Review of “The Trouble with Canada” by William D. Gairdner

This book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Gairdner gives some basic background on various western political ideologies.

In the second part, explains what’s wrong with Canada. The problems include: excessive welfare, foreign aid, feminism, health care, the criminal justice system, socialist churches, government corruption, multiculturalism, bilingualism and immigration.

My copy of the book was published in 1990. I take Gairdner to be a nearly perfect conservative (of that time period) with some libertarian sympathies. In that sense, I found the book somewhat depressing.

The problems Gairdner identifies have all gotten worse since 1990. Gairdner’s analysis of these problems is very good by the standards of today’s conservatives (there are bell curves in the part of book criticizing equality, for example).

The saddest bit is that Gairdner’s positions have moved from the relatively mainstream right to the extreme right in the intervening 20 years. Perhaps then, the book is best read as evidence of the failure of conservatism during this time.

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4 Responses to Review of “The Trouble with Canada” by William D. Gairdner

  1. Sergei says:

    The trouble with Canada is that it’s right next to the United States. Which means that, any follies that the United States adopts, Canada adopts too.

    But what is worse is that Canada is slow to react and lags behind the United States in terms of ‘Progress’. Thus it has the time to observe the most immediate and egregious effects of Progress and attempt to tone them down a little.

    Sometimes it succeeds, but it doesn’t change the essential nature of what is happening. To keep this bland and dry, I’ll give examples from urban transportation, but I’m sure you can think of some other examples in immigration, multiculturalism, etc. (together with examples where Canada *was* on the ball and ‘progressed’ faster than the US did).

    Example: highway building. Lots of freeways in and through inner cities used to be the height of (institutional) progressive fashion about city building. Most Canadian cities (except Montreal) were slow to get with the fashion and didn’t build quite as many freeways as cities in the United States. The fashion changed and now freeways in and through inner cities are evil. Canadian cities are thus progressive.

    Second example: Toronto was so slow to react to changing trends that it still has a streetcar system. Again, fashions have changed. Tearing out streetcars used to be progressive. Now having a streetcar system *makes* Toronto progressive.

    The reason why this is bad is that Canadians get to point to these examples of where an entire cycle of flip-flopping progressive fashions have been dodged and claim that the country doesn’t suffer from the same civilizational problems the rest of North America does.

    Conclusion: most of the truly good things about Canada exist because the country was a mite too slow in implementing other people’s stupid ideas.

  2. Knob says:

    There appears to be an updated edition, recently published. I wonder if Gairdner has modified his opinions.

  3. I have read the updated version, not the original. That was over a year ago now, though, so I don’t much remember it except that I broadly agree with it. In point of fact, it was that book which really changed me from a “reluctant Liberal” (or blue Grit, as a Canadian might say) into a conservative.

    But it does distress me to know that his views were actually once considered mainstream – I thought I was doing something terribly naughty thinking these thoughts. All I can say is that I sincerely hope that Harper does have a “hidden-agenda.”

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