Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Canada’s free-market traditions

In today’s National Post, Michel Kelly-Gagnon, president of the Montreal Economic Institute, reviews Canadian economic history and challenges the view "that interventionist government, high taxes, protectionist policies and socialized medicine constitute the very fabric of our national identity."

Two years ago, Americans celebrated the bicentenary of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803 to explore the Northwest. This expedition was funded by the U.S. Congress, at the request of president Thomas Jefferson. Few people know that whereas the U.S. government subsidized its westbound explorers, the Canadian West was explored by a private expedition paid for by private interests. Indeed, in Canada, during the 1770s, the North West Company and fur traders such as Alexander Mackenzie were moving their way to the Canadian West in search of profit, and without government money.

I think there is great symbolism to be found in that story. It contradicts the notion that U.S. history is all about private initiatives, and that Canada's history is nothing but a long succession of heavy government interventionism. This is simply not true. Actually, for many years, in many areas, it was the other way around. More and more distinguished scholars are showing us that it is a fabrication of our nationalist elites (and I mean both Canadian and Quebec nationalists) that you cannot be a "real Canadian" or a "real Quebecer" if you are opposed to statism and big government.

Our dependence on the all-encompassing, interventionist state is a relatively recent phenomenon. Despite what some would have us believe, the state is not what defines us as Canadians. Much of what we have accomplished as a nation has been through private initiative. Our free-market traditions have served us well in the past. They can provide guidance to the present and future as well.

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