A Canada more Strong and Free

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Appeared in the Globe and Mail, April 14, 2005

The Fathers of Confederation were not modest when it came to their dreams and ambitions for Canada.

They envisioned building a few frail colonies into a new nation encompassing the entire northern half of the North American continent. They pursued public policies commensurate in scale with the sweep and size of the St. Lawrence, the Great Plains, and the Rocky Mountains -- adopting a new federal constitution, creating a new national market, and building the longest railway in the world.

We believe it is time for Canadians to dream and act again on a scale commensurate with the vision of the Fathers of Confederation and the vastness of our country -- to embrace public policies that will give Canadians the highest quality of life and standard of economic performance in the world, make our country the best-governed democratic federation on the planet, and set new standards of citizenship and leadership on the international stage.

Over the past year, under the auspices of the Fraser Institute, we have engaged in the development and discussion of such policies. The preliminary results are contained in a publication released this week in co-operation with the Montreal Economic Institute. It’s titled A Canada Strong and Free.

In this publication, we call for Canadians to support a dramatic expansion of freedom of choice and acceptance of personal responsibility in every area of national life. We call for a complete rebalancing of Canada, not only between our freedoms and responsibilities as citizens, but also between the private and public sectors to enhance quality of life and economic performance, between the various levels of government to improve public services and democratic governance, and between words and actions on the international stage to advance Canada’s interests.

In particular, we focus on four priorities.

Improving health care

Of 23 industrialized countries that provide their citizens with universal access to health care, Canada ranks 16th in doctors per capita, 15th in providing access to MRIs, and 16th in infant mortality -- despite spending more per capita on health care than all but one of these countries.

We therefore propose critical surgery for Canada’s health-care system:

Eliminate the federal role in health-care management and financing;

Strengthen health-care financing by granting the provinces the tax room vacated by the federal government;

Eliminate barriers to private delivery and financing of health services;

Maximize the freedom of Canadians to choose their health-care providers;

Give those providers the freedom and incentive to implement health-care improvements.

The objective of these reforms is to ensure that Canadians will continue to be fully insured against catastrophic illness and to have universal access to all medically necessary services, regardless of ability to pay, while gaining faster access to better care at lower cost.

Raising income and job prospects

In recent years, Canada has had one of the worst manufacturing productivity records in the developed world, and our standard of living measured in economic terms has dropped relative to that of the United States and most developed Commonwealth countries. While Canada’s governments impose heavy taxes, constrain economic activity by extensive regulation, and consume more than 40 per cent of our gross national product, 64 per cent of Canadians believe they get less than their money’s worth from taxes paid to governments; 68 per cent believe their standard of living would increase if their taxes were reduced; and 52 per cent think that the economy would perform better if businesses, investors, workers, and consumers had more freedom to conduct their economic affairs as they see fit.

In response to these concerns, we propose a major rebalancing of Canada’s economy -- a shift of around $300-billion (up to $80-billion annually) in national income over the next six years from the hands of politicians and bureaucrats into the hands of individuals, families, businesses and civil society. This can be accomplished by constraining the growth of total government spending to 3.1 per cent per year, and passing the tax savings on to Canadians. The principal effect of these reforms will be to substantially increase the personal incomes, job opportunities, and standard of living of individuals and families.

Increasing democracy

Smaller governments, closer to the people they serve, can be held more democratically accountable than large, distant, and centralized governments.

In a future publication, we will recommend a variety of reforms to electoral systems and our democratic institutions to make Canadians’ votes count for more, to give citizens more control over politicians and governments between elections, and to overcome Canada’s democracy deficit. But we believe that such improvements in democratic governance will be achieved only if they are accompanied by policies to constrain the size of government itself and to decentralize governmental functions as much as possible.

Advancing trade and security

Canada’s declining status as a leader on the world stage can be attributed to the substitution of rhetoric about Canadian values for action to advance Canada’s economic and humanitarian interests, the failure to properly fund and equip Canada’s armed forces, and the failure of Canada’s political leadership to retain a position of influence with the United States. Dramatic action is required to rebuild Canada’s sovereignty and security.

We propose focusing first and foremost on advancing Canada’s interests in continental trade and security by pursuing a new customs agreement with the United States. Such an agreement would involve the creation of a common tariff and quota system, the elimination of rules of origin, mutual administration of common tariffs and trade regulations, and mutual responsibility for border security. The primary benefits to Canadians would be increased trade, employment, and incomes, and increased protection for those jobs and incomes from border-security disruptions.

These are big, bold ideas. They build on our national legacy of great accomplishments, and will help ensure a Canada that is strong and free.

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