David R. Henderson  

Does Canada's Liberal Party Victory Mean More Freedom?

Mood affiliation and the succe... No Plan for What Comes After...

In two words, "It's complicated."

In October, I challenged co-blogger Scott Sumner's claim that the Liberal Party's electoral win in Canada would lead to an increase in freedom. Recall that Scott had written:

Yesterday's win for the Canadian Liberals was a huge win for libertarian policies in North America.

Scott's link, however, highlighted only one policy, namely the Liberal Party's promise to legalize marijuana. He did not refer to any other policies. A national government has scores and arguably hundreds of policies. So you can't judge its pro-freedom stance by singling out one.

At the time, I expressed skepticism about Scott's claim, writing:

But I think we need to look at more details to judge whether this was "a huge win for libertarian policies in North America." In measuring freedom, it is always hard to judge a government that has many policy proposals because some proposals go in favor of freedom and some go against. Justin Trudeau has advocated both kinds.

I promised to post on it when I had time to examine the issue. I now have. I read all 88 pages of the Liberal Party's main campaign document, "A New Plan for a Strong Middle Class."

Bottom line, as I said above: It's complicated. Specifically, there are some very strong pro-freedom measures as well as some very strong anti-freedom measures. How you weigh them against each other will depend on your particular values.

What follows below is not a comprehensive discussion of all 88 pages. Instead, I highlight the major points, both on the pro-freedom and the anti-freedom side.


1. Marijuana

As Scott mentioned, this is an area where the Liberal Party plans for more freedom. Its platform states (p. 55):

To ensure that we keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of criminals, we will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.

We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework.

That sounds more pro-freedom on net. The severe punishments for people who sell marijuana outside the new regulatory framework, though, are troublesome. How severe? And what is the regulatory framework? I don't know. Still, it's hard to imagine the punishments being more severe than those of Harper's government, given Harper's view, expressed during the election, that marijuana is "infinitely worse" than tobacco.

2. Immigration

The Liberal Party platform states (p. 64):

To that end, we will expand Canada's intake of refugees from Syria by 25,000 through immediate government sponsorship. We will also work with private sponsors to accept even more. To do this, we will invest $250 million, including $100 million this fiscal year, to increase refugee processing, as well as sponsorship and settlement services capacity in Canada.

Taxing people to provide sponsorship is a negative for freedom, but allowing more people in is a huge plus. I judge this a large net plus.

Also on immigration, there's this (p. 66):

As a first step, we will immediately lift the Mexican visa requirement that unfairly restricts travel to Canada

That's another plus, this time for Mexican freedom and also for those Canadian residents who want Mexican visitors.

3. Civil liberties

The platform states (p. 53):

We will repeal the problematic elements of Bill C-51, and introduce new legislation that better balances our collective security with our rights and freedoms.
Canadians know that in Canada, we can both improve our security while protecting our rights and freedoms.
We will
. introduce new legislation that will, among other measures:
.guarantee that all Canadian Security Intelligence Service warrants
respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
. establish an all-party national security oversight committee;
. ensure that Canadians are not limited from lawful protests and advocacy;
. require that government review all appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list;
. narrow overly broad definitions, such as defining "terrorist propaganda" more clearly;
. limit Communications Security Establishment's powers by requiring a warrant to engage in the surveillance of Canadians;
. require a statutory review of the full Anti-Terrorism Act after three years;

These are huge plusses for freedom.

4. Foreign and Defense Policy

The Liberal platform states (p. 70):

We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.

You might argue that this is neither pro-freedom nor anti-freedom because the money will simply be spent elsewhere. Fine. But it's certainly a fiscally sound move.

The Liberal platform states (p. 71):

We will end Canada's combat mission in Iraq.

This could well save Iraqi lives and possibly even save Canadian lives, not just military but also civilian because of the reduced probability of blowback.


The anti-freedom parts of the platform are the majority of the rest of it. This listing of anti-freedom aspects is less comprehensive than the listing of pro-freedom aspects.

1. Subsidies

The platform is larded (pun intended) with pork.

(i) Employment insurance (p. 20):

Starting in 2017, we will reduce the waiting period for benefits. When a worker loses their [sic] job and applies for Employment Insurance, they will only be without income for one week, not two.

We will also reverse Stephen Harper's 2012 EI reforms that force unemployed workers to move away from their communities and take lower-paying jobs.

Parenthetically, I doubt that Harper's reforms forced unemployed workers to move; my guess is that they made it harder to get employment benefits for those unwilling to move to a new area for a job. These "reforms" undo much of what Justin's dad's buddy, former Prime Minister Chretien, and Stephen Harper achieved on Canada's absurdly loose unemployment benefits.

(ii) CBC (p. 56):

We will protect the interests of our national broadcaster, in the interests of all Canadians. We will reverse Stephen Harper's cuts and invest $150 million in new annual funding for CBC/Radio-Canada, to be delivered in consultation with the broadcaster and the Canadian cultural community.

