Tuesday, August 23, 2005

1,2,3 Magic!

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.

Social Issues:

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.


At 3:58 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Thanks, Meaghan, for the input. I appreciate it.

I am also curious what society would look like if it was libertarian like you want.

I mean, you can see mine. But Frankly, after having read posts on "your" site, the story of Piglet, Jay Jardine's stuff etc and I am still having difficulty seeing what Canada would look like. I am trying to understand but no clear picture has emerged - I've already been slapped for the "Mad Max" joke. Perhaps this late 30's socialist (or penguin if you prefer) is a little too thick to get it. I need you to spell it out.

If you'd rather e-mail me directly, that's fine too.

Or maybe one of the other libertarians out there will enlighten me.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger DazzlinDino said...

Right now, I would just like a country I can live with, if you know what I mean. Much like we are doing over at BPoC, a little comprimize here and there and say "hey, thats not too bad, I can live with it". Rigth now, that doesn't exist for me, and that's depressing.

The "magic Wand", no problem....pooooof I'm 7 and the only thing on my mind is where my next candy bar will come from. I know nothing of gevernment or corruption, and rape is something my dad farms on the field over by the barley. Snow would still make me smile, as would sun. The lake wouldn't feel so cold anymore, I'd just jump right in. A bill is a friend at school, a puppy is about the coolest thing in the world.....

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Mike said...


I used to feel the same way under Mulroney.


I agree. Cooperation and understanding is the best way forward.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger ALW said...

Actually, while I disagree with some of the policies in your 'magic wand' Canada (such as the daycare system you propose), most of it sounds OK. There's only two major points of contention I have:

1) Socialism doesn't mean caring for others and making sure no one slips through the cracks. It means using the state to do those things, because of an underlying belief that leaving that job to private citizens is insufficient. This is the real difference between socialists and libertarians/conservatives: not what constitutes being a good person, but whether or not we can trust people to do the right thing without compulsion from authority.

2) Your 'livable minimum wage' proposal will throw everything off kilter, just as any other major intereference in price mechanisms will. If you double the minimum wage, you'll put half the people out of work; the total amount of wage expenditure stays constant.

Other than that (including the abolition of provinces, constitutionally impossible and extremely controversial) your utopia seems like something I could deal with.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Mike said...


Thanks for the feedback. Its good to know that we actually do have lots in common.

As for your points, let me ask a few questions:

1)"It means using the state to do those things, because of an underlying belief that leaving that job to private citizens is insufficient"

Well, lets be clear, its not that the state does everything. You will be hard pressed to find Dippers who don't believe that the market is the right mechanism in a lot of circumstances. But we also think that sometimes the state has a role. And its not about being efficient, its about being fair. Private Healthcare as practiced in the US, or in Canada prior to 1963 may have been efficient, but it certainly wasn't fair, since many folks could not even enter the market due to low incomes or poverty (and nowadays, public healthcare is provably more efficient and cheaper, but I digress). Sometimes the state is needed to do those things that a private individual can't do themselves, even if they wanted to.

2) Well, do you have an alternative? I mean, what's the use in having a job if you can't survive on what you earn? Dare I say full-employment? How would you, via the market, allow for everyone to earn enough to live at a decent standard of living?

Anyway, thanks for the feedback.

At 2:10 PM, Blogger Mike said...

" I don't want to suffer equally with my lazy, unemployed neighbour that has no motivation to better himself."

That's right jeff, all unemployed people are that way because they are lazy, or have no motivation to better themselves. Yep, it has nothing to do with the idea that maybe there aren't enough jobs for everyone or anything. Naw.

You keep on thinkin' jeff, that's what your good at.

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Jay Jardine said...

Magic Wand? How 'bout a Magic Button? (see the quote at the top of my site)

Seriously though, Mike: as MWW said, libertarians just do not go around setting up Utopias for other people's lives. It would be downright impertinent of me to impose my chosen values on you or any other folks who happen to live in a particular geographical area.

If there are enough people who share your values there is no reason why they can't be pursued through voluntary cooperation rather than resorting to government coercion.

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Mike said...


Ok gotcha then. Not government at all, except voluntarily, and at the lowest level, like a town or perhaps a county. Everything is at that level and no higher?

JJ Rouseau would be proud!

