In my latest column for the Globe & Mail, I call down the worst the car-haters can muster in defence of the automobile and what it has meant in terms of raising the standards of living for millions of people.
BRIAN LEE CROWLEY, Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Jun. 12 2013
When Toronto Mayor Rob Ford came to power, he promised to end the âwar on the car.â He was taking aim, of course, at the paternalistic philosophy of centralized urban planning that has infected city halls in virtually every major city in the country. Cars are bad, and the sprawl that they give rise to is worse, a blight on the countryside that all bien-pensants abhor and wish to reverse.
Timorously, I periodically raise my hand, cry ârubbish,â and let slip the dogs of war. For every time I question this article of faith of the smug new self-righteous urban puritans, I am immediately inundated with angry e-mails blaming me for every ill associated with cars, including one kind reader who accused me of being in favour of people being run down in crosswalks. So be it.
I call down on my unrepentant head the worst the car-haters can muster. The automobile is a wonder that rapid transit can never hope to replace, but can at best supplement to some minor degree, and at a cost greatly disproportionate to its benefit.
Almost universally, as peopleâs standard of living rises, one of the first things they buy is more space for themselves and their families. Those cities that anti-car proselytisers embrace with fervour, such as the centres of New York and Paris, have seen their population density fall over most of the past 100 years, as people have fled their cramped inconvenience in favour of blossoming suburbs, where everything is bigger, including the lots, and cars are the workhorse of city travel.
As a result, people who donât live there hold up the centre of Paris or Stockholm as an example of what we should do with our own cities, ignoring the fact that the French and the Swedes live in far greater numbers in suburbs that are basically quite indistinguishable from those of Toronto or Montreal.
Whatâs this got to do with cars? Suburbs and space go hand in hand with the car. The car means people can reach affordable space. Instead of a balcony and a window box, they can have a yard. âUrban sprawlâ and the car have given people a higher standard of living and more freedom than ever before.
Cars put you literally in the driverâs seat, including about when you travel, and what route you take (picking up the groceries on the way home from work or taking the kids to dance, hockey and music) without advance planning, transfers or extra fares. You stay dry and warm no matter what the weather, and travel time by car is in the vast majority of cases shorter than by transit, especially if you have to transfer. Cars carry more than one can manage on bus, bike or foot, allowing people to shop at supermarkets and discount stores farther from home. The car has been essential to the emergence of IKEA, Costco and Target, which raise our standard of living by improving choice and lowering prices.
Economic activity, far from being concentrated in city centres, is increasingly dispersed across our cities, meaning that the way people move for work less and less matches urban mass transit, which largely moves people to the central core and back again. Transit could never reproduce the blooming buzzing diversity of travel needs the car accommodates with ease. A tiny fraction of commuter trips are made on mass transit. Even if we were to double the share of mass transit in major cities (in itself a huge, and hugely expensive, task), it would still barely affect congestion, while emissions per kilometre driven are now vanishingly small.
The incontrovertible fact is the vast majority of people will continue to rely on their cars for transport. Mass transit is chiefly a poorly designed and very expensive social program for those who donât have a car. Weâd be better off buying them cars and spending the leftover money on well-designed roads, preferably where people were charged for every kilometre they drove and a premium at rush hour to reduce congestion.
Everyone talks in favour of urban transit, but what they really mean is that they wish the driver in front of them on the road would leave his car at home. This includes the allegedly anti-car young, who say they want to live downtown but in fact live in ever greater numbers in the suburbs. Pay no attention to what people say, because it is so unfashionable to be pro-car. Look instead at what people do; while city centres have grown, suburbs have grown hugely more, as people voted, not with their feet, but their steering wheels.
Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.
In today’s Ottawa Citizen, I try to make the case that in a world of finite resources, simply taxing the rich may cause more harm than good for the economy.
BY BRIAN LEE CROWLEY, OTTAWA CITIZEN JUNE 7, 2013
When asked why he robbed banks, notorious gangster Willie Sutton is alleged to have replied, âBecause thatâs where the money is.â
Some of the debaters at the recent Munk Debate on whether we should tax the rich more felt like they were channelling Willie.
By way of context, the Munk Debates are sponsored by Canadian businessman and philanthropist Peter Munk. They bring together global intellectual heavyweights to debate hot topics of world interest.
