Mark Steyn addresses the question: Is Canada's Economy a Model for America? (Imprimis, January 2008, abridged from a lecture delivered on the Hillsdale College campus on September 29, 2007, at the second annual Free Market Forum, sponsored by the College’s Center for the Study of Monetary Systems and Free Enterprise.) Fair warning: includes content not appropriate for children.
From the suitable for mixed company parts, reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, some excerpts:
Read the whole thing (if a new front page has appeared, search the archives for January 2008).
...a once manly nation has undergone a remarkable psychological makeover. If you go back to 1945, the Royal Canadian Navy had the world’s third largest surface fleet, the Royal Canadian Air Force was one of the world’s most effective air forces, and Canadian troops got the toughest beach on D-Day. But in the space of two generations, a bunch of tough hombres were transformed into a thoroughly feminized culture that prioritizes all the secondary impulses of society—welfare entitlements from cradle to grave—over all the primary ones. And in that, Canada is obviously not alone. If the O’Sullivan thesis is flawed, it’s only because the lumberjack song could stand as the post-war history of almost the entire developed world.
Today, the political platforms of at least one party in the United States and pretty much every party in the rest of the Western world are nearly exclusively about those secondary impulses—government health care, government day care, government this, government that. And if you have government health care, you not only annex a huge chunk of the economy, you also destroy a huge chunk of individual liberty. You fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state into something closer to that of junkie and pusher, and you make it very difficult ever to change back. Americans don’t always appreciate how far gone down this path the rest of the developed world is. In Canadian and Continental cabinets, the defense ministry is now a place where an ambitious politician passes through on his way up to important jobs like running the health department. And if you listen to recent Democratic presidential debates, it is clear that American attitudes toward economic liberty are being Canadianized.
To some extent, these differences between the two countries were present at their creations. America’s Founders wrote of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The equivalent phrase at Canada’s founding was “peace, order and good government” —which words are not only drier and desiccated and stir the blood less, but they also presume a degree of statist torpor. Ronald Reagan famously said, “We are a nation that has a government, not the other way around.” In Canada it too often seems the other way around.
In the province of Quebec, it’s taken more or less for granted by all political parties that collective rights outweigh individual rights. For example, if you own a store in Montreal, the French language signs inside the store are required by law to be at least twice the size of the English signs. And the government has a fairly large bureaucratic agency whose job it is to go around measuring signs and prosecuting offenders. There was even a famous case a few years ago of a pet store owner who was targeted by the Office De La Langue Française for selling English-speaking parrots. The language commissar had gone into the store and heard a bird saying, “Who’s a pretty boy, then?” and decided to take action. I keep trying to find out what happened to the parrot. Presumably it was sent to a re-education camp and emerged years later with a glassy stare saying in a monotone voice, “Qui est un joli garcon, hein?”
The point to remember about this is that it is consonant with the broader Canadian disposition. A couple of years ago it emerged that a few Quebec hospitals in the eastern townships along the Vermont border were, as a courtesy to their English-speaking patients, putting up handwritten pieces of paper in the corridor saying “Emergency Room This Way” or “Obstetrics Department Second on the Left.” But in Quebec, you’re only permitted to offer health care services in English if the English population in your town reaches a certain percentage. So these signs were deemed illegal and had to be taken down. I got a lot of mail from Canadians who were upset about this, and I responded that if you accept that the government has a right to make itself the monopoly provider of health care, it surely has the right to decide the language in which it’s prepared to provide that care. So my point isn’t just about Quebec separatism. It’s about a fundamentally different way of looking at the role of the state.
I drive a lot between Quebec and New Hampshire, and you don’t really need a border post to tell you when you’ve crossed from one country into another. On one side the hourly update on the radio news lets you know that Canada’s postal workers are thinking about their traditional pre-Christmas strike—the Canadians have gotten used to getting their Christmas cards around Good Friday, and it’s part of the holiday tradition now—or that employees of the government liquor store are on strike, nurses are on strike, police are on strike, etc. Whereas you could listen for years to a New Hampshire radio station and never hear the word “strike” except for baseball play-by-play.