Kidding. I think I'm begining to see it. So something you deem as "socialism" would be ok if entered into voluntarily?

Thanks for the feedback. You may yet get me to understand - I may not agree, but I will understand.


At 3:52 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"One of the advantages of strong federalism is there are standards which are agreed upon Canada-wide. If you download everything wrt spending to the municipalities, you cannot leverage economies of scale as easily"

I can see where that maybe the case some of the time, but for most things I think the municipal level is best. I just finished "The Dark Age Ahead" by Jane Jacobs and she makes a compelling arguement for this approach. She is most certainly not a conservative, and she backs up her ideas with real life examples from Toronto and elsewhere.

I thought as you did before I read the book, but seh really sold me on it. Pick it up, its a great book and a great read. i learned a lot.

"The Greencard health approach scares me a bit."

Well, I'm not 100% sold, but it close. Again, I was scared by it at first too, but it may just work. It is the best "best of both worlds" solution I have seen thus far.

Thanks for your comments, they are intersting as well. Be prepared for a debate, I'm pretty sure you are a statist like me, so Jay and MWW will be on ya.


At 8:31 PM, Blogger Mike said...


What does that have to do with your asertion that anyone who is unemployed is lazy and doesn;t want to work.

Most of them would diagree with you.

"People are smarter than this, Mike."

Unless, their are those lazy unemployed people with no motiveation to better themselves.

At 1:07 AM, Blogger Tim said...

You are starting to make me wonder if I'm not a closet dipper... or maybe you are a closet tory?...hmmmmm...

Anyways... I have thought about something very simular to your plan as far as government goes. My plan keeps all three levels of government however. Just not the way we know them now.

I call it turning government upside down.

Municipalities collect all the taxes and keep the majority of it. That way they can develope the infrastructure required for the people that live in those area's. They provide all the neccessary services for the people as well. This pretty much eliminates the need for provincial government. Rarher than electing alderman/councilors, Mayors, MLA's and MP's , the people elect councilors/alderman, mayors, priemier and a priminister. NO party politics here. The alderman/councilors represent the people, the mayors represnt the municipalities(aka "MLA"). The priemier(AKA "MP") represents the "province/territory" when it comes to national matters. The priminister serves as a figure head to deal with Canada's International matters, derected by the priemiers who are directed by the mayors who are directed by the alderman/councilors who are directed by the people.

Make any sense? Probably not....unfortunately I don't articulate myself as well as you. It's these damn voices in my head....

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Mike said...


Your idea is interesting as well. Creative.

As ALW says, that would require us to totally scrap our Consitution (the BNA part, not the Charter) ans re-write it. Not likely to happen but perhaps someday.

I think perhaps now you have some insight into why Jack was so keen on giving mon ey directly to the cities, rather than the provinces.

At 3:55 PM, Blogger Mike said...

I can look in the mirror just fine jeff.

So anyway, if you'd like to play along with the actual topic of this thread, I'd be happy to hear the details on what you think Canada, or in your case just Alberta, would look like.

You know, a little more detail and intelligence than "Alberta leaves you guys suck naynay!" kinds of messages you have been leaving?

I mean, you seem to know so much about the kinds of people that live on welfare and draw unemployment, you must have thought of what it would be like if you could fix this mess right?

Come on, I'd actually like to hear it.

At 8:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mike, great post! One of my favourites since I've started reading blogs.

As for your Canada, there's really nothing there that I would be opposed to after a little bit of massaging.

My Canada? If we're going balls out here, forgetting about likelihood or plausibility, I think often about this. I'm personally torn on many issues. I like the idea of removing provinces. I am also intrigued by the inverted government idea. I'm inclined to like ideas that mix things up nicely.

I'll give this some more thought and try and put together a coherent summary of some of my random thoughts on those things you've mentioned.

And as someone else said, it's too bad that you try to open up a dialogue and others still come in to shit on any chance of intelligent and civil discourse.

At 9:45 PM, Blogger DazzlinDino said...

Tims idea has alot of merit, and I've heard it at work, it makes sense, except for areas that don't have the income, like the north due to lack of people, and NFLD, due to lack of jobs. There would have to be one hell of a transfer plan for that to work, but I like the idea as the people would have more say on how their money is spent...

At 11:00 PM, Blogger Mike said...

