With rise of Poilievre and Danielle Smith in Alberta we are seeing a rise in anti-establishment politics. Most found the two especially latter quite toxic and generally in Canada much to Chargin of right wing populists; Canadians generally have a fairly high trust of establishment and the backlash against the so called Liberal elites is very much a minority opinion. Albeit that group is getting louder. I believe most in establishment are very knowledgeable and compassionate so I think listening to them is a wise idea. At same time there are a number of areas where I feel either they have too much of a tunnel vision or results are not turning out as expected. And results when don’t turn out as expected or one feel’s they are ignoring the other side, it is worth asking questions while still accepting they have good reasons for their views. Also as someone who has proudly travelled to 67 countries and will have to 75 by end of next year I also look at what others do as I realize Canada and United States are not the only two countries on earth and where our approach is out of whack with others, you need to ask why? Sometimes there are good reasons and certainly cultural values matter, but if wildly offside should at least raise some red flags. Below are some examples where I think establishment isn’t looking at full picture.
First example of this is on health care which is collapsing before our eyes. Establishment view is that for basic health care, private pay should be forbidden despite the fact no other industrialized country, even many that are seen as very socialistic attempt to do this. I get the idea that health care should be decided on need, not ability to pay and I think that is a worthy goal. But in the real world sometimes ideals aren’t realistic so fine to have as goal, but not at cost that it leads to an underperforming health care system. After all if banning private pay for basic health care was such a good idea, why is nowhere else considering doing it? I could see why United States with its more libertarian bent might be against it for ideological reasons or former Eastern European countries as seems too similar to how many things were run under former communist system. But surely at least one country in Western Europe, East Asia, or Oceania would try it if such a good idea. The fact none are is a big red flag that maybe not such a good idea. More importantly, there is little evidence it would make our already strained health care even worse. Canada spends more per capita than most industrialized countries yet delivers worse results. I realize health care is complex and lack of private option is not the only or even main reason ours it is underperforming, but at same time rational for banning it seems more ideological than fact based. The argument is often if we allow private doctors will leave for private system making public longer. But this ignores we can require doctors to do a minimum in public system and many doctors are moving to US and those with money if wait time too long will just travel to US. Some countries with parallel private systems like Australia and UK have problems with long wait times, but others like France, Germany, and Sweden deliver far superior results to Canadian system and yet unlike American system still maintain universality. It seems here a lot see US system as bad (and it is) so believe solution is do polar opposite. I have always thought you should compare yourself to the best out there, not just be happy you aren’t as bad as one of the worst.
Another example is safe injection sites and soft on crime. I don’t doubt for a minute safe injection sites save lives, at least in the short term. But my concerns are at least here in Vancouver, Downtown Eastside has gotten progressively worse. Drugs are dangerous and we should not normalize them and at same time also have a compassionate approach to help those addicted kick their habit. My worry is these sites don’t focus on getting users off drugs which means they will die eventually, just delayed. As well as other concern is rise in crime in areas near them. Saving lives is a worthy reason to have them, but I feel too many pushing them ignore negative impacts on community. If no negative impact or only slight negative, I would say it’s a worthy trade off. But if it makes communities less safe and less livable I think it is worth asking questions. We don’t take position of save lives at all cost elsewhere. If we did we would ban cars driving over 30 km/h, but we accept as a trade off that allowing cars to go faster will mean some deaths but benefits outweigh costs. Now maybe there are other reasons for rise in overdoses and crime, but I think at least the concerns with safe injection sites should be considered. Never mind Canada only has 0.5% of the world’s population yet 1/3 of safe injection sites globally so seems rather than just having them in worst places, we have them in quite a few communities and maybe more than should. On the crime issue, we were told mandatory minimums and long sentences don’t work. And I had no reason after bad experience in US to not believe this. But with recent loosening of sentences we have seen a big spike in crime so question needs to be asked why? I have always taken view that world is a complex place and experts make their best guesses sorting through all facts. But if results turn out differently than hypothesis; it makes sense to go back to drawing board, not double down. My view is Harper went too far in strict sentencing, but Trudeau has overreacted in other direction and we need something in between two poles.
COVID-19 is another case where what experts wanted restrictions to try to slow the spread but ignored collateral damage. COVID-19 is a deadly virus, but most still survive and with high levels of vaccination and people infected, it is far less deadly than it was in March 2020 even if still kills people. Last January, many were calling for lockdowns and business closures and even though most of the world including places that had much harsher restrictions earlier on had moved on. While few calling for shutdowns now, even China has moved beyond that, many still call for mandatory masking. There is no question if we had restrictions the experts wanted we would have fewer covid cases and likewise fewer covid deaths. But that ignores that restrictions are not harmless. Also ignores you cannot police everyone everywhere so if restrictions are seen as excessive, many will just ignore them. And this could mean if another virus emerges where restrictions are needed, people will ignore them and we want to avoid that. Most when covid first hit were willing to do whatever was necessary, but was under conditions restrictions would be temporary not new norm. At this point, those asking for mandatory masking are basically asking for permanent masking. Whether that is a good idea or not depends on trade offs, but fact is we know enough about covid that people can make their own risk assessment. And hospitals being overwhelmed points to a problem in our health care system as said above, not need for permanent restrictions. Likewise as someone who travelled a fair bit this year, very few jurisdictions still have indoor masking. So are they all anti-science? Or is it maybe many have concluded costs of such restrictions outweigh benefits. And playing on idea those opposed are selfish just turns more off. I get a lot in establishment have an unusually high level of empathy, but you can only expect so much from others.
