News & Blogs


It is impossible to create or maintain a democratic nation in which the citizenry differs fundamentally on more issues than those upon which they agree.  Indeed, that is the very nature of nation-building; constructing constitutions that delineate the fundamental principles by and upon which all are willing to abide if not actually agree, and by which all agree to consent to the assertion of political authority over their affairs. However, the expression of common purpose and principle upon which nations are formed are always challenged by the polar and often tribal nature of the democratic process.

The basis of divergence is nearly always the same.  The applications of principles of liberty that are the bedrock of constitutional democracies soon come into conflict with the status quo.  The more progressive of the citizenry argue that the application of constitutional principles trumps all other considerations, including the preservation of the social structure in which they were first articulated.  The more conservative, meanwhile, argue that constitutional principles can never be fairly applied to undermine the social structure that they were designed to reflect and protect.   In short order, the electorates in democratic nations invariably form parties of the political left and right between whom lie ideological gulfs that are seemingly irreconcilable.

Notwithstanding this theoretical and demonstrable shortcoming, constitutional democracies have proven to be capable of effective governance for the bulk of their histories.  The US, dominated from its inception by a two-party system, has managed to maintain a level course through oscillations to the left and right by the electorate that have been reflected in reasonably even distribution of Republican and Democratic representation in both the Legislative and Executive branches of government.

But not so lately.  There can be no denying the increasingly polarized nature of American politics, and it is often pointed to as the harbinger of the end of democracy as a functional form of government.  Ironically, it is the perfection of democracy itself that has created this existential threat.

Politicians of both the Left and the Right wistfully long for the good old days, when men (and they were men, and financially comfortable white men to be specific) could find enough common ground to garner bipartisan support for what has been by any measure an incrementally progressive political agenda.  And they could do that because, for all of their political differences, they were, after all, all financially comfortable white men.  Those on the Left could be trusted by their counterparts on the Right to bring forward social change, and those on the Right could be trusted to not only maximize but also redistribute wealth and opportunity, in each case at a pace that would not result in an abrupt disruption of the social order.  After all, that social order had long been good to financially comfortable white men of both the Left and Right

North American democracies are no longer dominated by financially comfortable white men, and the most ardent adherents to the politics of the Left and the Right no longer have any interest in maintaining the social order.   On the Right, older working class citizens see the root of their disenfranchisement in the progressive trade and immigration policies that have undermined their already tenuous position in the social and economic order.  On the vanguard of the Left is everyone else who isn’t a financially comfortable white male, and they see in the incrementalism of the history of North American progressivism the paternalistic maintenance of privilege.  There is seemingly no place or voice for those in the centre of the political spectrum who are sympathetic to the reasonable concerns of both camps, and who want to see leadership that will redirect the engine of economic growth to ensure that both the benefits and costs of that growth are distributed more fairly and responsibly.   This reality has led to what seems to be an irreconcilable impasse in both the tone and effectiveness of American politics of which Donald Trump is a result not the cause.  It is a stark and ominous political landscape.

The picture in Canada may be no more inspiring, but it is considerably less ominous.  Canada is in the early days of a federal election in which there are four major parties fielding candidates nationally.  On the basis of their stated platforms, all of those parties agree that climate change is an issue that must be addressed by public policy, that women have the right to choice as it relates to childbearing, that people should be free to marry whomever they please, that immigration is not only welcome but essential for the continuing prosperity of the country, that economic opportunities are critical to the maintenance and expansion of freedom and that redistribution of the fruits of those opportunities is critical to social cohesion.  The party of the Right asserts the paramountcy of economic opportunity and the freedom that it offers above but not to the exclusion of all other considerations.  Both parties of the Left would place environmental and redistributive policies above the goal of maximizing economic opportunity.  The party of the middle would attach a roughly equal priority to those two interests.

The choices offered reflect an electorate that is only moderately differentiated on principle.  The approaches are ones on which reasonable men and women can differ.  It is a menu of political choice that highlights common principles and nuanced differences in policies.  And it is so not because Canadians are a wiser, more moral or homogeneous population.  It is so only because of the existence of more than two viable political parties that enhance rather than disenfranchise the centre of the political spectrum.  And as W. B. Yeats foretold, when “the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”.

It was back in 1961 that actor Kiefer Sutherland’s Grandpa, Tommy Douglas, established the NDP as a viable third party in Canadian federal politics.  It seems that Canadians have more than socialized medicine to thank him for.



The 21st century will belong to China.  Demographics tell us that, and so have most economic analysts.  China itself has been boldly stating its intention to be the leading nation in technology development, capital markets and global trade.  And before recent slumps in Chinese GDP growth, it sure looked like that was an easy call.  But 2019 has not been kind to the forecast of the rapid and inevitable rise of China to global leadership, and it all comes down to some longstanding and intractable contradictions.

Contradiction #1:  China wants to be the leading supplier of hardware to facilitate the transition of the global economy to the 5G data and voice transmission.  Critics in the West argue that large Chinese enterprises are entirely enmeshed with China’s totalitarian regime, and accordingly cannot be relied upon to not use installations of this critical technology in foreign nations in a manner that compromises the economic and political security of those nations.

Not so, says Huawei, China’s leading provider of hardware to enable the 5G transformation, in response to the efforts by multiple Western nations to ban its equipment from their 5G networks.  But then Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive of Huawei who had enjoyed Permanent Resident status in Canada until 2009, is arrested in Vancouver on a warrant and extradition request issued by the US government based on allegations of breaches of the US trade embargo of Iran.  The arrest is executed in compliance with a longstanding treaty in place with the US, and Ms Meng was quickly granted bail and released on the condition that she remain in Vancouver pending an extradition hearing.  This condition can be assumed to be more inconvenient than oppressive given that Ms. Meng is able to continue to reside in either of the two $5+ million dollar residences that she and her husband maintain in Vancouver.