Tim's idea can still work even in the North or NFLD because the "municipality" might still be the size of a province today or a territory - based on population rather than geographic location.

Even population should hardly matter. Haves and have-not's make arrangements and trades. I actually think this is more likely to work the smaller the population.

I mean, you can litterally know your city councilor, but have never met your MP even today.

As you can see from Brad, I'm not the only lefty who thinks this might be a good idea. My understanding from Jane Jacobs' book is that there is a real silent undergroud support for this.

Of course, in reality, the constitution will never be amended to reflect this since the provinces amend the constitution...but its ok to dream eh?

At 11:12 PM, Blogger DazzlinDino said...

My MP is McLelland....shoot me, shoot me now.....

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Rose said...

This is a fascinating and incredibly thoughtful piece. I have nothing to add, nor would I argue against any of your proposals. I look forward to reading more of your work.

At 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have heard two very interesting ideas regarding taxation over the years. Either of which I would like to examine more closely. I'll try and sum them up.

Clive Hamilton's Australia Institute idea of taxing bads rather than goods which has been picked up by the Greens:

Greens call for shifting taxes off of what society wants, such as jobs, profits, green technology, and onto what society doesn’t want, like pollution, resource waste, and inefficient land use.

...The basic theory is that governments should tax ‘un-earned’ income, not ‘earned’ income, i.e. resources, not labour, and that taxes should be applied as early as possible in the production process to impact the maximum number of choices that can be made to conserve the resource and to green the final product. Depletion taxes would be applied to oil, gas, coal, minerals, metals, aggregates, water, and trees.

There are some good ideas in the taxing the bads.

Another taxation idea, which I oddly enough heard from Jerry Springer, resonated well with me and seemed like a very fair solution for the wealthy and the poor. I'll do my best to sum it up. I heard it a while back, so I may not get this exactly as he proposed it.

Every citizen is given, as now, a base amount of untaxed income. This level will be raised, say to $20K. That's your living income. That's what you use to pay rent, utilities, groceries and other basic life necessities. You shouldn't be taxed on the income you need to maintain a minimum standard of living. And retirement savings, investments, etc. should be rewarded. By removing them from taxable income. Similar to Canada's RRSP.

After that the tax is graduated, but instead of being taxed on the income itself, you are taxed on what you spend. If you make $40K, your first $20K is tax free. If you put $10K in savings or investments, however, you are only taxed on $10K income at whatever percentage the $40K tax bracket is. This encourages savings, which is good, encourages private investment, which is good, and only the luxury spending is taxed if you are in a position to afford it.

As I said, that's not *exactly* how Springer put it, and it was a while back that I heard it, so that is as best as I remember it.

Something occurred to me the other day regarding gas prices, and as impractical as it is to implement, I wouldn't be upset to see it happen. Excuse me while I wave my wand. :D

Every vehicle is given a Fuel Efficiency Rating. Each year that you renew your plates your car must first undergo a fuel efficiency test. The results of this test would determine your car's FER. This FER would be part of the information embedded in your driver's license's magnetic strip. This FER would act as a multiplier to the price of gas as advertised by the station.

You pull up in your Hummer to a pump at a station advertising gas at $1.00. Your hummer has a FER of 1.15. You swipe your drivers license in the card reader at the pump (which already exist for quick payment, etc.) and it reads your FER. The price of gas adjusts accordingly. You are now going to pay $1.15 for your gas rather than the advertised $1.00. That's the price you pay for the 'luxury' of an environmentally-unfriendly gas guzzler.

The next guy pulls up to the pump in his Hybrid vehicle with a FER of 0.85 and swipes his card. He's paying $0.85 for his gas. That's the benefit of purchasing a fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly car.

Such a system would certainly act as an incentive to those purchasing a new car to consider a hybrid or a fuel-efficient car. It would also enourage regular upkeep of existing cars which would mean safer cars on the road in general.

There. I've waved my wand and it felt good.

At 4:25 PM, Blogger Mike said...

That Fuel Efficiency Rating is interesting. Man, watch the sales of the Smart Car jump if that were ever implemented.

Wow, there are lots of great ideas here. Keep them coming...

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Art Hornbie said...

Benevolent dictator of Canada stuff. Took a good swing at it. Of course I especially like the healthcare section. Ever consider applying the same concept to social justice?

At 7:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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