The Trouble With Canada
A Book Review by Perry Foster
William Gairdner’s “The Trouble With Canada…Still”, is a powerful examination of the flaws in Canadian society brought about by decades of mismanagement. It details the ways in which poor policies have brought our country to the brink of dysfunction. Initially a defence of conservative principles, it eventually examines the way in which misguided assumptions and false ideals have ruined a once great country, reducing it to the status of something Gairdner refers to as the “nanny state.” Gairdner attributes this decline to ideals first championed and then implemented by Pierre Trudeau. Gairdner says these beliefs have little connection to the lives or desires of regular Canadians.
Perhaps the most impressive section of the book is the one dealing with Immigration. Gairdner begins by making distinctions between “deep” culture, “skin deep” culture and “folk” culture. Of the three, only deep culture matters, or has any hope of surviving. The rest have failed, and produced a Canadian “non culture” focused on superficiality and denying our true heritage. As Gairdner points out, all people have a fear of losing their deep culture, the most important part of their identity. Normally, they fear losing it through foreign invasion, but when the government works against them as it does in Canada, ignoring their citizens’ input on immigration levels, and the kind of immigrants arriving in their country, then “…the foreign threat exists internally and the idea of the voice of the people’s will is upended.” Canada’s original culture, its “deep culture” was, and is, a culture of those who “…spoke French or English, and who were more or less rooted in the same Judeo-Christian tradition, Graeco-Roman philosophical and legal tradition, and European culture.”
Gairdner goes on to describe the flawed nature of Canada’s immigration industry, detailing an astonishing array of phony refugee claims, corrupt governmental practices and malfeasance that gives one pause to think, and only one real conclusion to make. Canada’s entire immigration system needs to be overhauled. In the last two paragraphs of the immigration section, Gairdner makes the point that our immigration situation has deteriorated since we have taken up the practice of “subsidizing and encouraging immigrants to maintain their original identities.” Instead they should be required to sign a “Vow of Citizenship” designed to compel them to state their loyalty to Canada rather than their home country.
In keeping with the idea of deep culture, the most powerful image Gairdner conveys is that of a country turned upside down. His thesis, powerfully and accurately defended, is that Canada has undergone a transformation from a nation based on the rights of the individual, to a state intent on controlling every aspect of Canadian’s lives. He contrasts “English style” bottom up government (in which the rights of the individual, established through the limiting of state control by the Magna Carta and the tradition of responsible government) with French style “top down” government (where the rights of the individual are reduced).. While the latter happens, people are assured that they are living in the best of all possible worlds. According to Gairdner, the French revolution was the political consequence of an ideology that aims at social perfection but results in “…terror and the quillotine, killing off non-conforming citizens”. In his opinion, Canada has embraced the old French model of top down leadership. Can the issue really be reduced to such a simple choice? The reader is left to decide.
Gairdner’s research is exhaustive, his arguments are compelling, and he doesn’t hesitate to speak plainly when necessary. He spends a fair amount of time, in the first third of the book, dealing with commonly held misconceptions about rights and privileges, pointing out the absurdity of current notions about the role of government and citizen. One example is what Gairdner calls the “rights illusion”. In dealing with this he points out that we only have as many rights as can be “enforced or protected by the customary laws of the land.” He also points out, on the next page, that some institutions, such as the Human Rights Commissions, are not really concerned with rights, but are at least as interested in the suppression of free speech. Although strongly opinionated, a fair number of Gairdner’s conclusions are worth considering, and he has done a good job of backing up most of his claims.
According to Gairdner, there are many reasons to state that Canada isn’t the democratic country many think it is. First, there is the distinction between rule by the people and rule by elites. Gairdner clears this one up in short order. As it stands today, he says, Canada is not a nation with responsible government, but one ruled by elites intent on furthering their own interests. Many Canadians already know this, which is why the book will have readers nodding in agreement. The point of departure from Canada’s more reasoned past came, in his opinion, with the political tenure of Pierre Trudeau whom Gairdner describes as a “libertarian socialist,” and the man most responsible for Canada’s “regime change,” an event which changed Canada’s identity and policies forever.
As Gairdner points out, the changes that Trudeau introduced met with very little opposition, and as he states on the same page “…there was no fully informed popular understanding or consent for such radical change.” Gairdner contends that the main direction of the pendulum like movement has been to the left. In his opinion, Canada is moving from a free enterprise democracy to a statist country, with all the limitations on personal freedom this implies. He refers to present day “Conservatives” as being fiscal Conservatives but not daring to touch conservative moral or social issues. according to Gairdner, this is frightening enough, but Gairdner says Canada has departed from the principles of a real democracy, and moved towards dysfunctionality. In his opinion, the most powerful element in this, is the movement from the language of “freedom” and “opportunity” to the language of “social and economic rights,” which he states “…would be asserted as claims against a State set up and expected to satisfy them.” (p. 39) This came to fruition during Trudeau’s tenure. He provides proof of this by listing several of Trudeau’s quotations that reveal statist sympathies.
The last two thirds of the book contain Gairdner’s most convincing arguments. He covers a lot of ground in the space of a few hundred pages, ranging from topics like the medical system, the supreme court and immigration, to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What is most impressive is that he pulls back the veil of popular misconception and reveals the way Canada has changed.
It isn’t always pleasant. Think our welfare system is well run? Think again. Gairdner succeeds in showing that it is anything but, having strayed from its original intention of providing a “hand up,” and instead created a permanent underclass content on living on handouts. Love our medical system? Gairdner punches holes in the idea that it is efficient and high quality, detailing its mistakes, inefficiencies and mediocrity. Admire our justice system? Gairdner encourages you to reconsider, providing examples of how detached our Supreme Court judges are, operating in opposition to the people, and making decisions based on their own arbitrary viewpoints. These are familiar Conservative arguments against institutions that we all know are imperfect. Gairdner sticks to the standard objections of the right, well argued, but not especially innovative.
On the whole this is a brilliant book, both in its range and scope, and in its conclusions. It is well worth buying and reading again and again. Doing so is, in this reviewer’s opinion, every real Canadian’s duty.