Canada 1867-2017

Canada 1867-2017


classical liberalismCANADA 1867 – 2017

By  George S. MacDonell


My last paper entitled the “Liberal Ideology” attracted much more positive interest and response than I expected. Much more!

Some of my liberal friends were very interested and one said, “This is a whole new perspective to me. I never heard such things before.”

When asked for the source and basis for liberal beliefs and liberal policy as well as my own experience as a Deputy Minister, I consulted the great scholars of the 17th and 18th centuries such as John Locke the father of liberalism, Edmund Burke and Spinoza. I also consulted the recent findings  on  this  subject  by  the  author  of “The

Great Divide” William D. Gairdner. In addition I read the social-psychology research of Jonathan Haight, described in his best selling book “The Righteous Mind” which compares in depth the beliefs of both modern liberals and conservatives.

In my earlier paper I made the point that there is a wide gulf between liberals and conservatives particularly on such matters as human nature, and the proper role of government in human affairs.

I made the point that neither liberals or conservatives are stupid or evil, but that while sharing the same goals for society, they choose very different means to achieve desirable outcomes. I added that as citizens, in our own self interest, we must insist that we ignore the extremists of both parties and demand that our elected politicians of all persuasions reach common sense and productive compromises on public issues.

Many of my readers were surprised at my findings and wondered if there really is a connection between original liberal views and their government policies when in office.

One of my friends, who is a historian, took me to task for not informing my readers that the 17th century liberal views of John Locke and his contemporaries, are not the views of modern liberals today. This change in liberal ideology took place in Canada in the 1960’s. I acknowledge that criticism and in this paper, make amends.

To recapitulate and summarize my earlier writing on liberal beliefs and core values I wrote that modern liberals believe:

  • That man is born good and benevolent and above all is malleable. In their view a powerful government is required to change human beings as they naturally are, into a new and improved individual.
  • Liberals believe because of the malleability of human beings, power must come from the top down to be able to alter human nature as they see fit.
  • Associated with these views is also the idea that men are born equal and that therefore as Haight’s research shows equality and fairness are the liberal’s societal

Given these perceptions, what follows?

What sort of policies and especially economic policies could stem from, and are based, upon these liberal assumptions?

A recent article in The National Post by Arthur Laffer, the famous American economist, gives his answer to this question by taking the eight year regime and the policies of Barrak Obama, the President of the United States, as an example.

Laffer believes Obamma’s progressive liberal policies during the last eight years have resulted in:

  • The slowest economic recovery from a recession in the last 70 years,

with little improvement in sight.

  • Excessive and harmful stimulus
  • Too high taxation
  • Increased regulations that have strangled economic growth
  • Almost zero interest rates

Laffer says about these liberal policies, “We have found out once again the hard lesson – that if governments tax those who work, and pay those who don’t work, there will be lots of people not working.” Again he says: “Stimulus spending (of the Obama government) is analogous to asking a poor man to spend himself into wealth” and again: “Who ever heard of an economy thats been taxed into prosperity?”

Laffer also believes government mandated low interest rates in the United States has not only seriously harmed retirees and pensioners, but also, to further slow economic growth, banks, because of these low rates, are reluctant to lend money to risky or working class borrowers.

It is interesting to note that in Canada, the first thing the recently elected liberal government did was to raise taxes, saddle Canadians with massive additional debt, and double down on the failing health care government monopoly with its increasing cost and wait times, and its declining access to patient care and treatment.

To Laffer, to increase debt and raise taxes was exactly the wrong thing to do.

Philip Cross, the former head of Statistics Canada, Said this week what seems to be in agreement with Arthur Laffer when he said “The Canadian Government’s recent attempts to stimulate the economy should be curtailed immediately to allow the private sector to return to our traditional rate of economic growth which, if left alone, it will do. Continual government overreach is a mistake.”

At this point, lets go back some 250 years to the 17th century when such men as Locke, Burke and Spinoza developed the first basic liberal philosophy and in the process changed the world forever.

John Locke (1632-1704), an English scholar, believed that sovereignty remains with the people even after a government has been set up – and not with the government. He believed the sole legitimate purpose of any government was to secure the rights of the citizen to “Life, Liberty and Private Property”. He wrote that a society should be   based   on   a   citizens   right   to    voluntary transactions entered into freely and independently of government.

Edmund Burke (1729-1797), was one of the most prominent thinkers and influential figures of his day. He agreed with Locke, on many things but emphasized that human beings are imperfect creatures and therefore the idea that any human society could be made perfect is a fallacy. He rejected egalitarianism and was highly skeptical about the applicability of grand ideas, ideologies, and “isms” to govern the affairs of men.

He believed, as conservatives do today, that because in a developed society tradition embodies the accumulated wisdom and experience of many generations, it is likely to be a far more reliable guide to action than any one person’s opinion.

Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677) was a contemporary of John Locke and is famous for his view that the only legitimate government is one that guarantees the freedom of its citizens to be independent.

These ideas came as a great shock to those who believed in the “Divine Right of Kings” and that all power resides in government. In fact, Locke’s ideas were so controversial that for his personal safety, he had to flee England for a time.

