Cultural/Governmental “Mix ‘n’ Match”

Jim Bennett has a great post about the perils of importing institutions:

One could take that point further. Canada’s constitution now combines the British parliamentary system’s stong prime ministership, which with a well-disciplined majority can pretty much push through whatever legislation it wants, with an American-style supreme court with very strong powers. Rather than serving as a check upon each other, they seem to act together in creating a ratchet toward a single set of solutions for any problem — more interventions by the federal state, no matter how ineffective or obnoxious previous ones have been. Either the historical British system, or the historical American one, have been more effective in balancing government actions with freedom and an effective civil society. The Canadian hybrid seems to have imported the vices of both with the virtues of neither.

3 thoughts on “Cultural/Governmental “Mix ‘n’ Match””

  1. The Canadians seem to have adopted the institutions from both England and America that concentrate power in the fewest hands. It should come therefore as no surprise that their institutions ratchet inexorably towards greater centralized power.

  2. Compared to the US, Canada has strong government controls on the economy and some other aspects of society. Compared to the other 2 dominions of large English settlement – Australia, New Zealand, it does not. They are similar.

    Compared to the other country that has huge territory in the Arctic – Russia, Canada is rather free market. The difficulty of Arctic living gives a higher value to collective arrangements in peacetime than more benign temperate zone conditions.

    A second cause of Canada’s greater acceptance of government intervention is the origin of much of the population, French and loyalist refugees from the American Revolution.

    However, the most important factor is their proximity to the US. Canadians have for long periods exaggerated the differences between them in the US to avoid cultural or even (in earlier periods) political merging with the US.

    I think these 3 factors explain the difference between Canada and the US much better the interaction between a parliamentary legislative system and a supreme court.

  3. It’s not a given that Canada’s economy is substantially more interventionist than the US’s. It varies greatly from sector to sector and region to region. Medical insurance is of course is a government monopoly, but the stock markets are substantially less regulated than their US counterparts, at least until recently. I know an American securities law attorney who had been loaned to the Canadian by the SEC in order to help them tighten up regulation on canadian exchanges. And Australia and New Zealand these days are in many ways more free-market than the USA.

    Although their has been a significant “founder effect” from the United Empire loyalists in Ontario and the Maritimes, there have also been a great many Americans who emigrated to Canada for nonideological motives, from the New Englanders who settled southwestern Nova Scotia before the revolution to the wheat farmers who went to Saskatchewan in the 1890s.

    But be that as it may, the fact is that a great many of the interventionist actions in Canada have been relatively recent, a product of the 60s and 70s, part of the same wave that produced the lamentable Frankenstein’s monster of English parliamentary dictatorship and American Supreme Court autocracy. Even government-monopoly medical insurance (now the epitome of “da Canadian values”, at least according to the departing Liberals) was bitterly fought against in the 1960s, rather late for the Tory refugees to be running things.

    As for the Arctic explanation, 95% of the Canadian population lives within two hours drive of the USA, and few Canadian cities have a climate much worse than Minneapolis’s. Actually, more Americans live on or north of the latitude of Anchorage than do Canadians, and Alaska is a rather non-interventionist sort of place. I don’t think geographic determinism is a big explanation here.

    Dan’s last point is the most valid — there is a tendency for Canadians to deliberately try to differentiate themselves from the US and it spills over into politics, although it didn’t stop Trudeau from deliberately deconstructing all of those things that had previously done so — the Second Empire patina that had overlain Canadian culture. (People always use the term “Boy Scout” to characterize the Canadian personality. Not coincidentally, the Boy Scouts are a quintessentially Second Empire product — Lord Baden-Powell, Mafeking, and all that.)

    But again, it’s not so impotant that they will actually incur much cost or burden to do more than rhetorically. Maybe that’s why their intellectuals are so shrill — the differentiation mainly consists of their shouting.

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