Beginning in the mid-sixties, the confluence of many forces began to work a change in the minds of Canadians. A wave of nationalist anti-Americanism washed over Canada, fuelled in part by distaste for the Vietnam War and America’s brash assertiveness on the international stage and in part by domestic alarm over a perceived American domination of the economy. The counterculture movement that emerged in the US found echoes around the world, including in Canada, and Marxism, feminism, and various other isms began a long march through the academic institutions.

Keynesianism, a naïve faith in the ability of government officials to “manage” the economy, became almost universal among Western governments, especially since memories were still reasonably fresh of the success of central planning controls during the Second World War. In the seventies, a Republican president brought in price and wage controls, the ultimate expression of confidence in government’s superiority over markets.

These developments had profound effects on the foundation of our shared culture: the family. In this Commentary, based on remarks to the Institute of Marriage and Family, Crowley explores both the basic importance of the family and the negative consequences of the efforts to replace the family and the families support for each individual member within the family, with government programs and services.

Increasingly, government was being looked to, to solve perennial social problems, such as when Washington moved in the 1960s against both racial discrimination, through the Civil Rights Act, and poverty, through the War on Poverty and the Great Society. All of these factors and more— wider access to education, the emergence of effective contraception, the growth of cities and suburbs—affected Canada as much as they did other Western societies. Over and above that, we had special factors in Canada that exacerbated these trends. For example, we had the largest baby boom in the Western world, undermining our faith in the economy to provide work for all who wanted it, just as we saw the rise of a new breed of aggressive separatist nationalism in Quebec, which unleashed a torrent of spending designed to bind Quebeckers to the federal state.

Accompanying that development came the growth of a diverse range of state-funded ways in which one could get by in the world without really working. Thus, in some vulnerable parts of the population, family lost its power as the last refuge in times of trouble.

The need for the disciplined family unit to socialize the rising generation having declined, it became harder and harder to justify the legal, social, and institutional supports that buttressed marriage and encouraged couples to stay together even when times were hard.

Politicians and other opinion leaders began to “define selfish behaviour down” (or Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s “defining deviance down”), in the sense of offering people with a guilty conscience the political cover to escape the obligations of family when those obligations became inconvenient or too burdensome. Not only was it made remarkably easy to dissolve the marriage bond, but the state stepped up to the plate to help cover the cost of the damage, at least in the short run. Just as it made it easier than it had ever been to choose not to work, it also made it easier than it had ever been to choose not to have a family or to choose to leave it once it had been started. Program after program was conceived to pick up the pieces of family breakdown, whether in support for lone mothers and their children, or income support for the elderly, or child care for parents who could not afford to stay home with their children no matter how much they wished to do so. And in its headlong rush to finance the social costs of what had traditionally been seen to be anti-social behaviour, the state pushed up the tax burden on those who were married and working, making a major contribution to the demographic bust.

Click here to read more of this thoughtful and provocative analysis.