Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Is Canada broken or not?

In today’s rapidly evolving world, it seems we are seekers of sharp distinctions and quick-hitting headlines.

Pierre Poilievre has become a master of it with his brand of a ‘new’ populism, and at times seems to be the perfect antidote to Justin Trudeau’s “sunny ways” populism that he rode to power so successfully in 2015. Poilievre hopes to emulate that result in 2025. Both are populists in their own right, wanting to give people what they want, when they want it.

Of course, as much as we all want simplicity, often the answers or solutions to what ails us are complex, nuanced, and lie somewhere beyond “this or that”, “left or right”, or “us or them” approaches. Best answers are often not compromises; they could be described as a third choice – when neither Option A nor Option B measures up, a more appropriate alternative, or Option C, emerges.

Perhaps in the not-too-distant past, these options could have been referred to as “what is in the middle”. That does not happen by chance, though; it happens in our daily lives and in politics through co-operation, collaboration, a willingness to work on behalf of the “other” with a selflessness that seems to be in extraordinary short supply right now, as well as leadership. Populists clearly know what they are up against, but can they lead us to a place of what we are “for”?

Is Canada “broken”, as Poilievre suggests? Well, when you summarize the missteps, poor choices, ethics violations, poor implementation, and perhaps even treason that have emerged with the Liberal/NDP collation, the list of what is not working well seems to be very long. Extraordinarily long. As in, never-seen-anything-like-it long:

  • Worst housing affordability in the developed world
  • Declining GDP per capita
  • Declining productivity
  • An immigration strategy that has created in itself an affordability crisis
  • At the same time, we are seeing 10-year highs of emigration, up 70% over that time, with our professionals and entrepreneurs leaving with their investment dollars (and jobs) for greener pastures
  • A weakening Canadian dollar
  • Bigger and bigger government programs and spending, with new government hires up 40% since 2015, far outpacing the rate of hiring in the private sector
  • More taxes, as if that is the only answer to deficits and debt spending
  • More than doubling the debt accumulated by all previous governments combined in Canadian history … in just the last 8 years
  • Freedom of speech seemingly becoming an inconvenience – unless it is from the government’s position.
  • More ethical violations/scandals than any other sitting government before it with: SNC-Lavalin (SNC-Lavalin affair) , WE Charity (The WE Charity controversy explained), sponsored island-hopping vacations, Arrivecan (Companies at heart of ArriveCan scandal received more than $1200M in government contracts), consultancy fees in the billions, and many more
  • A health-care system in decline, even though we spend more then any other modern society per capita on public health
  • Extraordinary confusion created around the role resource development plays in Canada’s future, even though global fossil fuel use is up about 50% since the Kyoto agreement was signed about 25 years ago, and we now have a carbon tax that gets adjusted for political reasons
  • Intellectual property issues when it comes to approving patents and trademarks, critical to driving productivity and our future, now with four-year wait times
  • NATO commitments not being met, as we have been reminded very recently (again), this time by a large group of U.S. government representatives
  • More danger and violent crime on city streets
  • Experimenting with legalizing drug use (in B.C.), helping put Canada second in the world (next to the U.S.) for overdose deaths.
  • Fastest growth in the world in assisted dying
  • An overburdened judiciary, with long wait times and a catch-and-release approach
  • Foreign meddling in our elections, possibly enabled by MPs and/or senators past or present
  • Federalism that seems to be in a new phase of decline, as provinces work against a centralization of power, with Alberta taking a page from Quebec’s playbook

That may have been more than necessary to make the point, but it kinda feels like many things are … well, broken.

Or is Canada still the best place to be, as our prime minister suggests, with our 2023 ranking as second-best country in the world to live (USA News: Canada – #2 in Overall Rankings) . The government under Trudeau has progressed many social issue files, including indigenous reconciliation, 2SLGBTQI+, and continues to invest in work on the important issue of racism. A bill purported to be clamping down on hate speech is in the works.

Their $10/day national day-care program has mostly been implemented across the country.  Centralized pharmacare and dental care programs are launched. Restrictive bills have been put in place on large industrial developments and the use of some plastics, although the courts did point out several over-reach problems in those. Big tech platforms are now paying hundreds of millions of dollars to Canadian media outlets to host our news, for example, through Google’s recent $100 million in funding. Marijuana legalization from his first government is well established. Immigration and newcomers to Canada have hit new records each of the last several years. Direct funding to cities for housing was put in place to help get more housing units built.

Deficit spending in support of an expanding federal government and associated programs is growing by design, as more programs ramp up with the stated intention to help more Canadians in need. And new taxes continue to be put in place to support the many new programs and expanding federal spending.

It seems that the Liberal/NDP “social” issues driven agenda, is playing out at the expense of other core government purposes – e.g., the economy, security, and unity. It has been working for some. However, over time, it has been eroding the potential for many others and our future.

The Trudeau government social focus on the underrepresented, poor, and those left behind, seemed like the antidote to the past Harper governments’ primary focus on the economy, possibly at the expense of other issues much more important to a “progressive” agenda. At the end of the day, though, who and what pays for all that big government spending?

Wherever we are on the political spectrum, governments make choices on our behalf; they spend our money – and yes, it is our hard-earned money – on what they perceive are the issues that will satisfy the correct number of Canadians that are needed to get re-elected. Oh, the joys of democracy. Imperfect and easy to fragment, as the reach for smaller and smaller voter groups gets attention, resources, and, of course, money.

It is also easy to play to emotions and manipulate with fear, scapegoating, and so-called wedge issues, including a current example of the capital gainswomenship from our deputy PM and finance minister on the need to get “just a bit more” from Canada’s wealthy.

My belief is that with good leadership, the majority of Canadians will rally around the flag, the “centre”, and the leader. Perhaps “Is Canada broken or not broken?” is not the right question. I think the better question is, “Are our politicians showing the leadership we all need right now?” Leadership creating a federal vision of Canada that goes well beyond our carbon emissions or jurisdictional control. The current regime seems to have dropped the thread of working on behalf of all Canadians and carefully spending our money, and instead have become beholden to the daily news-cycle clicks, polling numbers, and all the noise around them, left and right. Is that what the ever-shifting winds of populism offer as guideposts?

What happened to the “middle” solution?  Option C, where graciousness, practicality, and integrity live, where most Canadians once lived. A focus on bringing us back together, not driving us further apart. Setting Canada on a growth trajectory that grows the size of the pie for all, not just divvying up ever-smaller slices.

It is said that people get the governments they deserve. I think it is more about getting the government we earn. It takes intent, effort, and belief that we can do better, much better.  We all have a role to play in thinking and acting broadly to create a strong, growing, healthy and free Canada, not just in the current moment, but for the generations to come. I do hope we correct course – and soon.

Grant Wilde
Grant Wilde
Grant Wilde is the past President & CEO of a private employee-owned Canadian company. He serves on several private boards, including as chair. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, employee ownership, and leadership.


  1. I don’t know if Max can be described as in the middle, but he seems to me to be the only party leader with actual leadership and a plan to get Canada back on track. He also does not overlook that the traitors in Parliament are not exclusively from the Grits or the NDP, which may be why the traitors have not yet been named: https://www.peoplespartyofcanada.ca/traitors_in_parliament?utm_campaign=ppc090624_en&utm_medium=email&utm_source=maximebernier


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