence of events will be recorded as a live birth and then a death.

            In many countries, however, (including many European countries) such severe medical intervention would not be attempted and, moreover, regardless of whether or not it was, this would be recorded as a fetal death rather than a live birth. That unfortunate infant would never show up in infant mortality statistics" Overpopulation.com

            Enjoy re-thinking your thoughts on free market health care. I hope it's not too troubling.

          • Before you pull something patting yourself on the back, I'd encourage you to look into some public health statistics on the US vs the rest of the developed world. They're shamefully, sometimes appallingly low, especially when you consider that the US spends far more per capita than any other nation.

            And you know it.

            And of course, insured Americans are just a firing away from losing their insurance. God help them if they've developed an illness during their time of employment because they'll never get insurance again.

            And you know it.

            Outcomes for the poor in the US are orders of magnitude worse than for the general population and below even marginal standards for first-world populations.

            And you know it.

            In the US, 50% of personal bankruptcy filings are due at least in part to medical expenses.

            And you know it.

            You enjoy your rightwing religion. I prefer to stay here in the reality-based community where big, bad, inefficient government is the most efficient, effective and fair way to distribute a resource that's only profitable for a select few. Government-run health care around the world outperforms free-market health care year after year after year on measures of cost and effectiveness.

            And you know it.

            If the US healthcare system is such a nirvana, why don't you take your pre-existing condition down there and feel the free hand of the market at work. Enjoy re-thinking your thoughts on free-market health care. I hope it's not too troubling.

          • TJCook, seems like you're taking your prose structure from the Republican National Convention.

            It's "more of the same."

          • In NS it's 5%. But please don't come here.

            And in the US, a lot of the "innovation" occurs in NIH centres.

        • "If it was up to me, the three things Fed government would be in charge of are armed forces, law/order and infrastructure."

          I'm not asking this to be snarky, but why do people so readily see a role for government when guns or roads are involved, but not healing the sick, protecting the environment for future generations, education, and that sort of thing? (Never mind that I could pretty much argue that everything from health care to education counts as infrastructure no less than roads, ports and communication lines).

          Why don't we just get out of the business of wars, for example? Or why don't we let smallish communities take care of their own law and order? What makes those irreduceable in terms of a federal government?

  7. The first duty of government is to protect it's citizens, that's why I am in favour of armies and cops/judges/jails. Infrastructure is because there is not much money to be made in building roads or sewage treatment plants so collective action is necessary.

    I want the government out of everything else because they are incompetent and do poor job of providing services. Privatize all other services and performance/quality will improve immeasurably.

    • "Infrastructure is because there is not much money to be made in building roads or sewage treatment plants so collective action is necessary."

      But the very *point* of the healthcare debate is that there is not much money to be made in insuring a large fraction of the public. So collective action is necessary in order to spread the risk and make healthcare available to everyone, regardless of good/bad luck in genetics, environment, accidents, etc.

      Or do you think a large number of people shouldn't have health care? Because that's the current state in the US, for the very reason you just described.

    • And part of protecting its citizens is some measure of wealth redistribution and fairness in providing common services otherwise a very small percentage of people will end up with all of the money and none of the potholes.

      Life in the unregulated food chain ain't all it's cracked up to be – just ask the field mouse.

  8. That's where I start scratching my head a bit. If government is so incompetent at things like health care, why let them handle justice, for example? And do we really want government employees shooting at people, if everything they touch turns to sh*t?

    Also, there's not much money in providing *universal* education or health care. Yes, there will always be an enhancement in services provided for the rich, where privatization occurs, but the idea that these things can equally benefit all and still turn a profit is questionable.

    Look, I tend to favour smallish community approaches where feasible. I also agree that large government departments can sometimes end up breeding bureaucratic processes as much as they fulfill needs. But it's a long walk to arrive at the conclusion that government is therefore bad. And I still don't get why an army seems natural to folks, whereas ensuring people don't needlessly suffer or die from diseases is somehow a frill.

    • I don't think of health care as a frill, that's why it should be in the private sector. And your assertion that there's no money to be made in education or health care is dubious at best.

      The only reason I want justice issues to be in hands of government is because I think they are better at keeping it neutral. Private system of justice would be rife with abuse and vendettas.

