Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

The Weekly Wrap: The Liberals abandon the centre

Commentary

This week‘s edition of The Hub’s Weekly Wrap reflects on some of the past week’s biggest stories, including the failure of policing in response to Canada’s rising crime problem, the Liberal Party’s dramatic leftward shift, and two new reports that highlight why prudence is underrated in politics and policymaking.

Bring back broken window policing

We’re living through a spike in property theft and certain violent crimes in Canada’s cities. These issues are now rising up the list of public priorities at the same time that law enforcement seems inherently incapable of addressing them. 

A low point was last week when a Toronto police officer advised citizens to make their car keys readily available so that thieves wouldn’t break further into their homes and possibly harm them or their families. As University of Ottawa professor Michael Kempa wrote for us this week, the message seemed abundantly clear: Canadians are essentially on their own. 

These developments represent a reversal of past progress in reducing crime and disorder. After successive decades of rising crime, Canada’s crime rate actually fell by nearly half between 1992 and 2012. 

This progress was driven by various factors, but a key one was the role of ideas. In the context of high urban crime rates in the 1970s and 1980s, conservative scholars—particularly in the U.S.—advanced the case for what was sometimes described as the “broken window theory” to restore law and order. The basic premise was that police ought to enforce all illegal infractions including relatively mundane ones such as vandalism or public drunkenness in order to create a culture in which the norm was for individuals to obey the law. 

The subsequent decline in crime in North American cities represented a major validation of the “broken windows” model and the norm-shaping role of deterrence to improve the conditions for law, order, and public safety.

The past decade or so has by and large witnessed the abandonment of those effective policing strategies. They came to be viewed as too insensitive to the socio-economic factors behind crime and the extent to which they fell (or perceived to fall) disproportionately on racial minorities. We’ve therefore seen a liberalization of law enforcement and policing which places a greater emphasis on responding to the underlying causes of criminality. 

The most powerful expression of these intellectual trends was the “defund the police” movement which received significant attention in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020. Although no jurisdiction fully defunded its police force, the movement’s ethos has influenced the operations, practices, and staffing of law enforcement in various cities across North America.

The recent spike in crime demonstrates the soft-headed fallacy behind these developments. The pendulum has now swung in the direction of a pervasive “underpolicing” problem in many cities. Yet there’s nothing compassionate about subjecting the public to disorder and insecurity—especially since the consequences of crime disproportionately affect low-income individuals and racial minorities. 

It must be said that a lot of this type of progressive thinking is quite literally preferencing the interests of criminals (regardless of their circumstances) over their fellow citizens. As a political matter, it’s an unsustainable approach to these issues.

The Toronto police officer’s widely panned comments should put an end to it. Police must meet the rise of criminality with the restoration of deterrence. They need in short to enforce the law whether it’s car theft, drug use, or a broken window.

‘This isn’t our grandparents’ Liberal Party’: The Liberals’ leftward shift in the Trudeau era

A Liberal political commentator tweeted this week a common political claim: Canadian Conservative politics has undergone such a significant rightward shift in recent years that it’s barely recognizable for those who may have supported it in the past. 

No one disputes that Conservative politics have evolved in some ways over the years—in large part because the issues have changed, as have the interests and needs of Conservative voters themselves—though many would rightly contest the suggestion that “there is no longer a home for the sensible, reasoned conservatism” of one’s grandparents. 

But in any case, the commentator’s arguments about the Conservatives weren’t the most interesting or notable part of his tweet. It was his extraordinary claim that Canadian Liberal politics are only marginally different (“shifted to the Left to an extent”) than they were in the recent past. 

That thesis, which already seemed self-evidently wrong, was actually put to the test by this week’s parliamentary vote on an NDP motion concerning the Israel-Hamas war. That only three Liberal MPs voted against abandoning a major ally as it responds to a devastating terrorist attack and tries to recover its citizens who’ve now been held hostage for nearly 170 days is a rather forceful rebuttal. How else can one interpret it but as a radical shift in the centre of gravity of Liberal politics in Canada? 

The whole episode conjures in my mind the life and career of Charles Krauthammer, the great McGill-educated, American newspaper columnist, who went from writing speeches for Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale to becoming one of the most important conservative public intellectuals of the past half-century. When asked about his intellectual and political journey, Krauthammer used to invoke Ronald Reagan’s famous line: “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. It left me.”

