· Topic you might like What would the US look like if liberals were allowed to enact all of their policies without opposition? Are there any existing countries like that to help us judge its long term impact?

Answered 8h ago


Martin Levine
, former Canadian Foreign Service Officer at Government of Canada (1978-2009)





Martin Levine
, former Canadian Foreign Service Officer at Government of Canada (1978-2009)

Americans who are concerned about such issues sometimes point to Canada as a kind of liberal test bed. As I have said in some other Answers this can be very deceptive. Conditions are very different here. So is the Canadian Constitution. So are attitudes. So is the economy. So are the political lobbies.

You can extract a few examples and possibilities but you have to be careful with them and not overextend them.

You’d Need A Comprehensive US Liberal Platform

At both the federal and provincial levels Canada has Liberal Parties. They put forward what their definition of what “liberal” means in the Canadian context. If they get elected they enact their liberal platform, to the extent that budgets allow.

The United States does not have this. The Democratic Party does not pretend to be a liberal party. It’s a grab bag of interests, big corporations, minority group activists, career social workers, people who believe in open borders, people who want the Second Amendment cancelled, some trade unions. etc. This does not add up to a liberal platform. The supporters of Bernie Sanders are saying just that. If it wasn’t so difficult to form third parties in the USA, they would probably be one.

The Liberal Party of Canada has, as part of its platform, things that are not necessarily part of a liberal repertoire. However, since they are the Liberal Party of Canada they have plenty of say so. The Liberal Party platform includes:

-A commitment to multilateral free trade agreements.

-A commitment to international peacekeeping.

-A legalized commitment to a very limited, defined, constrained type of ethnocultural multiculturalism.

-A legalized commitment to official bilingualism.

-A commitment to high immigration levels, with a focus on economic immigration, and provincial participation in selection.

-A commitment to recognition of the grievances of Canada’s indigenous peoples, and negotiations on a “nation to nation” basis.

-A commitment to managed agricultural supplies.

-Economic stability as a strong, strong priority, with freedom of competition curtailed in some cases, if it has to be.

-Using government-owned companies to accomplish certain economic and social objectives.

-A commitment to nation wide standards of medical, educational and social services, expressed in part by transfer payments from the wealthier provinces to the poorer ones.

Most or all provincial governments accept some of these principles, as well as the commitment to a comprehensive social safety net, expressed by government enacted social programmes.

You Need Political Parties, Not A Bunch of People Shouting

What political party would be prepared to advocate this in the USA, to the extent it is applicable? And, you need a political party, not a bunch of individuals and groups grandstanding, blogging, expressing passionate views, decrying enemies, etc.

At the United States federal level, that political party would have to commit itself to a “core” standard liberal programme, basically a capitalist social democracy with social justice created via social programmes. Then they would have a menu of alternatives like the above and would have to choose some. It wouldn’t be much different at the state level.

The Supreme Court Would Have A Field Day

The default position of the United States Constitution is that powers not specified as federal belong to the states. The Canadian Constitution is the reverse. Canadian law and cultures don’t have the same concept of society being subservient to the untrammelled rights of the individual. A federal or state political party that tried to approximate Canadian liberalism would face a barrage of lawsuits and court challenges. The decisions would establish how far American liberalism could go, without constitutional amendments. This would play out over time as standards are established by legal precedent.

So, Liberal America Takes Charge

Say, for example, revulsion against the excesses and failures of the Trump Administration opens a window of liberal opportunity. The Sanders faction and its allies take over the Democratic Party at the federal and most state levels. This liberalized Democratic Party continues much of the Sanders platform, with some add ons. The Democratic Party wins the Presidency and one or both houses of Congress. Similar things happen at the state level.

Various permutations and constitutions could arise. Here is just one scenario:

We’re Broke

The new Democratic administrations look at the books and choke a little bit. They are taking over after a Trump administration that wasn’t fiscally conservative. Rather, the Trump Administration made deep tax cuts without creating countervailing sources of government revenues. (Except tariffs, which are a tax paid by American consumers and consumers to the United States Government. In Canada, the federal government at one point was virtually addicted to these tariffs.) They have to do the same exercise that new administrations in Canada customarily do. That is, announce a fiscal crisis, blame it entirely on the previous administration, and use it to justify cancelling their campaign promises.

Then the new administration looks for spending freezes and cuts that won’t cause a public uproar. The go-to is freezing civil service salaries and reducing the civil service by attrition . (Civil services have unions and contracts with the governments. You can’t just fire people.) Then, the new administration looks to creep taxes up. Start with higher “sin taxes”, liquor, tobacco, and in Canada as of October 17, weed. Then, raise the gas tax a few cents. Raise income taxes on higher income people. Reduce tax rebates. Look for ways to tax Internet-base transactions.