The last debate, held May 30 in Toronto, was no exception. Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, and famed economist Arthur Laffer debated the motion âwe should tax the rich more.â
Surprisingly, given the ideological gulf between the debaters and their impressive intellectual firepower, the debate seemed to me to fail to tackle the central issue: not âdo we want more government?â but âhow do we get the best value for society out of our scarce resources?â We can all think of pet projects we would like government to undertake, and most of us would be prepared to accept higher taxes if it meant that project went ahead. But we go badly wrong when we frame the question this way.
The reason we go wrong is that it makes it sound like the money is free, that taking it from âthe richâ leaves everything else as it was, and just gives us the benefit of greater public spending. But when you take money from someone, it is not as if they had no plans for it. They were going to use it to buy goods and services or to save and invest. All of those things are good for everyone, creating growth and jobs. But if you take their money through taxation, society does not get that benefit. Instead it gets the very different benefit of increased public spending.
Which of these is more valuable? Again if tax money just magically appears, any benefit from public spending is a pure gain for society.
But if private spending also creates public benefits like growth and jobs, you must subtract the lost benefits of the private spending from the benefits of the new public spending. Remember, the decision is not whether the dollar is to be spent, but by whom and on what.
For a lot of reasons, including that we spend our own money more carefully than we spend other peopleâs money (Senate expenses, anyone?), a dollar raised in taxes costs more than a dollar in lost economic activity. A very conservative estimate would be that this so-called deadweight loss is about 20 per cent. In other words a dollar taken out of private hands and spent by government doesnât just mean a dollar less in private activity but $1.20 less.
That would be fine if we got $1.20 in value from a dollar spent in the public sector but governments are notoriously wasteful and inefficient. Decisions are slow and cumbersome and are often taken for reasons of political expediency rather than economic impact (flown out of Mirabel lately?), so a dollar in public spending produces less than a dollar in actual economic benefit. The net public benefit of shifting that dollar by taxation is starting to look pretty skimpy.
That brings us to the other great undefended assumption of the debate, namely that larger government is the best friend of the most vulnerable. If you accept that premise, then resisting higher taxes for the rich sounds like mean-spirited denial of benefits to the needy.
Leave aside the fact that government itself does many things that leave the most vulnerable worse off, such as agricultural supply management that makes their food more expensive, or employment insurance, whose benefits go predominantly to the well-paid, and that much public spending goes to comfortable civil servants, not the poor. Is more public spending what the poorest need?
Not if Canadaâs experience of the 1990s is any guide. In the decade that followed the ChrĂ©tien governmentâs great fiscal reforms, we saw the size of government go from 53 per cent of GDP to 39 per cent, an unprecedented fall. We balanced the books and cut taxes to boot. Yet we simultaneously saw the number of people living in poverty fall dramatically.
Why? Because we unleashed a torrent of private investment and economic growth that pulled previously unemployed people into work and the very best escape route from poverty is more family members able to work more hours. We made government smaller while generating a tide of growth that lifted all boats.
In Willie Suttonâs terms, the rich may be where the money is; that doesnât mean substituting governmentâs decisions for their decisions about how to spend it produces the best outcomes, even for the poorest among us.
Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.
Commentary: “Islam vs. Islamism: Confronting the terrorist threat while preserving the free society”
How can free, western-liberal-democracies protect themselves against violent terror attacks such as we have seen recently in Boston and the streets of London, while still preserving our essential freedoms and founding values? Â At what point should the beliefs individuals hold themselves be subject to the laws of the nation? Â These are difficult questions to answer since our desire to remain free must be balanced against our need for security. Â Here is my latest Commentary “Islam vs. Islamism: Confronting the terrorist threat while preserving the free society” where I try to establish the lines of demarcation between the freedom to hold personal beliefs, an the freedom to act upon them in society.
Recently, the Macdonald-Laurier Institute co-sponsored a discussion event with renown Middle East expert Daniel Pipes titled “Islam vs. Islamism: an evening with Daniel Pipes” where Pipes gave an impassioned talk on what we mean when we talk about the difference between Islam – one of the world’s great religions – and “Islamism”, the ideology behind so many terror attacks.
Following the talk by Mr. Pipes, there was a panel discussion with Salim Mansour and myself where we explored this issue further. Â This event was the impetus for a column I wrote for Postmedia which you can read here. Â But I felt that more needed to be said than the confines of a 750 word column would allow so I have expanded on that column with the following full length Commentary posted at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute’s website.