His shift started on foreign policy as the Democrats became unreliable “cold warriors” during Reagan’s administration. He later became a more full-spectrum conservative on domestic issues, as he outlined in his 2013 best-selling book, Things That Matter

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly speaks to reporters in the Foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Monday, March 18, 2024. Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press.

The Liberal Party’s own ideological transformation over the past decade or so has followed the opposite path of Krauthammer’s. It started with domestic policy where its abandonment of balanced budgets, single-minded focus on equity over economic efficiency, and full-throated embrace of identity politics signaled a major break from the past. The Trudeau-era Liberal Party no longer has room for past Liberal stalwarts like John Manley, Martha Hall-Findley, or more recently Bill Morneau. 

This week’s parliamentary vote showed that these trends have since moved to foreign policy. From a historical ally to withholding arms from Israel as it fights to protect itself from an existential threat, this is no longer our grandparents’ Liberal Party. 

It’s certainly not MP Anthony Housefather’s party. Housefather, who’s also a McGill graduate, told reporters following the vote that “a line had been crossed.” He’s since indicated that he’s contemplating his political future as a result. 

If he ultimately leaves the Liberal caucus, Housefather will regrettably be able to say: “I didn’t leave the Liberal Party. It left me.”

Prudence over vibes when it comes to policymaking

The week ended with a couple of interesting policy papers which may seem a bit wonky but actually tell us something significant about the virtue of prudence in politics and policymaking.

The first is a new report by the Canadian Climate Institute, an Ottawa-based climate policy think tank that does solid empirical work on climate policy. The paper, which aims to estimate the relative role of various policies in meeting Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction targets, finds that while the industrial carbon price is the single biggest driver of emissions reduction (between 23 and 39 percent), the consumer carbon tax (sometimes referred to as the “fuel charge”) is only responsible for about 8 or 9 percent of projected emissions reductions between now and 2030. 

Although the paper’s authors caution that it shouldn’t be interpreted as license to abandon the consumer carbon tax, it’s quite likely to cause many to reach that precise conclusion. That the consumer carbon tax is by far the most contentious element of Canada’s climate policy and possibly the sole (or at least main) obstacle to something approaching a political consensus, this new analysis raises a prudential question: is it worth it? 

The second is a report by Scotiabank’s economics team on immigration policy. The paper, which weighs into the recent debate about the effects of heightened immigration levels on productivity and GDP per capita, finds that the Trudeau government’s massive increase in annual immigration intake (both permanent and temporary streams) has reached a level that’s now harmful to Canada’s productivity. In fact, its authors estimate that immigration-driven population growth is responsible for about two-thirds of productivity declines since 2021. They conclude that the “productivity-neutral” pace of population growth is actually closer to about 350,000 per year. 

The report has rightly been interpreted as a criticism of the Trudeau government’s “let-it-rip” immigration policy and a validation of the Harper government’s still ambitious yet more pragmatic record. Annual permanent resident immigration levels averaged about 255,000 during the Harper years, which is barely half of the current target and a far cry from more than 1 million immigrants who entered the country last year.

The Trudeau government is now scrambling to cut non-permanent resident numbers in the face of growing public concerns about the effects on housing prices. It’s clearly a case study of the negative consequences of political imprudence and policymaking based on vibes rather than sound judgement.

Russell Kirk, the twentieth-century conservative intellectual, warned against imprudence in politics which he described as an instinct to “dash at [one’s] objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away.”

These two reports—particularly the second one—demonstrate his point. The Liberals have put Canada’s unique endowment of relatively high levels of public support for relatively high levels of immigration at risk because of their imprudence. They should be careful not to do the same with climate policy.

‘We need to get back to basics’: The best comments from Hub readers this week

Commentary

This week saw Hub readers discussing the dying dream of Canadian homeownership (and how it should be revived), Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s surging popularity, rising crime in Canada, and our electrical grid problem, among many other topics.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community to the fore and to foster open dialogue and the competition of differing ideas in a respectful and productive manner. Here are some of the most interesting comments from this past week.

Sign up for our daily Hub Forum email newsletter today.

