Brian Lee Crowley

Hill Times columns

  • The Hill Times – Canada’s monumental economic challenge: Our increasingly schizophrenic attitude to natural resource development January 23, 2012

    January 23, 2012 – In today’s Hill Times column, I discuss how to restore the Canadian consensus in favour of natural resource development. The full column is below:

     

    Canada’s monumental economic challenge: Our increasingly schizophrenic attitude to natural resource development

    The provinces may control natural resources, but Ottawa controls enough of the jurisdictional, legal, tax, environmental and regulatory levers that it can set the tone and get provincial buy-in for a cooperative national framework equal to the opportunity Canada faces.

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, January 23, 2012

    One of the best Canadian politicians of his generation, Macdonald left behind him an enduring and powerful legacy. No, no, not Sir John A. The other one: Donald S. Macdonald. A Trudeau-era Cabinet minister, Macdonald is best remembered for his job post-politics. At Trudeau’s behest he headed the eponymous Macdonald Royal Commission, which reported in 1985. Dry-as-dust history? Hardly. A quarter of a century later we forget how Macdonald’s report led us out of a historical cul-de-sac and revolutionized our economy. It is a feat we need to repeat today, so Macdonald’s triumph deserves our attention.

    By the early 1980s, the inadequacy of the old protectionist National Policy was plain. Inefficient domestic industry sheltered behind tariff and other barriers. To that inward-looking policy bequeathed us by Sir John A. Macdonald the 1970s had added restrictions on foreign investment, aimed chiefly at U.S. multinationals.

    Yet, Canada was hugely dependent on America being willing to absorb our exports. The old strategy had become a Rube Goldberg confection unworthy of a great nation.

    But it was deeply rooted in our politics and our neuroses, and particularly our fear of American domination. No government wanted to seize the nettle and say what experts had long since concluded: that a formal free trade agreement with the United States was the only sensible way to promote Canada’s national interest.

    Enter Don Macdonald. His royal commission launched a truly comprehensive national conversation about what Canada needed to do to prosper. His fellow commissioners came from different parties, regions and language groups.

    Academic papers were commissioned, experts consulted, and hearings held in every corner of the country.

    After this impressive national pulse-taking, Macdonald duly reported, among many other things, that Canada’s national interest lay in free trade with the United States. By the next election, in 1988, the deal was done and Canada has never looked back. Macdonald’s massive work of careful, thoughtful and non-political national psychotherapy allowed us to let go of old emotions and prejudices.

    Today’s Macdonald will be called upon to unravel a different but equally monumental economic challenge: our increasingly schizophrenic attitude to natural resource development.

    Make no mistake: Canada is on the brink of massive development fuelled by our increasingly sought-after natural resources. It isn’t just the oil sands. Potash, natural gas, conventional and non-conventional oil, minerals and rare earths, and more in almost every province and territory all presage investments of tens of billions of dollars, year after year, for many years to come.

    Far from being limited to Western Canada and the North, these opportunities can indisputably be harnessed to put Canadians to work in every part of the country. Steel, vehicles, and equipment as well as engineering and other high value services from Central Canada will be required, port facilities and processing terminals will be built on both coasts, unemployed workers will be put to work in high wage occupations, trade schools and universities in our communities will buzz with energy training people for these opportunities. Canadian workers’ pensions will be invested profitably in the companies doing the work, and our financial institutions will scour the globe for the capital needed. And despite globalization, most of the resource extraction work cannot be sent to other countries, because the resources are here.

    Our challenge, however, is that the old consensus that properly regulated natural resource development is good for Canada is breaking down.

    We see that in the debate over the Northern Gateway pipeline and Quebec’s shale gas today, just as America’s decision on the Keystone pipeline shows that next door the consensus in favour of resource development has collapsed. Aboriginal land and other claims add a further dimension of complexity and uncertainty to project prospects. All this adds up to investors being increasingly skittish about risking their money on projects that may become interminably mired in vexatious and acrimonious approvals processes that are increasingly hijacked by special interests for whom emotion defeats evidence every time.

    The consensus can be rescued, but only if Canadians can be convinced that development will go ahead under the most demanding conditions, including responsible environmental standards and fair dealing for  Aboriginals. We could then free up technical tribunals like the National Energy Board to return to their original mandate, which is not to be some kind of giant opinion poll dominated by emotive opponents, but to be a place where projects are examined quickly but thoroughly on their objective merits, ensuring they live up to Canada’s high standards.

    The provinces may control natural resources, but Ottawa controls enough of the jurisdictional, legal, tax, environmental and regulatory levers that it can set the tone and get provincial buy-in for a co-operative  national framework equal to the opportunity Canada faces. But where is this generation’s Don Macdonald? And where is the prime minister who will put him to work?

    Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

    The Hill Times

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • Media Update: The Ottawa Citizen, Wall Street Journal and The Hill Times! December 3, 2011

    In today’s Ottawa Citizen, I discuss the upside of downloading – cutting transfers to provinces in order to balance federal budgets. Click here for full column.

