Sep 22, 2023·edited Sep 22, 2023

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.

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Actually, Tony, if you did organize such an institution it would concentrate on navel gazing and which gender is the microphone.

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Indeed, and we've run that experiment to its ultimate conclusion: stop funding it.

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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.

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I'm sorry, George, did you say that budgets don't balance themselves? Wow! Who'da thunk that?

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It also turns out that even if you don’t spend much time thinking about monetary policy, monetary policy will continue to affect you.

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George, please allow me to amend your point to (more correctly, I respectfully offer) read: "It also turns out that even if you don't spend much time thinking, monetary policy will continue to affect you."

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I completely agree. Great comment.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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People should be sending the report to their MPs and saying "what are you doing about this, besides talking?".

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I just did that…

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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.

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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.

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Wouldn't it be great if our Armed Forces were so well trained, educated and prepared that joining would rival going to college or university and still be a career path for those who graduate from colleges or universities? Think of what the US Army Corp of Engineers used to do to ensure the US had great infrastructure. (https://www.usace.army.mil/) Would that we had that capability and were able to adapt to the fires, floods etc. that climate change is bringing, especially in light of the fact that even if we were at zero emissions the world ain't gonna change.

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This article and the comments are why I subscribe to ‘the Line’. I see more intelligence on these pages than in any recent government.

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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..

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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

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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.

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Corporations do not exist for the common good except to the extent that they can provide products/services that garner profits for the corporation and shareholders. They would be happy to mine lithium or other rare earth minerals if government would permit it. We could easily be and energy exporter to the world and reduce the need for coal if government would permit it. I hate to use the PP "gatekeeper" moniker, but we have many of them.

It doesn't have to be about increasing government spending so much as reallocating and wisely spending existing revenues (and borrowings). Did we really need 100,000 new civil servants that represent a never ending tax burden since they have to be paid, can't be fired and will get gold plated pensions? (https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/tbs-sct/images/innovation/dscps-2021/figure01-eng.png and https://www.theglobeandmail.com/business/article-expansion-of-federal-civil-service-lacks-the-proper-measurements-for/) . Why do we spend billions on consultants with no perceivable payback? Do we ever measure the billions we spend on subsidies, infrastructure programs, business development grants etc.? We had no trouble finding billions for Ukraine, so maybe we can find some for CAF.

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Hi, Dan :

The very concept of a "corporation" is a social construct designed for the public good, with laws, obligations, and protections attached to that concept.

So, what exactly is stopping a hypothetical corporation (you didn't mention any specific examples) from mining these minerals within Canada? Some hypothetical "gatekeeper" (again, you didn't provide any specific examples). Or are you referring to laws and such that ensure that the mining and processing activities don't cause damage to others? Or laws that protect workers from being used up and disposed of like expendable components?

As for being an "energy exporter to the world", are you referring to oil? Much of the world seems to be trying very hard to minimize their use of it. Yes, that'll take a while, but the trend is certainly there. Worse, those corporations you praise leave a continuing stream of toxic legacy behind them for taxpayers to pay for cleaning up.

I'm not sure what sort of "reallocating and wisely spending existing revenues" you might mean. Is there waste in government spending? Hell, yes, and probably too much (all governments, of whatever political stripe are guilty of this). Still, what would you get rid of? What level of hollowed out services, or even eliminated services, are you striving for?

Should we, for example, get rid of all government R&D, and depend entirely on corporations (mainly foreign-owned) to dole out innovations as they deem fit?

Eliminate all government oversight of the environment, health, and public safety, trusting corporations to do what is wise and good for society as a whole?

It's all very well and good to complain about an oversized public service (and I agree with you on that), but what fraction of the total budget do those extra (however defined) bodies represent? Less than 1%? More? Tough to say, but I don't think it's much on a percentage basis. I'm not impressed by mere numbers, it's the percentage of the total that's important.

So, while I agree that there's sometimes overenthusiastic checks&balances, those checks&balances came about because someone (typically a large corporation) screwed up on a massive scale ... as in causing death and destruction of innocents. Corporations, as a concept and realization, exist to serve society, not the other way around.

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A corporation is a separate legal entity. It can enter into contracts and own property in its own name, separately and distinctly from its owners. (https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/tax/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed-income/setting-your-business/corporation.html) One hopes a public good is a by-product but it is not the reason for incorporation.

Yes I'm referring to "laws and such that ensure that the mining and processing activities don't cause damage to others". The laws and such has become an industry in itself with funding from Foundations such as Packard, US Tides, Rockefeller, Oak, Moore, Hewlett etc. The result is that it either takes to long or costs to much to put up with the endless bullshit just to get to the actual permitting. "There is a broad consensus that the timeline for the planning and approval process for new projects, (including “no go”) has to be shortened from 10-15 years without losing the requirements for good planning, environmental protection and Indigenous consultation." (https://mining.ca/resources/reports/project-permitting-in-canada-and-the-mining-industry/).

Energy is all forms. It includes Hydro Quebec exports from Churchill falls and James Bay, nuclear electricity exported by Ontario Hydro, natural gas, and oil. While much of the world would like to lower their usage of FF, they in fact are increasing it and using worse options like coal. (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jul/08/germany-reactivate-coal-power-plants-russia-curbs-gas-flow and https://www.greenpeace.org/eastasia/press/7939/china-has-already-approved-more-new-coal-in-2023-than-it-did-in-all-of-2021-greenpeace/ and https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/indias-power-output-grows-fastest-pace-33-years-fuelled-by-coal-2023-04-05/ and https://www.vox.com/2020/2/18/21128205/climate-change-japan-coal-energy-emissions-pikachu. So at least four of the top 10 countries are increasing coal power generation. Natural gas emits almost 50% less CO2 than coal and Germany and Japan have both begged us to supply them.

"Worse, those corporations you praise leave a continuing stream of toxic legacy behind them for taxpayers to pay for cleaning up." I never praise any corporation -- nor did I name one. I think it is right that companies should be responsible for any required cleanup. But I must say that coal mining, burning and disposal is probably worse than natgas or nuclear.

I never once mentioned killing R&D or government oversight of health or public safety. "Still, what would you get rid of? What level of hollowed out services, or even eliminated services, are you striving for". I also never mentioned hollowing out services. Making processes more efficient does not equate to hollowing out. I just can't believe that we can't gain any productivity in our civil service such that increases in population require a linear increase in the number of civil servants. Why can't we deliver services well and efficiently? Why do we have to pay civil servants more than private sector workers for the same work? Why haven't computers made the government more efficient. Why can't we audit our government such that FOI requests are honoured, government contracts are published, government expenses or posted on the web? If you think it is only corporations that have screwed up on a massive scale causing ... you aren't paying attention.

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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.

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I enjoyed your post.

Two issues that complement our inability to believe in ourselves or take ourselves seriously is what I perceive to be a general acceptance of mediocrity and the sudden desire to form a work force around equity.

When it takes 25 years to order ships and take delivery or stifle the export potential of our bountiful natural resources through regulatory processes speaks to an acceptance of hopelessness beyond fixing. Ironically, this can be turned around by coddling and developing the smartest and nimblest minds we have in a search for excellence but if Canadians can’t meet the requirements for intersectional victimhood then the chances of promotion dwindle accordingly.

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I reluctantly agree with you. I think national self-loathing is very Canadian, and probably why we have such a defensive chip on our shoulders.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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