Brian Lee Crowley

What makes Canada great: My talk to MLI’s Canada 150 Dinner, 16th February 2017

Forget diversity, multiculturalism or social programmes. Despite what you may have heard, these are not the things that make Canada great, however desirable they may be in their own right. The things that have brought untold millions to settle in Canada were here long before these ideas ever saw the light of day.

Instead we have to look for the explanation of Canada’s greatness in things like our grounding in the New World, our tradition of freedom and our willingness to sacrifice to protect what really matters. At least that’s the argument I made in my talk at the MLI Canada 150 Dinner on 16th February 2017.

Multiculturalism, public health care and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are all well and good. But they don’t get at the essence of why true patriots love Canada, says Crowley.

The willingness to sacrifice in order to protect the freedoms uniquely available to us in the New World: now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a country worth celebrating.

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The conflict between elites and ordinary people that brought us Trump and Brexit has Canada in its sights

There is no wall protecting Canada from the populist tidal wave that washed Donald Trump to the presidency in the United States, as I argue in a new Macdonald-Laurier Institute commentary based on a talk I gave in Vancouver to the local chapter of NAIOP.

The phenomena that delivered a stunning election result in the United States and a surprise vote to leave the European Union in Britain are – despite what some observers think – also happening here in Canada. I single out three areas where this conflict is already coming into the open: labour markets, immigration and housing prices.

The Brexit vote last June and the recent election of a populist and anti-establishment American president are perhaps only the opening chapters of a new era of friction and even confrontation between the opinions of the Davos-inspired elites who have been in charge for decades, and those of the man and woman on the street.

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What Uber and health care teach us about innovation

You might be of the view that Uber and Canadian health care have nothing in common. How wrong you would be!

They are both classic instances of how governments’ rhetorical support for “innovation” is belied by their shameless kowtowing to vested interests who are threatened by disruptive innovations. Here is a little foretaste of the argument:

In Canadian health care, which may soon represent nearly a fifth of the economy, innovation must go cap in hand and beg to be allowed to help patients. And in doing so it will be opposed by those in the system whose power and livelihood might be threatened, just like those taxi owners fighting Uber.

This is inevitable in a system where the amount of money available is determined in advance through government budgets. Every innovation accepted is a charge against a fixed pie, meaning established interests may be damaged to accommodate the innovation. And it is those established interests who are the system’s gatekeepers.

It is as if Henry Ford, in his drive to bring the automobile within reach of the average person, had to get his assembly line ideas approved by a government committee composed of buggy makers, stable operators, horse breeders and hay growers.

The full piece was published in the Economy Lab feature of the Globe’s Report on Business on 13th May 2016.

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Rebranding the minimum wage as a “living wage” triumph of marketing over reason

The latest marketing dodge by the Left is to start calling, not for higher minimum wages, but for a “living wage,” thereby cleverly evoking images of poor single mums struggling to feed themselves and their kids on low pay. No one should work for a wage they can’t live on is a pretty good battlecry. Except that there are lots of people, in fact the vast majority, who earn the minimum wage and don’t live on it at all. The bulk of minimum wage earners are secondary earners in families above the low-income cutoff (LICO). And how many single parents with dependents try to get by on a single minimum wage income? Just over 2% of all people earning the minimum wage.

In my Globe column for the ROB of April 1st, therefore, I try my own rebranding campaign for the minimum/living wage. Here are the three I thought best. To the extent it represents government forcing businesses to pay more for labour than the going price, it is a tax on jobs. To the extent it forces up prices  at providers of low-cost goods and services to the poor, it is higher prices. And finally to the extent that the minimum wage is actually the entry wage for young workers living at home looking for their first job, and therefore every hike in the minimum wage makes fewer such jobs available, it is a youth penalty.

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Why Premier Wynne is wrong to lament tuition isn’t free

In the last Ontario budget Premier Kathleen Wynne brought free tuition to lowish-income students and in an interview lamented that she couldn’t make it free for everyone. I beg to disagree. I get everything that the advocates of zero tuition are saying about their desire to improve access to PSE and yet I still don’t think that the evidence shows that free tuition is the answer to the problem of access. For example:

  • We have a far better record at getting people into PSE than other countries that have free tuition (e.g. Germany and France).
  • I do not see the case for subsidising equally the children of billionaires and welfare recipients.
  • Subsidizing tuition out of general tax revenues makes poor people subsidise those who will be wealthy.

