In early 1970 my father, Izzy Asper, got sick with hepatitis and had to be quarantined at Misrecordia hospital in Winnipeg. I remember standing with my mother and siblings outside on the street waving up to my dad standing at the window, because kids weren't allowed in the room.
While he was stuck there, he mostly handwrote the manuscript of what would become a best-selling book, The Benson Iceberg: A critical analysis of the White Paper on tax reform in Canada. The cover featured a caricature of Edgar Benson, then finance minister in the Trudeau government, with the tip of his head slightly above a water line, like an iceberg, implying that what lay below the surface was much more ominous.
Izzy Asper is shown in this 1970 photo when he was the leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party. (Photo: CP Photo/STF)
I recently found a few copies in my parent's archives (along with some brittle, yellowed hard copies of columns he wrote for the Free Press and Globe and Mail) and was stricken by the immediate philosophical and generational connection between what my dad had written back then and a speech given in 2015 by Maxime Bernier entitled "A time for choosing."
My dad wrote about tax policy, to be sure, but it was in the larger context of how Canada ought to be in fiscal, social and constitutional terms. He was concerned about the expansion of the role of government because it would have to be financed with higher and broader taxes, which he likened to a forced confiscation of property.
In Canada today, governments not only continue to expand through taxes and ever growing regulation. Spending also far exceeds that revenue, so governments have to borrow money, which then creates deficits and a huge national debt, which also has to be financed by taxpayers.
This financial burden may help explain why household debt and savings rates are declining and of concern. After paying all the taxes and fees to government, many Canadians don't have enough left over to save, invest or use for personal consumption.
He believed that the money you earn was a form of property that needed to be protected from government.
In other words, government has become so big and unwieldy and takes so much of your pay cheque directly or indirectly, that there isn't enough, or barely enough, for necessities, wealth creation and/or enjoyment of life.
This is fundamentally wrong and unfair, but it's exactly what my father foretold as the first prime minister Trudeau's government implemented its grand social experiment of big government in Canada.
Izzy would eventually take a shot in politics as leader of the Manitoba Liberals from 1971 to 1975. Many of his policies went where many Conservatives then, and even now, would not go.
He believed in the primacy of individual freedom and, among other things, advocated for a taxpayer bill of rights to protect people from confiscatory taxation. He believed that the money you earn was a form of property that needed to be protected from government.
He steadfastly refused to accept that government knew how to spend money better than the individuals who worked hard to earn it.
I think it's time to ask whether government needs to be doing what it's doing, which is not merely about efficiency and value for money.
He worried that government programs would unnecessarily impact the economy, create undue reliance on the state and slowly erode individual freedoms.
He was so fixated on this basic principle that he risked a political career on it, flying in the face of the then popular trend toward big government.
As I read through the book and columns, I couldn't help but agree with what he foretold. And the situation has gotten much worse since then. I think it's time to ask whether government needs to be doing what it's doing, which is not merely about efficiency and value for money. It's about the overall size of government and how pervasive it is in our daily lives.
Is there a credible voice in Canadian politics today asking any of these questions in a serious way? Happily, yes. Which brings me back to Bernier's speech.
Leadership candidate Maxime Bernier speaks during the Conservative Party French language leadership debate, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017 in Quebec City. (Photo: Jacques Boissinot/CP)
Maxime Bernier is now running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada on an ambitious platform which, among other things, calls for curtailing the expansion of the federal government into areas of provincial jurisdiction as defined by our Constitution. He is proposing flatter income taxes, the abolition of capital gains taxes and an overall recalibration of what government does.
With his experience in public service and understanding of the nuances of how government works, Maxime Bernier could succeed in reducing the size of government and making the changes my father clearly envisioned.
That's why as the leadership race winds its way toward a conclusion, I've decided to back Bernier in the hope that the Party will give Canadians a true and existential choice in the next election for the future of our country: More taxes and big, over-reaching government? Or less and more focused government, with more individual freedom?
Putting these questions first, and having voters choose a path is the essential first step to be taken before addressing all of the other issues facing Canada.
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