Why does the Business Council of Canada see this while our politicians can't?
Excellent excellent excellent. Now, we just need to somehow force read this to Canadians. I know! We'll establish a national radio broadcaster whose purpose is to highlight issues of national concern perhaps with some thoughts to entertaining as well as learning. We'll fund this with taxpayer dollars and get the smartest, brightest to contribute when they are not producing pop culture pablum. It'll be a remarkable achievement to have a national conversation on important issues across Canada's vast geography, but it will serve to do what the market (or schools) won't: give Canadians the information they need to maintain their livelihoods and way of life. We'll call this broadcaster.....The Canadian Broadcasting Corpor.....oh damn! Nevermind.
There's a broader problem in Canadian politics where the politicians want to engage with Big Ideas and create sweeping policies and change. However, they neglect the day-to-day business of keeping things running because it's not exciting or sexy. So, infrastructure crumbles or becomes inadequate to meet the needs of a growing population; health care and education continue plodding away on models developed a century earlier; budgets bloat and deficits yawn because the task of seeking efficiencies and rationalizing spending is ignored. If politicians want the voters to give them permission to create sweeping new programs, they'd be far better off if they could show they could manage the basic functions first.
The first step would be to get governments to focus on their scope of responsibility. City governments need to focus on the bread and butter issues of running the city, not engaging in debates at the provincial and federal level. The federal government needs to shift focus from trying to implement social programs that fall under provincial jurisdiction and instead focus on their core responsibilities of defense, foreign affairs, and managing the interfaces between provincial jurisdictions. Provinces just need to do their job, and quit expecting the federal government to bail them out.
I remember Premier John Horgan of BC commenting how he'd expected to be able to focus his time on bringing in new NDP policies, and instead got mired in managing emergencies like the BC floods that wiped out highways and the COVID pandemic. Well, yes - that's actually the government's function, and I'd have to say that the BC government managed those things reasonably well. The fact that it distracted them from chasing lofty ambitions probably spared the province a lot of nonsense as well.
Probably the most remarkable achievement of the Harper government was the way they went into deficit in response to the 2008 financial crisis, then brought the budget back into balance by 2015 according to a plan that included seeking efficiencies and cutting spending. Budgets don't balance themselves, and government bureaucracies are a lot like a sprawling garden that requires regular weeding and pruning to stay healthy. Just like weeding a garden, it can be tedious and hard work, but it's a lot easier if you work on it continuously until waiting until it's overgrown and dying.
Unfortunately, voters don't tend to care about strategic issues until they 'get punched in the face.' Joe Clark wanted, what -- a 5 cent tax on gas to help address a mounting budget deficit in 1979, lost power and we ended up with much bigger cuts to spending in the early 1990s because people were far more concerned (in 1979) with paying a whole dollar for a gallon of gasoline!
Human nature for most people is to pay attention to issues when they impact them directly -- or they start to feel the threat of direct impact. Otherwise, they are happy to kick the can down the road aon our public policy -- from pandemic readiness, to climate change, to economic productivity, to defence, reflects that fact.
Public debate helps, but ultimately one of the weaknesses of free, demoncratic societies is we tend not to get ahead of these kinds of big strategic issues, which means those of us that follow those issues should expect that a crisis or two will need to happen before the issue gets addressed properly. In the meantime, doing the policy work now means that --- when the ineviatiable crisis happens -- there will be answers waiting to implement. That's why reports like this one are important.
Thank you Matt for writing this column. It made me want to jump up and cheer you on and then sit down and cry, at the same time.
Great article. I agree entirely.
A note though, that just because government didn’t tell an MP about China doesn’t mean CSIS isn’t providing timely threat guidance every day. Until recently I worked at a research university and CSIS provided us with regular guidance, intelligence, and resources to protect our information systems from foreign governments. I can’t say whether they are doing better or worse than other G20 intelligence services in this regard, I assume they aren’t the best, but they are more involved than I think many people know.
People should be sending the report to their MPs and saying "what are you doing about this, besides talking?".
Good column - reflects my little worries quite nicely.
Just one theme to add to the gloom. I have a childish expectation that political leaders will seek to lead public opinion and inform public opinion. Instead, and Canada is scarcely alone, we have politicians that spend an inordinate amount of time parsing opinion polls to learn what they should be doing and advocating for. This is not leadership, this is pandering. Canadian politicians of all stripes have achieved a rare high standard in the pandering department. It is pathetic and unhelpful. If we lived in a more dodgy neighbourhood things might be different but complacency is not unduly punished notwithstanding the trajectory of the global commons - yet.
I am not sure what is required to shift this mindset. I lay the blame on the political class because that is their duty - to lead. The public has much on its plate and is persuadable with cogent argument but it is never offered cogent argument. The PMO at the national level and the communications departments at the provincial level, labour mightily to avoid such difficult topics as leading public opinion rather than the more congenial task of "...there my people go and I must get to the head of the parade to lead them..."
This is not an entirely new issue and I think what will likely happen to force the scales to fall from the eyes of everyone in the country is disaster that requires focus and realism. It would be a much easier journey if we could focus and be realistic in the absence of disaster. Likely not the Canadian way.