Following the release of MLI’s latest studyÂ The Way Out: new thinking about Aboriginal engagement and energy infrastructure to the west coast, part of our ground-breaking series Aboriginal Canada and the Natural Resources Economy, my project co-leader Ken Coates, and I write in the Vancouver Sun that First Nations support will be one of the most important aspects for any energy project in Canada.
BY BRIAN LEE CROWLEY AND KEN COATES, VANCOUVER SUN MAY 31, 2013
Just a few weeks ago, proponents of pipelines between the Prairies and the West Coast were preparing for the worst. Adrian Dix, the apparently victory-bound leader of the B.C. NDP, had already declared Enbridge’s Northern Gateway would be dead on his watch and, mid-election, pronounced a similar sentence on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion plans.
The subsequent Liberal upset victory, which many analysts attribute to the NDP’s fervent opposition to wealth-creating pipelines, has given the Northern Gateway project a partial reprieve. But despite strong federal backing and now a pro-growth provincial government, the project hangs by a thread.
Premier Christy Clark has significant reservations, and knows that proceeding would attract cries of outrage from environmentalists. B.C. has its own problems with Alberta, and the souring of relations between the two western provinces over pipelines has the potential to cause great economic harm to the country. Neither issue, however, is the greatest barrier to the project’s success.
First Nations along the pipeline route hold the hammer on this project. If they remain opposed to the Enbridge proposal or to the idea of energy corridors to the coast, no pipeline will be built. Full stop. First Nations have primary social and cultural standing in this debate. If they cannot be convinced that the pipeline serves their interests and provides adequate environmental protection, the project is not going to proceed.
Equally important, First Nations have growing legal clout, best embodied in the Supreme Court recognition of the government’s duty to consult and accommodate aboriginal interests, which could hold up construction indefinitely. Even with strong federal government support and an approved environmental plan, the Northern Gateway Project likely cannot proceed.
With strong aboriginal support, however, much becomes possible. The most intense environmental activists will oppose Northern Gateway, no matter what. More practical environmentalists and conservationists, including the B.C. public, realize that resource development can be properly and safely managed. First Nations’ support, with its environmental credibility, would likely weigh heavily with them. With aboriginal backing, we think a majority of British Columbians can be brought on board.
The First Nations’ power over development arises out of a complex web of unresolved land claims, legal victories, constitutional recognition of aboriginal rights, and indigenous self-government. Aboriginal Canadians are now indispensable partners in resource development – including major infrastructure – and this reality is not going to change.
Nor is this a bad thing. Most First Nations are supportive of development, provided it proceeds on their terms and with appropriate returns in the form of jobs, revenue and business creation. There are dozens of major projects underway across the country in real partnership with First Nations, bringing substantial benefits to local communities, Canadian business and the national economy.
How will this work for Northern Gateway? Some First Nations along the pipeline route, including the Haisla on whose traditional lands the Kitimat terminus is located, are willing to proceed with properly managed development projects. First Nations along the route will have to agree to participate in Northern Gateway, ideally as equity partners (the Enbridge proposal includes 10-per-cent aboriginal equity ownership). In addition to equity participation, a proper arrangement would involve a commitment to the world’s highest standards for environmental protection along the corridor and on the coast, plus arrangements for aboriginal business development and job training, and sustained revenues for First Nations communities.
Assuming Northern Gateway gets suitable environmental and regulatory approval from the current Joint Review Process, a new approach to First Nations participation will still be needed. That almost certainly means more substantial equity ownership (not least because the equity must be shared among so many First Nations) and aboriginal involvement in environmental and project management and oversight. First Nations must be assured that they will be primary beneficiaries from a project that crosses their lands, bringing opportunity and employment instead of the unregulated socio-economic change and environmental risk they too often experienced in the past.
The way we develop resources in Canada is changing profoundly. Like it or not, Northern Gateway is a symbol for the new order. The project’s current trajectory stokes vigorous aboriginal opposition that alone could be enough to stall or even kill a project that could create vast wealth for Canadians.
A much better outcome is possible, one that meets the objections of most who oppose the project on environmental grounds and that assures aboriginal people of sustained and long-term benefits from the construction and operation of the pipeline. Northern Gateway could, with political will and openness to new arrangements, be transformed from a symbol of the new-found power of aboriginal people to stop vital national projects into a model of the real partnerships that henceforth will be the indispensable key to responsible resource development in Canada.
Brian Lee Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Ken Coates is the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan. They are co-authors ofÂ The Way Out: New thinking about Aboriginal engagement and energy infrastructure to the West Coast, just released by the institute and available at macdonaldlaurier.ca.