Finally Queens did a very interesting study a few years ago in which they compared the impact of lower tuition across the board vs putting it up but reserving 30% of the increase for scholarships and bursaries for low income students with good academic records. The second option was found to be significantly better than the first at improving access and equity.

To see more of the argument, have a look at my Globe column of March 18th, 2016.

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Sean Speer and I team up on health care in the Sun papers

Sean Speer and I continued our efforts to get the new federal government to think clearly about health care reform with an op-ed in the Sun newspapers. Based on our piece for the From a Mandate for Change to a Plan to Govern series at MLI, Sean and I lay out the case for thinking that Canada’s poorly performing system is badly in need of reform and that there is little evidence that the problem is that perennial canard, “underfunding”. On the contrary, Ottawa must stop offering itself up as the “solution” to our health care problems and to raise its expectations that the provinces will deliver real value for the money they’re already getting.

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Guaranteed Annual Income: Wrong solution, wrong problem

In my never-ending campaign to Ă©pater les bourgeois (aka the commenters on the Globe’s comments page), my latest column takes aim at one of their favourite policy prescriptions: a guaranteed annual income for Canadians, delivered through the tax system (also called a “negative income tax”). Almost all the arguments advanced in favour of this alleged panacea are deeply flawed and take little account of incentives, human motivation or of the complexity of administering fairly or cheaply a system that will not be simple but rather devilishly complicated.

This column appeared in the 11 Dec. 2015 edition of the Globe’s ROB in their Economy Lab feature.

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$15 minimum wage? Not if you want to help those that really need it.

Incoming Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has confirmed her partyt’s intention to raise the minimum wage in the province to $15/hr. Like many things this sounds good but in fact isn’t, especially if your objective is to help the most vulnerable workers (and potential workers) at the bottom of the wage scale. A $15/hr minimum wage is simply a government decree that anyone who cannot produce $15 worth of value with an hour of their labour will not work. Thanks for the help guys!

Read my analysis in my latest column for the ROB’s Economy Lab feature in the Globe and Mail.

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What Canada can, and cannot, do about inequality

To hear the critics talk, inequality is growing in Canada because of a mean-spirited effort by governments to reduce the tax burden and leaving the most vulnerable to fend for themselves. As I point out in my column for this Saturday’s Ottawa Citizen, this view ignores important facts. First of all, the level of progressivity in Canada is growing, not falling. In other words far from cutting taxes for the wealthy and washing our hands of those on low incomes, if you look at taxes paid and benefits received Canada’s social safety net is highly progressive and increasingly so.

Rising inequality is therefore not an artifact of Canadians failing to shoulder their responsibilities. The issue is that the inequalities created by globalisation, technological change and returns to skills and talent, market generated inequalities are growing even faster. So is the solution even more taxing and raising benefits? No. On the contrary, as the research I cite from Philip Cross and Munir Sheikh clearly shows, we are at the limits of what we can do through high taxes and passive income transfers. The rest of the progress we need must come from improving economic opportunities and incentives and equipping Canadians to benefit from them, both of which are made harder by high taxes and poorly designed transfers.

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Separated at birth: Ottawa budget, 1995; Quebec budget, 2015

My latest musings for the Globe/ROB’s Economy Lab revolves around the context and significance of the year’s most important budget: Quebec’s. After years of failed attempts, the new Liberal government of Philippe Couillard will make another stab at fixing Quebec’s self-imposed economic decline by wrestling with the out-of-control growth of the Quebec state over the last 50 years. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but it is not at all clear that Couillard will be more successful than his predecessors. That very uncontrolled growth of the state has created a political climate in which a democratic mandate may not be enough to overcome the organised resistance to reform. In the column I draw parallels between the historical significance of Paul Martin’s 1995 budget and this one, 20 years later. Both aimed to fix the damage done by several generations’ worth of bribing Quebeckers to support federalism or sovereignty. Martin pulled it off, but his task was more manageable.

Wish Couillard well. He’ll need it.

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Brian Lee Crowley