Final one is DEI, employment equity and affirmative action. We all agree racism is wrong and no one should be denied a job due to belonging to a certain group. Likewise, any systemic barriers that make it more difficult for certain groups to get jobs need to be removed. But question comes is systemic racism as widespread as many academics claim? Canada no doubt has some racism, but on balance I believe we are a fairly tolerant society. My real problem is people say systemic racism is rampant and use underrepresentation of certain groups as proof it exists. But I believe with anything you cannot just go on hypothesis, you have to prove it. And if exists, find out how and eliminate that, not just claim it exists without identifying source. Affirmative action I feel moves away from long term goal of creating a colour blind society where we judge people on their individual qualities not what group they belong to. Likewise, it could even lead to a backlash by those from historically advantaged group feeling they are being punished for sins of ancestors. Some will say I am a white male so I should shut up. However, I don’t think there is anything wrong moving to a society where people judged as individuals not what group they belong to. I am not against affirmative action in all circumstances, but it should be done as a last resort if there are no other alternatives. Unfortunately I feel many pushing this are too focused on equality of outcome not equality of opportunity.
UPDATES on two more
Further to this I thought to add two more which are climate change and immigration. On both establishment seems to have a consensus which I have questions about.
There is no question immigration has on balance been a good thing for Canada. Our country unlike most was largely built on immigration and unless First Nation, we are all descendants of immigrants. But while maybe good on whole, that does not mean more is always better. Under Harper, Canada took in 250K a year, while Trudeau wants to increase it to 500K a year. Experts are right with Canada’s aging population and many labour shortages, immigration can help. Likewise with a massive deficit taken on to pay for pandemic, a larger population makes it easier to cover cost of debt without having to raise taxes. But there are downsides too. Canada’s housing prices already some of the highest on earth and getting so bad many millennials and Gen Z can only dream of ever owning a home. Likewise health care is stretched to near breaking point and with more people that could make it worse. Off course bringing in more immigrant doctors would help, but to avoid stretching it further, ratio of immigrants who are health care workers will need to be much higher than what it is in the general population, in which case it may help on this. Much seems to be done on idea Canada’s population is too small and ideal population is around 100 million. There is no question Canada could handle a population of 100 million if properly distributed and infrastructure in place. But its not something that can be done overnight. So question becomes can we build infrastructure fast enough to accommodate 500,000 new people a year (never mind increase in temporary foreign workers) or will this just make problems we have even worse. I feel those pushing higher levels have only looked at positive sides and haven’t considered possible down sides and to make a good decision you need to consider both. I believe eventually taking in 500,000 a year is possible, but I do not believe right now it is. This is a case of putting the cart before the horse. Otherwise we need to dramatically increase housing supply, have more health care professionals, and more infrastructure in place before we can increase immigration to such level. Once that is completed, then we can, but I don’t believe it is realistic to be able to do that in such a short time frame. Maybe in a decade’s time, but not in 2 years.
Many in establishment consider climate change a serious threat that requires radical action. I believe the science of human caused climate change is settled so I do not in any way shape or form dispute that. Question becomes more what is appropriate action to take. Canada only emits 1.6% of world’s GHGs so no matter what we do we will at most have a minimal impact. Likewise idea other countries will or won’t take action based on what we do is silly. We are too small to really matter so other than feeling good about ourselves, question becomes does it really achieve anything and at what cost? I don’t believe in the idea of freeriding so if other countries are taking action, we need to do our part. But I also don’t believe in taking dramatic action that could have negative consequences on the economy if it is not going to have much impact. If we are going to do something that will hurt some, there should be some positive upside. With climate change debate is really should it be mitigation, adaptation, or a mix of the two and what mix is best. Canada has a very low population density, harsh winters, and a large energy sector so any transition will not be without costs. And cost will hit lowest not highest income proportionately the hardest. Likewise those working in energy sector have specific skill sets and cannot just easily switch to new green energy sector. So while not against action on climate change, I feel many in establishment looking at it too much through a one sided lens like in above cases and not realizing whatever we do will have some negative costs. Doing nothing could lead to disastrous impacts which will cost Canada to some degree directly and even more indirectly due to weaker global economy and massive increase in climate refugees (as a cold climate, we should handle it better than most, but we won’t be spared for impacts elsewhere). At same time taking radical action like many greens want could have devastating costs on economy and I believe on this we need to weigh the costs and benefits on all possible choices and decide wisely. Never mind Canada being a cold climate means a warmer world could have some positives for us even if negative for many others and I feel too many ignore this. When making decisions, its always a balance of both national and international interest and its possible in this case a warming world may be a net positive for Canada, but net negative for world so debate should be which is more important; national or global interest? There is no correct or easy answer and it comes down to values.