Some of the Social Programmes Are Already There

The USA is far from being without some social programming. That’s what social security and medicare are about. The new Liberal governments will have to squeeze out enough money to augment them and make them more universal. Social security benefits get raised but people may have to pay more payroll taxes until they retire. Obamacare gets expanded. However, the new Democratic federal administration hits a medical wall. The American medical system is among the most costly in the developed world, without producing population wide superlative results. In Canada, doctors bill the provincial health insurance plans. Hospitals are controlled by the provincial governments. Canadian citizens and permanent residents don’t get hospital bills. The hospitals get provincial government support and also bill the provincial medical plans fee for service, for services covered by those plans. (Many Canadians buy supplementary coverage from private health insurance plans, or their employers provide it.) This system is cheaper, although you don’t get many celebrity millionaire doctors. Those new Liberal governments either need to procrastinate or bite a very hard bullet.

Then, The Really Hard Part Begins

I believe these new American Liberal administrations would stumble over the a la carte parts of liberalism. Canada got through the stumbling stage a long time ago. The Liberal Party of Canada decided on the menu options a long time ago, and stuck with them.

In the United States, developing that stock Liberal platform will cause pain. A lot of Americans who present themselves as progressives will be very disappointed. However, the liberalized Democratic Parties of the USA will have to reach out to swing voters or else get another Trump-type, rewave.

No Open Border

You can’t maintain bearable labour market conditions for your less-skilled workers unless you keep your borders under control. Maybe you even construct parts of the Trumpian wall. You enhance investigations and prosecutions against those who illegally hire undocumented workers. You shift the focus of legal immigration quotas away from family members and specified nations, to skilled worker and business immigration. Maybe states get invited to use their local labour market expertise and participate more aggressively in selection. Some legitimate labour needs get supplied by legal temporary Work Permit programmes. Canada has one for seasonal agricultural workers.

Eat Multilateral Trade

The Trump Administration is doing the American people a great service by showing them that economic nationalism doesn’t work. Trade wars aren’t good and easy to win at all. The trade struggles become protracted, America’s trade rivals take reprisals against working class Americans and farmers, unite against the USA and look to do business with each other. Average Americans get hurt, badly.

The new federal Democratic Administration folds down the trade disputes, returns trade discussions to professional negotiators and diplomatic interchanges, and accepts that multilateral trade agreements will stay a fact of American political life and sometimes, the USA will lose.

A Little Bit of Multiculturalism And That’s It

Race isn’t the same as ethnicity. The USA has been somewhat successful at integrating various races into American culture, at least enough.

However Spanish has emerged a de facto second language in the Southwest and a few major cities in other regions. The federal Democratic Party discusses the situation with the state governments. The probable result? English gets declared the sole official, national language of the USA. Areas with sufficiently large Spanish speaking populations get legislative guarantees of a limited range of Spanish-language services, maybe including school bilingualism, the publication of Spanish-language versions of some municipal, state and federal laws, bilingual signage at some federal buildings, and that’s it and that’s all.

Spreading False News and Incitement

Canada has worked at enforcing against this for a long time. Yes, Canadians have freedom of speech but not freedom of threatening behaviour. So, if you want to express your views that us Jews are out to replace you, you can. However, creating false facts like the Jewish replacement plan and saying, we are acting in self-defence so let’s go get “em”, is hate speech that incites to violence and, at least, discrimination. The federal and state Democratic Parties enact laws that criminalize that behaviour. Then they fight it out in the Supreme Court.

The Right to Bear Arms

This right is in the United States Constitution. Nowhere enough states will agree to a constitutional change that eliminates the Second Amendment. BULLSHIT The liberalized Democratic Parties of the USA don’t even waste effort at trying. The better effort is to increase school security and increase pre-sale checks on gun buyers. You can’t win them all.

I could go on and on with this list.

Learn To Love Your Bureaucracy, Tough Love

In Canada the Liberal Parties have to work really hard to keep their bureaucrats on the level. There is a saying here, “The pigs are always at the trough.” English-speaking Canadians are generally adverse to public displays of emotion. However a hot news story about public servants behaving badly, will justify throwing a total fit at your local sports bar. Liberal governments have to reply heavily on social programmes and strict law enforcement. Never assume that your civil servants will be competent, place the public interest over their careers or do the right thing.

So, that’s your Liberal, quasi-Canadian, America. Disbursements, taxes, functioning bureaucracies, realism, national humility, you can’t win ’em all and nobody even gets a full win, eat the hit and move on, there’s no free lunch. If you need passion and victory, look for it in a sports competition or in your romantic life.

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