It’s time for Canada to seize Russian assets

Monday, March 18, 2024

“Ukrainians are being bombarded in their homes on a daily basis and soldiers are dying on the front without sufficient means to defend themselves. They need all the help they can get.”

— Lynda Thivierge

“I like both the idea of Canada taking the lead and the obvious justice of using Russian money to begin to compensate for the non-human destruction inflicted on Ukraine. The justice for the utterly immoral human destruction should take place in the Hague, hopefully after a Russian defeat.
Other than the illegality in relevant countries, which can be remedied with legislation as Canada has done, I don’t understand the nuance of why there is resistance to taking this step.”

— Paul Attics

The Canadian dream of homeownership is dying

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

“Our country faces a fundamental problem of lack of growth in wealth. Our economy is stagnant. Businesses are not investing in Canada. Without economic growth, the free market doesn’t work well. Government interventions are rarely helpful, often hurting real investment. I’m afraid we need to get back to basics.”

— Al Raftis

“The Canadian economy has obviously suffered while home ownership, the traditional foundation of our society and economy, has been eviscerated.”

— John Hartley

“Some people need to be able to buy within a few years, but even more need confidence that it’s worth saving and working towards. Young people can see that governments are restricting the supply of housing (mostly houses and townhouses) that people actually want with no apparent plans to stop doing that and that, when push comes to shove, housing affordability is likely going to continue to be put second to other goals like population growth.”

— Valerie

Poilievre’s popularity is surging—his working-class appeal is a key reason why

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

“The reason Pierre Poilievre is so popular is that he is saying what the vast majority of Canadians feel. We must get our spending under control.”

— Kim Morton

“I suppose your definition fits the dictionary definition of ‘working class.’ However, I would suggest that most people, maybe as you suggest as well, see it as those who work to survive either to just get by or to at least not have to ask for help from the government. This definition would include way more than 6.5 million Canadians and would explain the polls.”

— Sandra

Canada’s crime problem is only getting worse

Thursday, March 21, 2024

“Improvements to law enforcement coordination are a must. Not only to catch the ‘big fish’ but because, if most cars are retrieved, the financial incentive to steal them for export diminishes. If, as implied in the article, low-risk offenders are in jail awaiting trial while repeat offenders accused of violent offences are out on bail, then that needs to be fixed and fast.”

— Gordon Edwards

“Part of the problem lies with the car manufacturers making cars more difficult to steal and this costs the manufacturers money to develop technologies and integrate them into the building of the vehicle. Many high-end cars use keyless fobs which can be hacked fairly easily by professional auto thieves. The insurance industry is also pressuring manufacturers to make cars more resilient to theft.”

— Michael F

An electric vehicle is charged at a Tesla charging station in Ottawa on Wednesday, July 13, 2022. Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press.
Our electrical grid can’t handle the coming demands

Friday, March 22, 2024

“Electrifying Canada’s 26+ million registered vehicle fleet by 2050, in addition to the almost 300 million in the U.S., over 300 million in China, and another 250 million in the EU, will require far more crucial battery minerals and REEs than the world’s current reserves. EV batteries come with high, upfront, carbon footprints and environmental degradation due to the mining and processing of those minerals.”

— Michael B

“Our current generating capacity is far below what will be needed to supply future demands that Trudeau’s policies will create. Wind and solar are not the solution, as electricity is a demand commodity. “

— Greg Jackson

“Today we design grids—generation and transmission—which must be able to address the peak demands we anticipate for the coldest hour of the coldest day and the hottest hour of the hottest day, for the next few years, plus a safety margin. But our electricity demand is usually quite a bit lower than those peak times, and in fact, if you look at most jurisdictions the capacity is about twice the actual consumption over the year.

That’s inefficient and expensive, and one of the reasons we are now looking to smarter grids, smarter appliances, storage, and other ways of better-distributing demand towards off-peak times.

Electric vehicles already come with this advantage. Most charging (over 70 percent) is fine at home, and most of that is done overnight during times of low demand. So, as with time shifting, while consuming more power generation, the nighttime portion of that does not necessarily require more capacity.

It is easy to paint all of this transition as unachievable, or requiring that’s what was said about phasing out coal power, until jurisdictions like Ontario, the U.K., and now Canada as a whole showed it can be done in about a dozen years when the political will to do so exists.”

— Rick Anderson