These men turned the world of ideas of their time upside down by proposing that all power resided, not in government but in the governed. They proposed that government was only a servant of the people and must serve the needs of the citizen and that the people should not be subject to the unwanted theories, needs, or schemes of those in government.

This new thinking by these great men provided a basis for our present day capitalism and democracy. Locke’s ideas became so pervasive that they formed the basic philosophical foundation of the Constitution of the United States of America in 1776; namely that political power comes from the bottom up and not from the top down and that man must be free of government restraint to achieve his personal independence and potential as he sees fit.

These great men believed that unlike their past history, men must be free of government fiat, intrusion and interference to develop on a personal, independent basis, their god-given potential as unique human beings.

One of the great liberal leaders and one of our most successful and respected prime ministers of our Canadian past was Sir Wilfred Laurier (1896- 1919) who put these ideas well when he said:

“The role of government is not to force action in any one direction but to remove barriers to man’s own efforts to undertake personal and social development. Man must be free to seek his own improvement and must be responsible for his own destiny.”

Laurier’s words and the support of Canadians at the time led to the steady social and economic growth and development of Canada in the 20th Century. Laurier could say what he did because Canada was, and had always been, a Conservative nation.

I think it ironic that today, conservative Stephen Harper would be in complete agreement with Sir Wilfred Laurier.

Laurier’s views on the role of government are rejected by liberals today and as a result for decades Canada has been on a steady course with some interruptions to become a progressive liberal state.

So what happened to these liberal views of Locke and Laurier? How have we morphed from these ideas to a government of today which inserts itself into every facet of our lives and has grown fourfold in size and power to the point where it consumes 41% of our G.D.P. and forces us to pay slightly more than 50% of our income in taxes (Tax Freedom Day is now 7 July).

How and why have the modern liberals rejected the views of their predecessors?

William D Gairdner is one of Canada’s most influential thinkers, scholars and successful authors. His most recent book “The Great Divide” is an insightful challenge to both liberals and conservatives and to all concerned Canadians. He believes that there are forces at work in our democracy that are dissolving the social and moral bonds of civil society.

His study shows these forces are, and have been, at work in Canada for decades, changing Canada from a growing wealth producing conservative society into a progressive liberal form of socialism which now even includes government tribunals which punishes free speech. He believes “For once a democracy mutates or inverts from its ordinarily foundation in self reliance, self discipline, and liberty under law, to an egalitarian foundation with an emphasis on rights, self gratification, and self expression, the die is cast. “Which is to say, trouble begins for a democracy once a general attitude emerges that individuals who once believed they should serve the most revered institutions and support the object of their own civil society, start to believe that those institutions of their society should be serving them.”

Gairdner believes these forces have been at work in our society for the last fifty years to establish what he calls a tri-part state where one third of the people work, one third will be on some form of social assistance, and one third will work for the government. In such a state it is easy to understand how in an election the working third will always be outvoted by the other two.

A statistical analysis of the key indicators of the economic health of the Canadian economy over the last few years casts an ominous shadow over our once more prosperous ways.

The following key economic measures indicate either zero improvement or a measurable decline:

  • Economic growth
  • Productivity
  • Trade balance (exports vs imports)
  • GDP pre capita
  • Value of our currency
  • Industrial output
  • Private investment

All of the following harmful indicators are rising:

  • National debt
  • Annual deficits
  • All forms of taxation
  • Unnecessary government regulations
  • Unemployment (especially youth unemployment)
  • Cost of health care per capita
  • Amount of interest on government debt
  • Cost and growth of government bureaucracies

This simple analysis shows us that our once solid ability to create wealth and improve standards of living is declining and now the general economic tide is flowing in the wrong direction.

As an example of what is happening after 10 years of the Ontario liberal regime, the financial wreckage of the finances of the provinces should send a clear warning to anyone who thinks we are on the right track.

Furthermore, as the debt piles up, productivity declines, and taxes continue to increase, we are ignoring the long term giant elephant in the room – our demographics.

In the past, Canada had 4 workers for every over 65 retiree. As population continues to age in the next twenty years we will only have slightly more than 1 worker per retiree – an age imbalance and an income shortfall of giant proportions.

Our governments, besides increasing debt and digging a deeper fiscal hole, are doing nothing to prepare for this tsunami. Nothing!

How long it will take Canadians to wake up to the consequences of our current direction, is problematic.

It is my earnest hope for my beloved country that one day soon, Canadians will demand that instead of focussing on their ideologies and their utopian theories, our politicians of whatever stripe, will start, just for once, to focus only on those necessary projects that will increase the wealth and well being of all Canadians.

To date and for the past one hundred and fifty years, Canadians have been building a nation to be exceptionally proud of. In 1812, to retain our freedom, we repelled the American invasion, and in 1914, and again in 1939, we fought for our freedom and triumphed over European and Japanese tyrants. We have survived internal insurrections and the great depression and we have always become stronger.

With the skill, care and effort of our workers and the courage and sacrifices of our soldiers together, as a nation, we have achieved great things. Let us dedicate ourselves to continue on our path to greatness.

George MacDonell 1 January 2017

George MacDonell served seven years in The Canadian Army in World War II, as a CEO in Canadian industry, and as a Deputy Minister of Industry Trade & Technology in The Government of Ontario.