      What I don't understand is why the debate comes down to US or Canada system when Europeans have a variety of systems, particularly France and Germany, that work better in some ways compared to Canada and some ways better than US.

      • There's no money in *universal* health care and education, was my assertion – just to be clear.

        But I agree it's a false dichotomy to polarize the USA and Canadian systems and suggest those are the only only two options. Also, there's a great deal of health care in Canada that is private – everything from psychologists to prescriptions to dentistry to eye glasses are largely accessible only to those fortunate enough to enjoy decent employer benefits. Heck, even my son's recent eye surgery required multiple drives to London from Waterloo – something that would have been difficult for a family without a car, and something that would have been financially onerous to many working poor families.

      • There's no money in *universal* health care and education was my assertion – just to be clear.

        But I agree it's a false dichotomy to polarize the USA and Canadian systems and suggest those are the only only two options. Also, there's a great deal of health care in Canada that is private – everything from psychologists to prescriptions to dentistry to eye glasses are largely accessible only to those fortunate enough to enjoy decent employer benefits. Heck, even my son's recent eye surgery required multiple drives to London from Waterloo – something that would have been difficult for a family without a car, and something that would have been financially onerous to many working poor families.

      • There's no money in *universal* health care and education was my assertion – just to be clear.

        But I agree it's a false dichotamy to polarize the USA and Canadian systems and suggest those are the only only two options. Also, there's a great deal of health care in Canada that is private – everything from psychologists to prescriptions to dentistry to eye glasses are largely accessible only to those fortunate enough to enjoy decent employer benefits. Heck, even my son's recent eye surgery required multiple drives to London from Waterloo – something that would have been difficult for a family without a car, and something that would have been financially onerous to many working poor families.

  9. "Without the US and their private system encouraging new drugs, treatments and equipment we would still be using leeches, opium and snake oil to fix ailments."

    And without the zyrgon breakthrough of 2116, we'd generally die before we're 120. God, life was unliveable then.

    • And without the zyrgon breakthrough of 2116, we'd generally die before we're 120.

      Ssh! They're not supposed to know about the zyrgon breakthrough for another 107 years. What kind of time traveler are you? Did you fall asleep during the Avoiding Paradoxes lecture?

    • I have a chronic health condition that would leave me bedridden if not for modern meds and technology developed in US. You are fortunate that your health is good enough for you to be flippant about medical advances.

    • "And without the zyrgon breakthrough of 2116"

      I have a chronic health condition that would leave me bedridden if not for modern meds and technology developed in US. You are fortunate that your health is good enough for you to be flippant about medical advances.

      • …and for the last 30 years, every single beat of my heart has been triggered by a computer. I'd have died in my sleep as a child in 1980 were it not for hi-tech medicine… invented in Canada (the pacemaker) but mine have all been manufactured in the US. Don't accuse me of undervaluing advances in modern medicine.

        I realize you weren't talking to me but the funny thing about health care is that it affects everyone nearly at random – rich or poor, virtuous or hedonistic, conservative or liberal. Health care should be available to all and there's a *mountain* of evidence that socialized, single-payer health care is by far the most efficient and equal means to deliver it. Free market solutions to health care are nothing but a smug rightwing fantasy, as demonstrated by the real world examples all around us.

      • "You are fortunate that your health is good enough for you to be flippant about medical advances. "

        And you are fortunate that you live in a country with socialised medicine or make enough that you could get insurance in the USA. Otherwise you'd be bedridden.

      • "You are fortunate that your health is good enough for you to be flippant about medical advances. "

        And you are fortunate that you live in a country with socialised medicine. Since yours is a preexisting health condition, your modern meds would cost the earth.

      • "You are fortunate that your health is good enough for you to be flippant about medical advances. "

        And you are fortunate that you live in a country with socialised medicine. Since yours is a preexisting health condition, your modern meds would cost the earth. I speak for most very healthy people in Canada, however, when I say I'm glad to help keep you alive.

      • "You are fortunate that your health is good enough for you to be flippant about medical advances. "

        And you are fortunate that you live in a country with socialised medicine. Since yours is a preexisting health condition, in the USA your modern meds would cost the earth.

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