In a news item from last year, an Ottawa panhandler said that he may have to abandon his prime panhandling real estate on a downtown street corner because he is being shaken down by officials from the panhandlers union. Think about that. There’s a panhandlers union which exists to protect workers’ rights or—in this case—non-workers’ rights. If the union-negotiated non-work contracts aren’t honored, the unionized panhandlers will presumably walk off the job and stand around on the sidewalk. No, wait...they’ll walk off the sidewalk! Anyway, that’s Canada: Without a Thatcher or a Reagan, it remains over-unionized and with a bloated public sector.
The third difference is that Canada’s economy is more subsidized. Almost every activity amounts to taking government money in some form or other. I was at the Summit of the Americas held in Canada in the summer of 2001, with President Bush and the presidents and prime ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean. And, naturally, it attracted the usual anti-globalization anarchists who wandered through town lobbing bricks at any McDonald’s or Nike outlet that hadn’t taken the precaution of boarding up its windows. At one point I was standing inside the perimeter fence sniffing tear gas and enjoying the mob chanting against the government from the other side of the wire, when a riot cop suddenly grabbed me and yanked me backwards, and a nanosecond later a chunk of concrete landed precisely where I had been standing. I bleated the usual “Oh my God, I could have been killed” for a few minutes and then I went to have a café au lait. And while reading the paper over my coffee, I learned that not only had Canadian colleges given their students time off to come to the Summit to riot, but that the Canadian government had given them $300,000 to pay for their travel and expenses. It was a government-funded anti-government riot! At that point I started bleating “Oh my God, I could have been killed at taxpayer expense.” Say what you like about the American trust-fund babies who had swarmed in to demonstrate from Boston and New York, but at least they were there on their own dime. Canada will and does subsidize anything.
Yet, having criticized Canada’s economy in various features, let me say something good about it: It doesn’t have the insanely wasteful federal agricultural subsidies that America has. In fact, if a Canadian wants to get big-time agriculture subsidies, he’s more likely to get them from the U.S. government. I’m sure most people here know that very few actual farmers—that’s to say, guys in denim overalls and plaid shirts and John Deere caps with straws in the stumps of their teeth—get any benefit from U.S. agricultural subsidies. Almost three-quarters of these subsidies go to 20,000 multi-millionaire play farmers and blue chip corporations. Farm subsidies are supposed to help the farm belt. But there’s a map of where the farm subsidies go that you can find on the Internet. And judging from the beneficiaries, the farm belt runs from Park Avenue down Wall Street, out to the Hamptons, and then by yacht over to Martha’s Vineyard, which they really ought to rename Martha’s Barnyard. Among the farmers piling up the dollar bills under the mattress are Ted Turner, Sam Donaldson, the oil company Chevron, and that dirt-poor, hardscrabble sharecropper David Rockefeller. But what you may not know is that also among their number is Edgar Bronfman, Sr., who isn’t just any old billionaire, he’s the patriarch of Montreal’s wealthiest family, owner of Seagram’s Whiskey, which subsequently bought Universal Pictures. So the U.S. taxpayer, in his boundless generosity, is subsidizing the small family farms of Canadian billionaires. As a Canadian and a broken-down New Hampshire tree farmer myself, I wondered whether I could get in on the U.S. farm program, but as I understand it, it would only pay me for a helicopter pad on top of my barn and a marble bathroom in my grain silo.
Edgar Bronfman’s dependence on U.S. taxpayers is symbolic of more than just the stupidity of federal agriculture subsidies. In the end, there’s no such thing as an independent Canadian economy. It remains a branch plant for the U.S. Over 80 percent of Canadian exports come to America. From time to time, nationalist politicians pledge to change that and start shipping goods elsewhere. But they never do because they don’t have to—they’ve got the world’s greatest market right next door. So when people talk about the Canadian model as something that should be emulated, they forget that it only works because it’s next to the American model. The guy who invented the Blackberry email device is Canadian, but it’s not been a gold mine for him because he’s selling a lot of them in Labrador or Prince Edward Island. It’s been a gold mine because he’s selling a lot of them in New York and California and in between.
Canadian dependence on the United States is particularly true in health care, the most eminent Canadian idea looming in the American context. That is, public health care in Canada depends on private health care in the U.S. ...
Also available as a printable PDF file.