The Canadian Century is tantamount to a manifesto for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a policy think tank for which lead author Brian Lee Crowley serves as managing director. It is a political tract that, at points, indulges in the hard-driving tone and rhetoric of The Communist Manifesto, albeit with a very different agenda.
The agenda here is an argument for fiscal conservatism in line with Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution. The principle is to cut social programs and balance budgets, leaving those in need to the care of private citizens, not government. Government should spend, but only on infrastructure that facilitates economic growth. This, the authors tell us, is the essence of freedom.
For many who consider programs like universal health care evidence of how Canada’s national identity is distinct from that of the U.S. – we like to think that we are more compassionate and committed to the common good – this book will seem, well, un-Canadian. And this is where Laurier comes in.
Laurier’s economic strategy – intended to ensure that the 20th century would be Canada’s time to shine as the beacon of progress, prosperity, and freedom – included elements that sound like today’s fiscal conservatism: small government, low taxes, and free trade. By invoking Laurier, the authors are able to wrap their prescriptions in the maple leaf, suggesting that, rather than being un-Canadian, they are cleaving to Laurier’s national dream and inviting us to “take up Laurier’s challenge and finish the job.”
The authors refer to Canadian history to define the true Canadian identity as fiscally conservative. Given the book’s brevity, there are many omissions. For instance, in their comparison of the pace of government growth in Canada and the U.S., the authors don’t account for the pace of industrialization in the two countries.
One critical premise of this book is that liberty has made this country a desirable destination for new Canadians, and a nation of industrious people. Liberty here is understood as what Isaiah Berlin called negative liberty – freedom as the absence of external obstacles to individual choices. In the authors’ minds, our current obstacle is government management of the economy. They do not argue for positive liberty, which is freedom as self-realization, and which may require external elements, including the government, to provide the means.