Joseph Heath argued in 2001’s The Efficient Society that Canadian society is about as optimal as it gets. This idea is not completely crazy, even when one loathes the gang currently in charge. This week I made a rare visit to Ottawa, took pictures, and thought about Canadian-ness.
Disclosure · I am displeased with Canada’s current government, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I could rant enjoyably about why, but I think Anrew Coyne’s recent A telling 24 hours in Stephen Harper’s world pretty well covers the bases. Seriously, go read that and you’ll forgive the Canadians you know for occasional snarls at the folks in Ottawa.
Well, one little rant. Just this weekend there was a big expose in my hometown paper about how our port, Canada’s biggest, has been infiltrated by organized criminals. The story mentioned in passing that the national police force’s ability to work on this sort of thing is weakened by the diversion of staff to fighting “terrorism”. Canada’s terrorists are few in number, and those that aren’t dimwit crackheads are mostly already over there in Syria. The notion that these disorganized morons are more dangerous than organized Hells Angels in our ports is a fine example of Canadian Conservative thinking.
Westminster System · That’s how our parliament works, like Britain’s. Each constituency is a standalone race, the leader of the biggest party becomes Prime Minister, and you can have majority governments, minority governments, or coalitions. Only in Canada we don’t do coalitions.
A minority government tends to be flexible and pragmatic and have to hammer out compromises to get anything done. Which isn’t terrible. A majority government is an elected dictatorship; the PM can do pretty well whatever he or she wants. Particularly since in Canada, we traditionally have rigid party discipline. Having the occasional elected dictatorship also isn’t an awful thing, in principle. In particular since after a maximum of five years, you can toss ’em out peacefully.
Most Canadians think that less party discipline — more unruly MPs — would be a good thing. Most Canadian Prime Ministers would probably disagree.
Optimal, seriously? · That’s not the book’s (full title: The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as it Gets) claim. His claim is that if you adopt efficiency as your metric, Canada’s selection of trade-offs looks as good as most other nations’ and better than most. Seems like the right metric to me. Being mostly non-ideological helps; we’ve never suffered from Manifest Destiny or built a Raj or had Ein Reich, ein Volk moments or had anyone claim a Mandate of Heaven.
Having said that, we’ve treated our aboriginal peoples horribly. We have a nasty household-debt problem. We’re among the worst per-capita carbon emitters on the planet. The wealth-imbalance problem highlighted by Piketty is not notably better here than elsewhere.
Canada’s biggest problem, though, it that it’s just too cold. Our biggest triumph is that our politics is boring.