I was telling a friend about Brian Lee Crowley’s new book, Fearful Symmetry, and about how some of its provocative ideas were bound to freak out people in Atlantic Canada.
“First, he says EI was a big mistake designed to accommodate the baby boomers,” I began, as my friend nodded approvingly. “Then he says we became believers in bloated big government as a way of appeasing Quebec separatists.” More nods.
Okay, I thought to myself. Maybe Crowley’s not as hot-button as I thought. Crowley helped found the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the Halifax-based right-wing think-tank. He’s a regular media commentator (including for the CBC, which he seems to advocate dismantling) so his general outlook is well-known in this region. Still, even politicians who have cozied up to him, such as former premier Bernard Lord, would probably distance themselves from some of the ideas in Fearful Symmetry.
This is Crowley’s magnum opus, his grand theory of Everything That Has Gone Wrong In Canada, and its breadth and sweep are impossible to sum up here. The thrust, though, is that Canada abandoned its small-government ethos in the 1960s, and that has badly damaged the country’s economy and labour force. (I’m not sure we were really market purists before that, but I stand to be corrected. Didn’t Sir John A. have something to do with building the CPR?)
One notion that will resonate in New Brunswick, for better or worse, is that Employment Insurance has become a barrier to the free market working the way it should: by forcing the unemployed to move to parts of the country where jobs are plentiful. This, of course, is a concept so politically incorrect that it makes news when politicians espouse anything remotely similar. (One might ask as well who exactly will catch the fish or harvest the trees in Crowley’s ideal world. EI isn’t just a subsidy to people; it also helps seasonal industries retain their workforce.)
Crowley also moves into social policy, though he, of course, would argue that it’s all about the economy. Liberal divorce laws and other changes that have benefitted women by allowing them to work outside the home in greater numbers may not have been the best idea, he writes. “Men might, on the whole, actually function best with a balance skewed toward work, while women might, on the whole, prefer a balance skewed to rearing their children.” Spin Reduxit will go out on a limb and make this prediction: No. Politician. Will. Ever. Endorse. This.
There’s more, lots more. It’s impossible to encapsulate all the book’s arguments here. The bottom line is this: New Brunswick suffers from a shortage of new ideas. You may despise Crowley’s, but fresh thinking should always be welcome in the political discourse. Read the book.