Recently, over at Bound By Gravity, I got caught up in a debate with a group of Conservatives and Libertarians, about exactly what "socialism" was and what the nature of government was.
Yes, I know. This has been debated from Thag Simmonds in the caves, through the ancients, Emmanuel Kant, John Stuart Mill, John Locke, Karl Marx, George Grant, right up to Jay Jardine, MWW, Martin B. and the others. It's not like we are going to answer this.
But if you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there, so the saying goes. Back in my days as a social worker, working with disturbed children in Toronto, we had a little thing called "1,2,3 Magic". We told the kids to describe what their lives and their world would look like if we could wave a magic wand and make everything alright for them. It was a great tool to help these kids focus on treatment, to give them a goal and for us to understand them better.
Now, in the above debate, and others on BBG, we've talked a lot of political theory and a lot of ideology. We've criticized each other but offered no vision of Canada that we are striving for. Indeed, the same can be true of our national and provincial leaders in the last few years - no one is telling us their vision of the country and why we should vote for them or join in their cause.
Well, here is our chance in the blogshpere to share our vision of Canada if we could wave our magic wands and make Canada 'alright'. I would like the bloggers of all political stripes to describe in the comments their vision of what a "perfect" Canada would be like. It will give us insight into each other and possibly show how much we agree on things rather than differ. I think it will also show that "left-right", "socialist-libertarian" dichotomies are too simplistic.
I'll start off and demonstrate the format:
Canada is now represented at the Federal level by a combination of Proportional Representation and individual voting. This allows the parliament to more accrurately reflect the will of the electorate, while maintaining regional balance. The parties too have better regional balance, thanks to PR. There are a lot more "coalition" governments and cooperation and the government is much more responsive to the people. Parties like the Greens finally have some seats and a voice. Still, independants can obtains seats and peole can still vote for individuals in their areas.
There is no senate, since it is an unneeded expense.
Similarly, the provinces don't exist anymore either. Returning to the principle of subsidiarity - that government is most responsible and responsive when closes to the people it serves and whose needs it addresses - most of the powers formerly held by the provinces have been "downloaded" to municipalities, be they cities, regions or districts. In some less densely populated areas, these municipalities look similar to the old provinces. The added benefit, besides saving billions by eliminating a level of government, is that native peoples are now about to effectively self-govern once again, since they now have the power to do so. The Indian Act has been totally abolished. The Feds provide most funding "by right", as cash transfers with no strings, for municipalities to do as they like. The elimination of the provinces, direct transfers to municipalities and proportional representation in the Federal Parliament has all but eliminated the problems of regionalism, including separatism, from politics.
In an attempt to be fiscally accountable, every dollar collected, spent and transferred can be accounted for. If the Feds give money to a region as part of a program to add more MRIs, there is accountability by that region to prove that the money was spent on MRI machines and not on ice machines and floor scrubbers (as happened in Ontario in 2000). The Feds, of course, are under the same rules. An audit of any program or Ministry can be requested by any other level of government or private citizen. The audits should be relatively easy, since all levels of government are required to keep meticulous books on income and spending.
The Charter is still the law of the land.
The Federal government still retains powers of national importance - Defense, Intelligence, Trade, Foreign Affairs etc.
We still have a free, universal, publicly funded healthcare system. The additional funds from the elimination of the provinces has bolstered healthcare across Canada. The Federal government has returned to the idea of laying down the guildlines - free, accessible and portable - and provided the lion's share of the money, due to its taxation powers. The municipalities provide the implementation, decide on where the money needs to go at the local level. For instance, in some areas, prescriptions and dental care are also covered.
Most municipalities have continued with the "healthcard" system as we have it today, though some have chosen the Green Party approach. These "Green" districts have total public funding for health but private delivery and its consumer driven - each person is given a yearly amount for their healthcare on a debit card, which carries forward if the don't use it. They can only spend this on healthcare or prevention. They can add their own money if needed. In a creative combination of public and private healthcare, doctors, labs, clinics that don't provide services well, or have long lines or "cheat" the system by ordering unnecessary tests go out of business. Patients can sue for fraud if it is discovered that unneeded tests were performed and have their health dollars returned. In the off chance that an illness outstrips the amount of health dollars on a card, these municipalities have a reserve fund. Also, the health dollars are transferable between healthcards, so individuals may trade or donate their health dollars to help out in these situations. Once health dollars are on the card, they may not be removed or traded for cash - health use only. The municipalities decide, within their boundaries, what that extra use might be. The other municipalities and regions are watching these experiments closely.
Of course, all this is possible because the number of health professionals has risen dramatically. Part of the extra funds available by dissovling the provincial level of government went into graduating and hiring more doctors. Restrictive rules unnecessarily limiting the number of good foreign trained doctors were simplified. The combination of these two things increased the number of doctors dramatically. In addition, some responsibilities that doctors are currently required to do - simple diagnosis, physicals, simple prescriptions, setting broken bones, check ups etc - were downloaded to "doctors assistants" or nurse practiioners.