    In my November 28th column for The Hill Times, I discussed the inability of the American political class to tackle their fiscal challenges. Click here to read the full column.

    On November 23rd, the Wall Street Journal quoted me in an article about mounting provincial debt. Click here for more info.

     

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • The Hill Times: We could have a renaissance in rural Canada, but need to fight the bureaucracy November 2, 2011

    In my latest column for The Hill Times, I discuss the opportunity Canada has to feed the world, but due to heavy bureaucracy, we are lagging behind.

     

    The heavy bureaucracy charged with regulating new products and methods in the field of food production and processing is creating obstacles to innovation and new product development that are out of all proportion to the health and safety benefit created for Canadians and their worldwide customers.

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, October 31, 2011

    OTTAWA – When in the 1965 Bob Dylan wailed, “I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more,” he was echoing the mental picture almost all of us have about conditions on the farm. The Dirty Thirties largely spawned the identification of farming with grinding poverty, primitive technologies and capricious commodity prices, but the image has proven durable.

    In Ottawa, as well as in the popular imagination farmers and the food industry are old economy, and the family farm a sponge sucking up major tax dollars to keep a politically powerful rural constituency sweet.

    But as a wise man once remarked, it ain’t what you don’t know that’s the problem, it’s what you know that just ain’t so. And the real position of Canada’s food industry couldn’t be more different than the outdated vision that still infects too many politicians, civil servants and opinion leaders.

    Far from being in decline, the agriculture and food sector is a potential economic powerhouse for Canada. The amount of food that will be consumed in the next 50 years will exceed all the food eaten in the rest of human history. World demand is on the upswing, driven by rising population and rising global incomes.

    Yet the world’s doubtful ability to respond to that growing demand is ringing alarm bells everywhere. After a half century during which the Green Revolution produced a huge spurt in food production, the rate of growth is tailing off just when we need it to keep most. If we do not find ways as a planet to rise to this challenge, major food shortages and humanitarian disasters are just a few short years away.

    As a result food prices are rising across the world, and those able to feed the world’s teeming billions will not only do a service to humanity, but will make a good living doing so.

    How does Canada fit in? We have everything we need to fill a major share of the gap in the world’s supply of food. We have vast tracts of agricultural land and our soil is in much better shape than many other major food-producing nations. Our climate is clement and climate change is likely to make it even more so. Our supply of fresh water, a major constraint on other farming powers, is the envy of the world. And we have clever, educated and experienced people in every part of the sector: farmers, technologists, researchers, managers, manufacturers and more.

    And yet despite the scale and scope of the opportunity, Canada is not merely failing to take advantage of these propitious circumstances, our ability to supply world markets is declining and our productivity on the farm is falling far behind that of our peers, such as the U.S. and Australia

    Look no further than outmoded government policy based on dated views of the food industry for the chief explanation of this signal failure of imagination and energy.

    Take the policy of cushioning the decline of the family farm, which costs Ottawa hundreds of millions of dollars a year in supports of various kinds. Our major competitors use much of their agricultural spending strategically to drive their farm communities to higher levels of productivity, innovation and environmental stewardship. We allow too much of this spending to be captured by the majority of farms too small and too poorly run to be competitive. Yet the subsidies keep these potentially highly productive lands in the hands of part time farmers, whose net farm income is actually less than the level of income support they receive.

    And because these farms are so unprofitable, it is hard to justify new capital investment; on balance our farm investment has therefore been declining, not growing. Yet new investment is often the missing elixir that would allow our farmers to raise their productivity and respond to global demand.

    Similarly the heavy bureaucracy charged with regulating new products and methods in the field of food production and processing is creating obstacles to innovation and new product development that are out of all proportion to the health and safety benefit created for Canadians and their worldwide customers.

    And don’t get me started on Canada’s diminished ability to use trade talks to open foreign markets for our products because of our stubborn insistence on defending dairy and egg marketing boards the rest of the world rightly abandoned long ago.

    The government that gets all this will preside over a renaissance in rural Canada, an expansion of well-paying food processing jobs, a much-needed rise in productivity and a transformation of the industry from a drain on the public purse to a wealth generator. All they have to do is to stare down a few special interests, including in the bureaucracy.

    Damn. I knew there was a catch.

    Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent and non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

    news@hilltimes.com

    The Hill Times

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • The Hill Times: Claims of wholesale Americanization of our criminal justice system highly exaggerated September 19, 2011

    September 19, 2011 – In his monthly column for The Hill Times, Brian Lee Crowley discusses the Canadian criminal justice system and proposed reforms. He says, “Canada must indeed be vigilant to avoid the excesses of the American justice system. The government has an obligation to justify its corrections policies in terms of the real increased protection they can offer to Canadians while also making all reasonable efforts to rehabilitate offenders. But claims of the wholesale Americanization of the Canadian criminal justice system are highly exaggerated.” Read the full article below from the The Hill Times:

    Claims of wholesale Americanization of our criminal justice system highly exaggerated

    Crime will be high on Parliament’s agenda this fall, given the priority that the Conservatives attached to the issue in the last election. Canada must indeed be vigilant to avoid the excesses of the American justice system.

