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Michael Bolen

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Canada Needs to Be More Like the U.S. Like it Needs a Hole in the Head

Posted: 10/02/2013 5:40 pm

Canada needs to be more like the United States.

That's the message from Sun Media's national affairs columnist Anthony Furey, who argues in his latest piece that Canada should adopt a U.S.-style debt ceiling so our "spendaholic" politicians will be forced to behave more like coupon-clipping regular folks.

You see that perpetual crisis down south? The one threatening the health of the entire global economy? Ya, can we get some of that? Pretty please?

Canada's number one claim to fame is that we're a less insane version of America. We don't need to import any of the political brinkmanship that has made the U.S. government about as effectual as a two-year-old having a tantrum.

The dystopian democracy being practiced in the U.S. today stands in stark contrast to the peace and order in Canada.

While majority governments may not seem as democratic as the checks-and-balances system south of the border, they have the distinct advantage of actually getting things done. While Canadian MPs may behave like "trained seals," strict party discipline prevents them from acting like temperamental toddlers.

As the National Post's Jonathan Kay points out, Canada avoids deadlock because "epic crises are resolved decisively through confidence votes, and (if necessary) elections," but also because "our MPs generally are ideologically subservient to their party leaders, and vote along party lines."

Furey suggests that Canada should hold a national referendum any time the government wants to raise the national debt. But this kind of hyper-democracy hasn't worked very well in America.

Look at California, where citizen-initiated referendums have helped bring the state to the brink of bankruptcy.

Not to mention the fact that what is happening in America right now is really just the illusion of democracy.

As the CBC's Neil MacDonald cogently explained this week, a majority of Americans voted for the Democrats in the last election. The Republicans only managed to win control of the House of Representatives by shamelessly gerrymandering congressional districts.

And this was an election fought over Obamacare. The American people voted decisively on health care, but GOP congressmen are now threatening to use the renewal of the debt ceiling in mid October to derail its implementation. A bill that, while hideously complex and far from perfect, will result in tens of millions of uninsured Americans getting coverage.

But Furey thinks that what is happening in the U.S. is a model of democracy. He lauds the Tea Party representatives who ran and were elected on the government being too indebted.

Gerrymandering aside, the view Furey shares with the Tea Party that governments are too indebted and should behave more like families or businesses fundamentally misunderstands how economies work.

Governments are not like families or businesses. Families and businesses can't print currency and are not tasked with managing the money supply for the purpose of encouraging economic growth and curbing inflation. Deficit spending is an essential tool used by every reasonable government on Earth and growth is the best way to reduce debt. Not cuts.

Austerity has been disastrous in Europe, while huge deficits in Canada and the United States have kept our economies growing. Cutting spending in the midst of a recession or depression simply depresses growth further and can, ironically, lead to deeper deficits.

This is something that Canada's Conservative government thankfully understands. The Tories have run large deficits and spent heavily on public works in the wake of the financial crisis. Of course, Harper and Flaherty hypocritically decry debt at every opportunity, but behind closed doors they continue to behave sanely.

It's that kind of sanity which will be needed if the U.S. is to ever tackle its long-term debt problems. It's true that America's debt-to-GDP ratio is getting dangerously close to 100 per cent and threatens to become a serious drag on growth in the future. But the sort of all-or-nothing crisis politics encouraged by the debt ceiling will not lead to the studied entitlement reform necessary for America to get its financial house in order.

Canada doesn't need to be more like the U.S. It's the other way around.

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