Thursday, April 9, 2009

Politics: Canadian Lack of Anger

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Two days ago, the anger in the United States, mostly as a result of the financial crisis, was pondered. The contrast with the public mood in Canada is stark. I suppose there are some angry people around here, mostly those mad at the United States for "creating" the crisis, but they aren't nearly as vocal or influential in the culture as those getting attention from the media in the United States. Furthermore, this isn't just Canadians being reserved. We have far less to be angry about in Canada.

First of all, it's hard to make a case that the Canadian government or people contributed much to the creation of the global financial crisis. Canadian banks are sound; the "Big Five" have all continued to report profits, even if they are lower than previous quarters. Sub-prime mortgages were not widespread here, the bundling of mortgages together was not nearly as widespread, and the regulatory scheme turned out to be much smarter than those in Europe, with the net effect that the financial system only had a crisis here as a result of a credit crunch caused by lack of knowledge about exposure to bundled instruments from the United States. From a financial perspective, Canada can hold its head high as being one of the a scant few industrialized nations that actually had a sound system.

Of course, with trade with the United States dominating the Canadian economy, and the automobile industry a particularly large part of the Ontario economy, the things Canada did right have mattered little and recession looks to be nearly as severe here in Ontario as anywhere in the world, and no province is proving immune.

Yet, Canadians are not angry about it, largely because governments at all levels have reacted responsibly to the situation. The Conservative government may have had to be dragged into the concept of a stimulus plan, but in the end they issued a stimulus package that looked like something the Liberal Party would have written, making it inevitable that the Liberals would back the government budget. (Most of our anger seemed to have been directed at the Harper government's initial refusal to understand that a recession was imminent, and at the opposition parties for creating a politically untenable response to the non-responsive budget.) The system worked and Canada got a politically and economically centrist reaction to the situation.

Meanwhile, the same outcome has proven to be true at the provincial level in Ontario. The Liberals of Dalton McGuinty have used the crisis as the time to implement changes in the tax system here that the Conservatives could have authored, lowering business taxes, and harmonizing the provincial sales tax with the Federal good and services tax. It would be unthinkable in the United States for two levels of government to both copy the responsible elements of the opposition platform. The lack of vocal opposition to the legislation at both levels of government underscores that everyone understood that something needed to be done and saw the merits in the government proposals.

As the tradition of good government lives on Canada, that makes it hard to be angry with politicians--we might have issues with specific details, but it's hard to argue that anyone is trying to ruin the country or the province.

So, instead of anger there is a resignation and an incipient fear about how long the recession will last and how the rest of the world will respond to the crisis--will other countries take actions that will lead to the global economy improving, and thus improve the situation in Canada? It's that unease about our lack of control of our own destiny that dominates the mood here, not anger at our own government or corporations. In the big picture, it feels like a much healthier place to be.

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