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, September 19, 2011

    OTTAWA – Crime will be high on Parliament’s agenda in the autumn, given the priority that the Conservatives attached to the issue in the last election. You don’t have to be Conrad Black to have strong feelings about crime and punishment. But like on so many policy issues, feelings, no matter how strong they are, only get you so far.

    If we try to think analytically about crime and punishment issues, however, we quickly see that each side in the debate brings something valuable to the table.

    Take the opponents of Conservative policy. They are properly concerned to avoid the excesses of American penal policy. There the numbers of people in prison beggar belief: According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, about one per cent of American adults were in prison or jail at the end of 2009.

    And many of them are there for frivolous reasons. People can be locked up for years for trivial drug offences or property crimes. Less than a tenth of prisoners are there for violent crimes. Three-strikes-and-you’re-out laws and long mandatory sentences are forcing up the prison population ever more rapidly. Spending on prisons in California now outstrips spending on state universities.

    But the debate about corrections and prison in Canada is becoming like the debate on health care. Any attempt to introduce needed reforms is immediately attacked by its opponents as “Americanization,” regardless of the actual merits of the proposal.

    In fact to hear the anguished cries from some of the government’s critics, you’d believe that we have already reproduced the American “justice” system in Canada. But according to research by Professor Ian Lee of Carleton University for my institute, the facts belie this view.

    Take the numbers of people being put in prison in Canada. In 2009, almost 2.5 million crimes were reported to police in Canada. Only one-tenth of these resulted in a perpetrator being convicted. Of those, about a quarter were sentenced to provincial prisons. How many went to federal prison? Fewer than 5,000. And according to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), that number has essentially been stable for the past decade.

    In the U.S., long sentences are part of what drive the growth in the prison population. But in Canada, the total federal prison population over the past decade has fluctuated within a very narrow band: a low of 12,400 in 2003-04, and a high of about 13,600 in 2007-08. If just under 5,000 are entering the system every year, and the total population is less than 14,000, the average inmate isn’t staying long.

    How about the idea that Ottawa, like the U.S., is locking people up for trivial reasons? In Canada, nearly 70 per cent of federal inmates are there for violent crimes; over a quarter of all federal inmates are in for homicide, for example.

    Yet the myth persists that Canada is now locking up a number of people totally disproportionate to other nations. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), however, (the best source of statistics that allow sensible comparisons between rich industrialized countries) we are no outlier. We incarcerate about one seventh the number of people per 100,000 population in Canada versus the United States, but they are the great outlier. We put fewer people in jail relative to population than any of the other rich English-speaking democracies with a common law tradition (the U.K., New Zealand, and Australia) and we are below average for the OECD countries overall.

    How about the idea that we are engaged in a vast orgy of prison-building to house our burgeoning prison population? Not quite. The last new federal prison was built in 1988. On the other hand, 28 federal prisons are over 40 years old. The normal lifespan of a prison is considered to be around 50 years. The Kingston pen, built in 1835, is still very much in use today.

    According to testimony from the Parliamentary Budget Office, a new medium or maximum security prison should cost approximately $240-million. The entire annual capital budget of the CSC is $230-million. Far from lavishing scarce tax dollars on unnecessary prison construction, the Government of Canada is starving the prison system of the capital budgets needed merely to maintain what we have in good working order, and has been doing so for decades. Yet old decrepit prisons are a huge obstacle to rehabilitation.

    Canada must indeed be vigilant to avoid the excesses of the American justice system. The government has an obligation to justify its corrections policies in terms of the real increased protection they can offer to Canadians while also making all reasonable efforts to rehabilitate offenders. But claims of the wholesale Americanization of the Canadian criminal justice system are highly exaggerated.

    Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa.

    news@hilltimes.com

    The Hill Times

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • Response to Hill Times column on how NDP are no longer the party of Tommy Douglas July 5, 2011

    July 5, 2011 – A reader of my recent column in The Hill Times on the how the NDP are no longer the party of Tommy Douglas wrote to me and mentioned the following:

    Thanks for the Tommy Douglas piece that appeared in the Winnipeg Free press recently. One of my father’s favourite TD quotes was the title of one of his sermons before he entered politics, which was something like, “God looks after every little bird, but he does not throw food in the nest”.

     

     

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • A new world order March 1, 2011

    My February 28, 2011 column for the Hill Times is available here.

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • Back to the future: A guide to budgetmaking January 31, 2011

    My January 31, 2011 column for the Hill Times is available here.

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • Media speculation on Canada-U.S. agreement on a continental perimeter border premature December 20, 2010

    My Hill Times column for December 20, 2010, is available here.

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
  • High moral tone, meaning well, do not make foreign policy November 29, 2010

    My November 29, 2010 column in the Hill Times is available here.

    Scridb filter Continue reading →
Scridb filter
Brian Lee Crowley