The result of this, along with the hiring of more technicians and nurses, is that waiting lines for doctors, surgeries and diagnostic tests has been virtually eliminated. There is once again competition between family doctors (and the new nurse practitioners) for patients and very few of these professionals are not accepting them. Getting a second opinion is relatively quick, should you need it. Rural areas have no problem attracting and retaining doctors, partly because these doctors get their full tuition reimbursed and partly because the slightly less competitive environment relative to the urban areas means a good income. As well a very small parallel private healthcare system has been able to start and survive due to the number of healthcare professionals in the market. Most people don't need to use this private system, since the public system is more than adequate and the public system is not affected, since there are enough medical professionals to staff both without bleeding the other (similar to successful European mixed models, such as France).
Canada has a 100 000 person Armed Forces, 25 000 of which are Reserves. The Forces are are used primarily for Canadian soveriegnty (patrolling the Arctic in frigates and on the ground), rapid reaction for UN and NATO peacekeeping and peacemaking (no more Rawandas or Darfurs, helping in Afghanistan) and for Search and Rescue operations at hope during emergencies and natural disasters. Reserve members are also trained as first responders for terrorist attacks and natural disasters so that these events are handled quiclkly and effectively by local personnel. The Forces are equipped with the latest weapons and equipment for their missions.
Our mission in Kandahar continues but is a success. Walking patrols and "community policing" type interaction with the locals has brought most of the Afghanis to our side and the city is now safe and being rebuild. These guys are true heros.
Canada is also becoming a world leader in "honest broker" intelligence gathering and dissemination. Our skills in telecommunications, technology and our view in the world as neurtal third party ahs given us the ability to collect and share information relatively free from the "tell them what they want to hear" mentality of some of our allies intelligence services and has removed the ability to purposely manipulate the intelligence for political reasons from them as well.
Trade and the Economy:
Canada's trading base has diverified to the point that NAFTA disputes no longer cause the remarkable economic pain they once did. We trade with China, India, the EU and many African nations. Many third world countries are able to trade with us because we have lowered some barriers to them. This means that foreign aid efforts are self-sustainable. At the same time, we ensure, on a company by company basis, that goods imported are created by fairly paid workers in good conditions, and not political prisoners or wage slaves. The competition has revved up the economy and made domestic companies more efficient and productive.
Canada has moved away from being totally based on natural capital and raw materials, to more finished products. Mad Cow crisis are now a thing of the past, as Canada now tests every cow processed in our own abbatoirs. More abbatoirs and rendering plants have sprung up so that the cattle industry is not dependent on live cattle exports. Softwood lumber has followed suit.
Canada has also beome a world leader in information capital - telecommunications, information technology and processing.
Thanks to the lower cost of doing business in Canada due to our socialized healthcare system, many US and world companies continue to open plants and offices here.
Trade between regions is barrier free, since the elimination of provinces also eliminated interprovincial trade barriers. East-West trade is as important and robust as the North-South once was.
Policing and Public Safety:
With no provinces, most municipalities now have their own police forces. The Federal government still maintains the RCMP for rural areas and small towns and to act as a liaison or conduit between police departments. The mounties also work closely with Customs and the Forces for border patrols and airport safety. The OPP and SQ were either absorbed into the RCMP or certain detachments became the municipal force.
The idea of fiscal accountability has been applied to information and the RCMP has become a clearinghouse and enabler to ensure information is shared effectively among police services. These forces no longer have "turf wars" over information.
Crime rates have communed to drop, mostly because of attacks on poverty. The demise of the provinces has given the municipalities the ability to address the issues of good affordable housing properly again, in light of their own local needs. Cities like Toronto are returning to their successful programs of infill hosing development and "rent to own" programs that were very successful in the 70s and 80s at creating good affordable housing in good neighbourhoods.
A good public childcare system, paid for by the Feds and administered by the municipalities, has allowed those that wish to stay home to do so and allowed those that wish or need to work to do so, while also providing a safe, educational and fun place for their children.
The minimum wage is actually one a single person can live on. At the same time, the cost of housing has dropped from 6 times the annual income of all wage earners in the home (as it was in 2004) to the more traditional level of 2.5. Homes and rental units can now be afforded by a wider variety of people. A single breadwinner can now support a family again, if they choose to, and these families have much more disposable incomes, instead of spending between 50% and 60% of their earnings on shelter.
This has also created the old idea of "neighborhood's" again. Instead of sprawling burbs with nothing but homes and sprawling area's of big-box stores and parking lots, many burbs have re-zoned and allowed commercial enterprises in. They are modeled on the Wharton Village in London, the Annex in Toronto or the Glebe in Ottawa - a main or "high street" with shops, stores, schools and parks all within walking distance of the residences. The result has been less care travel and more face to face interaction. Stronger communities have sprung up, creating another bulwark against crime and decay.
The government is usually interested in providing the services that promote harmony and orderliness among people. At the municipal level, this is easy to do. We still have courts, police, firedepartments and health inspectors. Marriage continues to be recognized as the consentual union of two people civilly. The government does not recognize religious marriage as the two are totally separate.
In general, we have retained our "socialist" ideals of caring for our fellow citizens and ensuring no-one slips through the cracks while becoming more efficient at using market forces to achieve these ends.
This isn't perfect, and there are likely still issues that are as yet unforseen, but Canada is better, more prosperous, more fair and more flexible in dealing with the constant change and challenges that face us.
And the UN keeps ranking us #1 ;)
I'm sure this both shocks and surprises some people. Now let's hear yours. Just the description please, we can debate each other in another thread if needed.