Very proud to be co-author of this important paper over at www.macdonaldlaurier.ca outlining how Canada can live up to its potential as world energy superpower by engaging with First Nations to rescue the Northern Gateway (and other pipelines) to the West coast. Â Official MLI news release and links below, please read the paper “The Way Out:Â New thinking about Aboriginal engagement and energy infrastructure to the West Coast“, part of MLI’s ongoing series of studies on Aboriginal communities and Canada’s resource economy.
Rescuing Northern Gateway
How engagement with and equity participation by Aboriginal communities can help Canada live up to its potential as a world energy superpower
OTTAWA May 30, 2013Â â Canada is failing to live up to its potential as an energy superpower due to a lack of access to world markets, butÂ a new paper by the Macdonald-Laurier Instituteshows how the Northern Gateway pipeline project can be put on sounder footing and deliver sustainable benefits to Canadians, including First Nations in the pipeline corridor, by increasing access to Asia.
Presently, Western Canadaâs oil resources are suffering from artificially low prices as a result of lack of access to growing markets in Asia. The Northern Gateway project would help to rectify this ongoing shortfall, delivering oil to energy hungry China and India, tens of billions in increased GDP for Canadians and increased revenue for provincial and federal governments.
Right now, the biggest obstacle to approving the pipeline is not inter-provincial jurisdictional squabbles or even environmental concerns âthough these are important â but the Aboriginal communities along the pipeline corridor.Â Aboriginal opposition to the pipeline alone is likely enough to cripple or kill Northern Gateway and any other energy pipeline to the West coast.
With Aboriginal support, however, much is possible.
Backed up by a series of legal victories, constitutional recognition of Aboriginal rights and self-government, and examples of successful partnerships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organizations, the best way to remove the main obstacles facing Northern Gateway is to engage Aboriginal communities, not only in terms of consultation but as equity stakeholders,â argue the paperâs authors Ken Coates and Brian Lee Crowley.
âOur goal with this paper was to lay out the steps that can rescue the Northern Gateway project from its current impasse, highlighting that Aboriginal communities are not opposed to developmentâ, say the paperâs authors. Â âQuite the opposite.Â There are many examples of successful Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal partnerships that can serve as models to ensure that Northern Gateway can live up to its potential to produce enormous wealth for all Canadians, including Aboriginal Canadians.â
âWe want to make sure that Canadians understand that Northern Gateway stands at the intersection of Canadaâs aspirations to be a world energy superpower; environmental standards of 21st century resource development; and the present and future status of Aboriginal/Non-aboriginal relations in Canada.â added Coates and Crowley. Â âIt is in the national interest that this project move forward; otherwise, as we document in the paper, the costs of this missed opportunity would be enormous for all Canadians, not only those in Alberta and British Columbia.
The authors have identified several key factors that would help ensure Northern Gateway can be completed, including:
- Self-financing equity participation by Aboriginal communities to ensure full partnership in every aspect of the projectâs execution and operation while reducing dependence on government;
- Creation of several separate revenue streams that benefit First Nations all along the pipeline corridor;
- A new long-term and region-wide approach to Impact and Benefit Agreements (IBAs) that guarantee jobs, training and other economic opportunities;
- Creating a template for further energy infrastructure developments and opening the possibility of routing them through an Aboriginal energy corridor;
- World-leading environmental monitoring and response in the event of a spill, both along the pipeline corridor and the marine corridors where shipping traffic will occur;
- Specific steps the governments of Canada, British Columbia and Alberta can take to make this project more acceptable to public opinion and affected communities.
Northern Gateway continues to face strong opposition, threatening the projectâs viability and the vast wealth it could potentially generate for Canadians. By actively engaging with the Aboriginal communities along the corridor, and fair dealing in establishing equity partnerships to share the risks and the rewards the pipeline offers, the authors are confident that Northern Gateway could do more than carry Canadaâs energy riches to international markets. It could symbolize a new era in business-First Nations-government collaboration in the proper and carefully managed development of this countryâs natural resources.
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
Readers interested in the issue of tanker safety on Canadaâs west coast can get more information from MLIâs in-depth look in âMaking Oil & Water Mix: Oil tanker traffic and Canadaâs west coastâ
For more information on Canadaâs natural resource industry, please read MLIâs âSix Myths Surrounding the Development of Canadaâs Natural Resourcesâ