Shortly after this event, the Chinese government chose to appeal the sentence given to a Canadian citizen previously convicted of a drug offence in China, which was quickly concluded and upgraded to a death penalty conviction.  In addition, two Canadian citizens, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, were arrested and continue to be held with limited consular access on vague charges of espionage. It appears that skeptical Western governments had it wrong; it is Huawei that appears to have undue influence over the Chinese government, not the opposite.  Nothing to worry about there.

Contradiction #2:  China wants the access to capital that accrues to the host country of a global financial centre, and it obtained just that in 1997 when the UK ceded control of Hong Kong.  “One country, two systems” was the promise of the accord that enabled that transfer.  But the Executive Branch of the Territorial government quickly ceased to be controlled by the Hong Kong electorate, and the populace has long been on alert for the other shoe to drop.  It finally did with the introduction of legislation that would permit Hong Kong residents to be transferred to the mainland for the prosecution of offences, easily the most critical tool of economic and political control by the Chinese state.  The fragile mutual trust that allowed the Hong Kong financial markets to operate successfully since 1997 appears to be irreparably damaged, and China must now choose between either backing down to maintain the support of global capital markets or brutally demonstrating to the rest of Chinese society that demands for democratic niceties will not be tolerated.  I’m not feeling good about which way that one is going to go.

Contradiction #3:  Xi Jinping wants Chinese products exported across the globe.  Donald Trump wants US products exported across the globe.  Both men want to do so while protecting domestic employment and running trade surpluses, which is pretty much impossible to achieve for both of the world’s two largest economies.  Donald Trump is imposing tariffs to reduce access to its huge consumer market to force better access for US exports to China.  Xi Jinping is using currency devaluation to obviate the tariffs (most recently) and deny Chinese consumers the benefit of imported goods (both now and for the last many years).  Neither approach bears any resemblance to free trade but looks more like economic imperialism.  If the two biggest economies can’t support global free trade, we will all be worse off.

Global economic leadership is not as easy as the Americans used to make it look.


Notwithstanding the disappointingly inconclusive end of the Civil War in Syria, the world continues to struggle with a global migrant crisis.  It is tempting to despair that this continuing global crisis is proof that the world has become an awful place full of suffering. However, I would argue that it is both more hopeful and accurate to conclude that we have a global migrant crisis not because the world is so bad, but rather because the unprecedented cumulative benefits of human progress are shared so unevenly around the world.  Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. It has been the case for at least 500 years. but it is only in this generation that the most fundamental of the fruits of that progress have become sufficiently widely distributed that even those living lives of relatively poorer security and fulfillment have the tools that allow them to both know that that is the case and to do something about it.

So the world is faced with a challenge for which there are, broadly speaking, only three possible solutions.  One is to build physical walls around communities of uniform living standards, thereby either keeping in those in less desirable circumstances or keeping migrants from those communities out of the more desirable regions.  It is a tried and true strategy with deep historical roots both in fact (Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China) and fiction (most recently, the Wall that separated the Seven Kingdoms from the wildlings in Game of Thrones).  Notwithstanding this pedigree, its most recent application (the Berlin Wall) proved, like its fictional counterpart, to be an ultimately ineffective long-term solution to the applicable migration problem.

The second is to make the environment in the more desirable community sufficiently unappealing to those that both have or would be likely to migrate to change the cost/benefit analysis that would have otherwise supported the decision to migrate.  This is an easy strategy to implement.  Foster a xenophobic fervor in the desirable jurisdiction that will support or at least tolerate the passage of laws that will make the migration experience more difficult and dehumanizing and fewer migrants will want to come.  The only problem is that this strategy, like all authoritarian workarounds created to address social programs, are only slightly less effective in brutalizing the sensibilities of the citizens of the more desirable jurisdiction than they are in dissuading migrants.  You have fewer migrants only by making the more desirable jurisdiction less desirable for migrants and citizens alike.

The third solution is by far the most complicated and difficult.  The governments of the more desirable jurisdictions make investments and provide leadership to improve security and create opportunities for advancement in the less desirable jurisdictions.  This is a tall order, but not one without historical precedent.  Post-WWII Western Europe looked not unlike much of Syria today, in both cases courtesy of the carpet bombing on both sides.   The potential for a massive refugee crisis certainly existed.  Given the likely tolerance for greater numbers of European immigrants, one might have expected that the US would have simply opened its borders to migrants to address the humanitarian challenge in the most incremental fashion.  However, the more visionary solution was the Marshall Plan that saw an unprecedented amount of US financial support flow into Europe, including its former enemies Germany and Italy.  The result was not just the prevention of a refugee crisis, but also the creation of an explosion in global economic growth that benefited no one country more than it did the United States.

That is not to say that the challenge facing the developed world in addressing the current refugee crises in each of the Middle East, Africa and Central America can be addressed as seemingly easily as was the reconstruction of Europe under the Marshall Plan.  For one, the US was able and willing to undertake the Marshall Plan on its own.  It would not be reasonable or fair to expect the same in the context of the current crisis.  The co-ordination of equitable participation by all developed nations will be a difficult but necessary element of any such approach to the current refugee crisis.  Secondly, investment by the developed world in the current countries in crisis would carry with it an appearance of new colonialism that would not have been in issue in the context of post-war Europe.  Incorporating the necessary diversity of leadership in any new initiative would further complicate the effort.

It is indeed a daunting task.  But there is no other remotely palatable or promising strategy.