Conrad Black: Canada is not hopeless, but desperate for leadership

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This column is composed as I return to Toronto on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver after a very convivial celebration by the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think tank. The occasion was the retirement, after 15 years as Fraser’s chairman, of Peter Brown, an exceptional and very public-minded financier, charming friend and one of Canada’s great men. There seemed to be at least 500 people filling a large hotel ballroom and the star attraction was a joint discussion chaired by Fraser Institute President Niels Veldhuis at which I had the privilege of join former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former Premier of British Columbia Gordon Campbell. . The ostensible topic of discussion was how we all thought Canada was doing. Readers will recognize the solid electoral credentials of my colleagues: Gordon Campbell won four consecutive municipal elections, three as mayor of Vancouver and five provincial elections, one as leader of the opposition and the last three as premier. Brian Mulroney has won all three elections he has contested, being elected twice as Prime Minister, the first person to win back-to-back majority election victories in that office since Louis St. Laurent in 1953. I was victorious in my only election, to the British House of Lords, but only because of the miniature but distinguished electorate: then Leader of the Opposition (William Hague), then Prime Minister (Tony Blair), and on their advice, Her Majesty the Queen .

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The main points we were asked to address were the state of Canadian federalism, Canada’s economic situation and Canada’s position in the world. The Fraser Institute is non-partisan; Brian Mulroney was a Progressive Conservative, and Gordon Campbell’s BC Liberals were actually a Liberal-Conservative coalition. I have supported both major parties at different times. Justin Trudeau has only been mentioned once or twice in passing.

The consensus that seemed to emerge and be supported by the distinguished audience was that Canada had squandered its old status built by the Chrétien and Harper governments as a fiscally strong, balanced budget, hard currency country; that public and private debt levels were now dangerously high, that federalism is in potentially serious crisis because of the current federal government’s hostility to the oil and gas industry, which constitutes an unwarranted economic war against Alberta and Saskatchewan, and because of the Quebec government’s repression of the language and educational rights of English-speaking Quebecers. I have expressed the opinion, as I have in these pages and elsewhere, that the antics of the present government of Quebec resemble progressive separatism, the pursuit of sovereign independence by installments. The consequences of eliminating any official status for the language of more than 70% of Canadians and restricting its educational rights in the country’s second largest province are very serious.

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No one dissented when I said that the father of the current Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, would have taken drastic measures to challenge the imposition of the current Bill 96, the crackdown on the main language of the country in the workplaces of the federal government and federally chartered corporations in a province of nearly 8.5 million people. All agreed that it is a magnificent country with immense resources, a qualified and motivated population, a history which is the proud development of half a continent over four centuries, without historical reason. serious shame – we have only fought in just wars, victorious, seeking nothing for ourselves and driven only by a desire to support the cause of freedom throughout the world. A number of those present told me privately that they were outraged at how little is known or taught about Canadian history.

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I don’t know enough about the federal budget to be able to offer detailed spending cuts to tackle our massive federal deficit, but my colleagues, intimately familiar with the challenges of public finances, have made several scholarly suggestions. All agreed that if all the pipelines that have been proposed to the south, east and west were built, personal and corporate income taxes would be reduced to more competitive levels and the regulatory climate would become less repressive, the $180 billion shortfall in capital flows over the past eight years (the amount by which foreign investment in Canada has been exceeded by Canadian investment outside Canada) would be reversed and the steady loss of comparative net worth per capita of Canada would also be reversed. I inflicted on the group evening my melancholy memory that when I was young, Canada was always mentioned and was the second richest country per capita in the world after the United States. We’re barely in the top 20 now. The United States, with all its problems, is 30% to 40%. 100 more prosperous per capita than Canada.

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Brian Mulroney lamented that Canada had lost its place in the world; despite a fervent campaign, he had been beaten in his recent bids for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council by Portugal and Ireland, which he was not included in or the alliance between the United States , Australia and the United Kingdom.

Gordon Campbell dropped a note that clearly received unanimous support when he called for “big, ambitious plans”. Of course, he is right: this is precisely what inspires pride and captures the imagination of the public. He spoke, quite rightly, of the Canadian Pacific Railway, one of the engineering and financial marvels of the world when it was built 140 years ago. It was to largely cross the Canadian Shield, unlike the American railroads which ran across the prairies to the Rocky Mountains, and the CPR was to be heavily funded in London and New York, where there was much competitive hostility to respect. No one wanted Canada to succeed except the Canadians and, to some extent and for their own reasons, the British.

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There have been such projects in living memory, including the St. Lawrence Seaway and the 1967 Montreal World’s Fair, when the eyes of the world were on Canada and the world was impressed. The next 25 years were dominated by the Quebec question and we managed that well, especially Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney. There seems to be a general consensus that the current regime got the climate a little wrong. All of the speakers, and in particular the two who have led large jurisdictions, spoke of the need for leaders to make tough decisions to reduce deficits and encourage faster growing prosperity, before we are overtaken by emerging countries. such as South Korea and Israel. It was generally agreed that central bankers should stay away from climate issues and other controversial crises far removed from monetary policies.

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The current federal Conservative leadership race was mentioned, but the panelists were kept. The only person apart from the participants, and just at the mention of his name, who aroused loud applause, was Pierre Poilievre.

It was a well-informed, worldly audience convened by an exceptional center for public policy analysis; everyone recognized that Canada is a great country, but a poor performer. It was agreed that immigration was unambiguously desirable and part of the solution to the problem. I didn’t have time to go too far into national morale, but in some of the side conversations I found some support for my hopeful suspicion that with all the troubles that have beset America since a few years old Canada and often self-conscious preoccupation with the contiguity of this country can fade.

It has been said for a century or more that the state of the late The Habsburg Empire in Vienna was “hopeless but not hopeless”, Canada is justified in hope but in desperate need of inspired action. We are waiting for the leaders.

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