Canada is Free and Freedom is Its Nationality

Sir Wilfrid Laurier

Monday, December 7, 2009

Event Blogging the Free Speech and Liberty Symposium: True North Strong and Free: Why Canada’s founders thought freedom mattered

Please Note: This is a summary of the events and speeches in my own words for educational, information, and entertainment purposes only. It is not the speakers' exact words and should not be taken as such. It also may contain errors due to the nature of the medium. I am not responsible for any of them, use at your own risk and consult the official audio record if you want to verify or quote anything.

Dr. Brian Lee Crowley – Past President and Senior Fellow of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies and author of Canadian bestseller Fearful Symmetry: the fall and rise of Canada’s founding values.

It is often said that in Canada we are lucky, lucky to be peaceful, to have our natural resources, and to be able to attract so many newcomers. However people make their luck and we are lucky because we have been endowed by our ancestors with a set of beliefs in freedom, rights, dignity of work, and the centrality of the family. It is our responsibility to make sure this luck doesn't run out.

Our founders had high hopes for Canada. We have preformed feats in arms and building that are far out of proportion to our small population. Living in the shadow of America we sometimes forget that we have no reason to be ashamed. Our forbearers believed in us because of our set of beliefs and who we were, and who we expected newcomers to become.

The Confederation debates were about what type of government could best secure liberty. The contemporary view is that the founders were dull, uneducated men who were just making a deal and could not have given a thoughtful defence of the Parliamentary form of government. They are seen as just stuck to the status quo, uninterested in any enlightenment ideas about social contracts and so forth.

However this is not accurate. They were not simple minded, but thoughtful men who were centrally concerned with rights and freedoms. They were informed about enlightenment ideas and social contracts. They were interested in what we would today call civil liberties, as opposed to the positive rights that are so popular today.

When they talked about rights they were talking about free speech, freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of religion.

The debate was a debate of means. When we study this we find thoughtful, intelligent men who we have every reason to be proud of.

The Constitution Fathers were familiar with American documents including secessionist papers, the Federalist Papers, the New Zealand constitution, European constituions, British history, and Canadian history.

One said that there can be no strong government without life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that all government comes from the consent of the government. This is the foundation of British government.

Not a few of the Founding Fathers thought that the British tradition better secured liberty than the American. Others admired America.

They believed that their chiefest care was to protect the individual, to protect the rights of the minority against the minority. That British liberty was better than American equality.

Central to the debate was that we all have the obligation to exercise our rights and responsibilities. If we deprive people of that, with social assistance for example, it is to make people less than human.

What made Canada different from America was that there was a stronger work ethic and less dependence on the public system.

It was thought that Canada would be a beacon to the world and that the 20th century should be filled by Canada because of our commitment to liberty.

Canada is free, and freedom is our nationality. That is much more stirring than our modern refrain that Canada is free, free medicare.

Man must be free to seek his own improvement and control his own destiny, good or bad.

An activist government has a corrosive effect on people's character. People have to deal with their own problems.

We are in the danger of over government. It is doing great harm to us.

We are moving nearer to socialism, nearer and nearer in the mist to the edge of the abyss. This was said when government was spending 11% of GDP. In 1993 it was spending over 50%.

A Mayor of Ottawa said that recipients of welfare should develop independence.

Those who opposed Mother's Support said it should be left to the local institutions who could know the character of those they were helping and help them to get off charity as soon as possible.

They opposed Roosevelt's New Deal and American style interventionism as socialism bordering on communism.

In 1938 a report was made that deplored the fact that Canada has fallen behind in supporting people. This report was shelved.

Following the New Deal we were probably the most laissez-faire country going.

After a brief flirtation with the welfare state in the Marsh report, Mackenzie King reverted to the laissez-faire state.

The Liberals depended on free enterprise and the free market to bring the economy and country back after the war (WW2)

Between the 30s and 60s more money was spent by America on social welfare than by Canada.

Any non-essential interference by the government was repugnant to the Liberal party (laughter in room) (In the 40s-50s?)

After 1957 election the Liberal roots of liberty were strong although there were conflicts within the party.

They believed that social welfare was hurting the liberty and dignity of people.

We are persuaded that State paternalism is the enemy of all progress. (1940-50)

In the Maritimes they argued that free trade was the best option to help their situation, welfare the least.

Medicare is not the same as a welfare state. Tommy Douglas said they were not interested in paying able bodied people who wouldn't work. They supported those too old or handicapped to work. Those who were able bodied were given workfare. Money for work.

The view of Canadians as more left-wing, more welfare statish, kinder, gentler, than Americans is new and is only sustained by consigning our founders to a dusty trunk. Our welfare programs are American imports.

We rapidly caught up and passed the States though. We began to associate the values of our first century with foreign values. Values that have nothing to do with us.

It is our responsibility to bring back self reliance, liberty, small government, and personal responsibility. We must challenge the smelly little orthodoxies of the day and document the failures and cruelties of the big, bossy, Nanny state.

If Canada has enjoyed a long run of good luck it is because of the values that we got from our fore bearers. If we go back to them we will continue making our own luck.

Q1 A movement is healthy when it can engage in self criticism. When taking a triumphalist view of Victorian Canada, how about how indigenous peoples are and were treated?

A1 Excellent question. That comes up in the States as well with slavery and indigenous peoples. There is a difference between the values we subscribe to and what we actually do. When we fall short we understand that we are falling short. It takes centuries to bring our actions into line with our ideals. Shortcomings in action do not negate the values of ideals.

Q2 Mentioned Federalist papers and American constitutions. What is his view on the difference in influence between the British and American systems on Canada?

A2 Not sure can go this % America this % British, we drew from both for our inspiration. Our founders also drew a link between the British and Americans, they did not see them as incompatible.

Q3 What is the division of powers in matters of taxation between the Provincial and Federal governments? Someone is bringing a constitutional challenge to the HST because the Federal government is overreaching itself.

A3 Ottawa is not limited on the powers of taxation, only provinces are.

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