The sobering backdrop to our naïveté about the rough world around us is the terrible state of our CAFs. At current procurement rates, we are a GENERATION away from providing our Armed Forces with the equipment they need, and that’s not even discussing the DEI destruction lowering morale and the low rates of recruitment.
And sadly, many, perhaps most Canadians are perfectly happy with this situation. The budget is a mess and the deficit has become structural with new social programs and the Liberals and NDP are colluding to add a Pharmacare program to the pile of entitlements this fall. No personal sacrifices here for national security, we are a spoiled and entitled nation where our every little need comes first.
About the only way to bring the pendulum back into sane territory will be the “punch in the face” where stark choices will be forced upon us by outside influences. Like it or not.
This article and the comments are why I subscribe to ‘the Line’. I see more intelligence on these pages than in any recent government.
You’ve the the nail right on the head. Unfortunately I have to agree with your train of thought that nothing will get done in this or future governments until something serious happens, and it will. We have unserious people (Bill Blair) in very serious positions and our economic and sovereign future hangs in the balance..
Nothing said here is wrong. We've lived in a relatively peaceful time and have built up this national myth of our exceptionalism. The flip side of the optimism of being a Canadian and our place in the world is naivity and delusion. And this delusion isn't partisan.
We bloody do this on every major file and Matt has been on this for years.
The blame is on us. We run elections and elect on slogans and pithy ideas where parties bribe us with our own money. Tax breaks on hockey gear, legalized pot. We're like Springfield when Bart brings down the MLB spy satellite. We aren't interested in anything serious, we just want to see dingers
A thoughtful, thought-provoking column, Matt.
As you suggested, I read the BCC's report, and was less than impressed, to be honest. Yes, there's been decades of government inaction. Yes, there's stuff for governments to do. BUT the report is all about increasing government spending ... ie. giving the companies that make up the BCC lots and lots of money. There is *no* mention of how to pay for all that. There is *no* mention of what actions the corporate world could be taking all on their own while waiting for government to do its thing. No, no ... the only possible solution is for government to give corporations (many of whom are multinationals) gobs of cash.
How about those corporations investing in measures to improve their own productivity? Sure, that'd cut into their oversized bonuses, and probably make our branch plant facilities compete against their home countries plants, but it's not just governments who need to stand up for Canada.
Need to fix supply chain or critical materials issues? How about those large, profitable corporations invest in fixing those problems? Perhaps, just maybe, start to *manufacture* stuff in Canada for a change instead of ripping&shipping our raw materials out of the country.
For a bunch of "free market" types, the BCC sure expects governments (and us taxpayers) to shovel free money at them.
While I agree that the world is getting nastier - and we need to do more about it - I believe we need to consider another element to why we are so complacent about what should be obvious.
There's a lack of motivation as a result of spoiled comfort, but there's also a lack of motivation because we don't have anything positive to band together for.
It seems like everything you read or hear lately (including this piece and, admittedly, many of my own Substack posts) is about how wrong everything is. I do believe we should pay more attention to this and take action. But I also believe that is simply not motivating for many people. We also need something positive we are striving for, a cohesive shared goal we are striving towards.
Perhaps we can't take ourselves seriously anymore because we don't see ourselves positively anymore.
It's corny, but I guess I'm saying that a big part of our problem is that we don't believe in ourselves.
I'm not suggesting we should be like a legacy kid full of unearned confidence (being led by one of those probably partly contributed to us getting here), but I do think we need to believe in ourselves more in the way that drives you forward and allows you to achieve better.
Despite the fact that I agree that it's important to see the negative in order to be realistic, what I think we're missing is a reason why, and if we could find that, it would motivate people to work harder, strive for more, and all of that more than simply pointing out problems ever could.
I hold out zero hope that any of our current crop of national leadership (in government and in opposition) take this seriously, and as you note, neither do the vast majority of Canadians. As such, our current national leadership accurately reflects its populace. I also think that won't change until we are quite viciously punched in the face, which won't be pretty. Also, the changes that are needed, as Matt well knows and has often pointed out, will take a decade or more to even start to change the culture of self-indulgent passivity which permeates all of Canada.
In the short to medium term, we had best hope that the USA continues to deem it in their own natural interests (readily accessible natural resources and strategic location) to provide us the protection they have for decades. This too, we have taken for granted for far too long while chastising the failings of the Excited States of America (thank you to the late A. Fotheringham for that apt description).
Completely agree. And while it may not be on the CPC radar, perhaps we could get it on their radar. I suspect in the current climate, this could become a lightning rod political issue if brought to the public in a way the public understood. I plan to send this to my conservative MP. Maybe it'll have no more effect than spitting into the rain, but it's still worth a try. I am not up on security stuff at all - but I do feel Canada is far too relaxed about important matters that impact security and the economy so this all makes perfect sense to me.
Correct. Our pols simply do what Cdns ask of them. Sort of. Anything to do with security, defence, intelligence, business survivability, etc is well beyond the average Cdn’s ability to digest and is not addressed in education institutions except in negative ways. That is, to simply eliminate all the functions I listed above and we as Cdns will all experience happy fulfilled lives. No worries.
I am not sure that this situation is correctable — unless the face punch is employed as you noted. Not sure who will deliver first real hard punch but there are a few candidates out there.