Reviewed by Robert Roach
Director – West in Canada Project, Canada West Foundation
There is no doubt that Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada’s Founding Values is a very interesting book and one that policy wonks will enjoy even if they don’t agree with it. Crowley looks back to a golden age in Canada when people were hard-working, family-oriented and suspicious of government. Whether or not this imaginary golden age actually existed is beside the point, because its real purpose is to serve as an alternative model for Canada’s future. Crowley wants to see Canada become a nation of what he sees as “makers” rather than “takers.”
Crowley argues that the baby boom and the threat of Quebec separation spooked policy-makers so much that they ushered in the era of big government that has dominated since the 1960s. The effort to find enough jobs for the boomers and to buy the allegiance of Quebeckers transformed Canadians into a bunch of children seeking all the comforts that the nanny state could provide.
He goes on to argue that we “are on the cusp of a tremendous renaissance for Canada if we want to seize the moment.” Crowley points out that the policy problem of the past was finding jobs for workers whereas the policy challenge of the future is to find workers for the jobs. He also argues that Quebec may move away from “inefficient high-cost government” and, even it doesn’t, that the rest of the country has lost interest. As a result, Canadians will abandon the “values of left-liberal welfarism” and embrace “traditional” Canadian values such as self-reliance and the centrality of family to civilized life.
This is a pretty fundamental shift to hang on looming labour shortages and waning interest in Quebec nationalism. It also assumes that most people don’t really need government assistance and that current family life is somehow inferior to what it was like in the past. Both assumptions are highly debatable. With that said, his argument is fascinating and sheds light on how a good number of Canadians (what many would call Canada’s social conservatives or so-cons) see their country, where it has come from and where it should go.
Although Crowley blames the baby boom and Quebec nationalism for Canada’s current malaise, the book is perhaps best seen as a response to the work of Richard Florida – currently professor and head of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rothman School of Management at the University of Toronto – and the like. Florida envisions a world in which tribes of urban hipsters use their creativity to propel the economy forward. Crowley dreams of a world of nuclear families in which people do “real” work. (At least he picks on sociologists as examples of those doing pseudo-work instead of economists like himself.)
These two visions of Canada will compete for our hearts and minds in the years ahead.Fearful Symmetry is an easy and engaging read with many insights about Canadian life and government. Even if you don’t share Crowley’s values, his book offers a credible challenge to current policy and serves as a foil to other visions of the future such as Florida’s Bohemian Canada. As such, it is fodder for an interesting and important debate about Canada’s future and public policy’s next steps.