(iii) Children (p. 4):

With the Canada Child Benefit, nine out of ten Canadian families will receive more than under Stephen Harper's confusing collection of child benefit programs. For the typical family of four, that means an additional $2,500 in help, tax-free, every year.

(iv) Seniors (p. 7):
We will also restore the eligibility age for Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement to 65, putting an average of $13,000 into the pockets of the lowest income Canadians each year, as they become seniors.

(v) Housing (p. 7):
We will renew federal leadership in housing, starting with a new, ten-year investment in social infrastructure.

We will prioritize investments in affordable housing and seniors' facilities, build more new housing units and refurbish old ones, give support to municipalities to maintain rent-geared-to-income subsidies in co-ops, and give communities the money they need for Housing First initiatives that help homeless Canadians find stable housing.

(vi) Government transit (p. 12):
Over the next decade, we will quadruple federal investment in public transit, investing almost $20 billion more in transit infrastructure.

(vii) The arts (p. 57):
Targeted investments will include:
• doubling investment in the Canada Council for the Arts to $360 million each year;
• increasing funding for Telefilm Canada and the National Film Board, with a new investment totalling $25 million each year; and
• restoring the Promart and Trade Routes international cultural promotion programs cut by Stephen Harper, and increasing funding in these programs to $25 milllion each year.

2. Civil liberties
We will:
• repeal changes made by Bill C-42 that allow restricted and prohibited weapons to be freely transported without a permit, and we will put decision-making about weapons restrictions back in the hands of police, not politicians;

3. Regulation

(i) Political campaign spending (p. 27):

We will review the limits on how much political parties can spend during elections, and ensure that spending between elections is subject to limits as well.

(ii) Intrusion into personal details (p. 36):
We will immediately restore the mandatory long-form census, to give communities the information they need to best serve Canadians.

(iii) Strengthening and preserving agricultural cartels (p. 16)
We will continue to defend Canadian interests during trade negotiations, including supply management.

(iv) Strengthening labor cartels (p. 16):
We will restore fair and balanced labour laws that acknowledge the important role of unions in Canada, and respect their importance in helping the middle class grow and prosper. This begins with repealing Bills C-377 and C-525, legislation that diminishes and weakens Canada's labour movement.

Bill C-525 made it harder for the majority to force the minority into unions and union representation.

(v) Regulating the food supply (pp. 20-21):

To help families make better food choices, we will:
• introduce new restrictions on the commercial marketing of unhealthy food and beverages to children, similar to those now in place in Quebec;
• bring in tougher regulations to eliminate trans fats, similar to those in the U.S., and to reduce salt in processed foods; and
• improve food labels to give more information on added sugars and artificial dyes in processed foods.

(vi) Energy standards (p. 41):
We will improve [DRH note: "improve," in context, means "increase"] energy efficiency standards for consumer and commercial products,

(vii) Environmental regulation (p. 42):
We will also ensure that environmental assessments include an analysis of upstream impacts and greenhouse gas emissions resulting from projects under review.

(viii) The precautionary principle (p. 44):
We will use scientific evidence and the precautionary principle, and take into account climate change, when making decisions affecting fish stocks and ecosystem management.

Comments and Sharing


COMMENTS (12 to date)
Scott Sumner writes:

Thanks, that's very helpful. My only quibble is that I'm not sure that I would include environmental restrictions as necessarily being anti-liberty.

The Canadian Liberals do seem modestly more libertarian than America's Democrats on issues like foreign policy, drugs, civil liberties, etc. On economics they seem similar to America's Democrats.

Khodge writes:

There appear to be too many modifiers in 3 - civil liberties - to give it a huge plus. From my reading, doesn't Canada have serious problems with free speech, political correctness, and freedom of religion?

It seems to me that the anti-freedom items (esp. if my concerns with 3 are valid) that the anti-freedom items are more all-encompassing where they affect the average citizen.

Colombo writes:

In my opinion a government has the same obligation to protect the environment as to protect people from their food choices. It is people who have the obligation to take care of their health and the environment, and that also because of their helath, not only the "beatuy of nature".

The immigration point will end up in the anti-freedom list if the people allowed in are not allowed to work and move freely, but rather considered as temporary "guests". They will end up as prisoners of a new kind of political prison. More or less like the american japanese during WWII, but with much more PR spin. Sorry to be pessimistic, but these Liberal-party guys seem rather "technocratic" to me. Bad omen, for techoncrats only understand theorems but not reality.

I reckon that Syrian refugees will receive better treatment than the eskimos. They are closer to the Greek civilization, and that will make Canadians politicians treat them with (a little) more respect.

This "rooting-for-those-who-look-like-you" goes a long way. South Africa, by example.

Thanks for this very informative post.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Scott Sumner,
My only quibble is that I'm not sure that I would include environmental restrictions as necessarily being anti-liberty.
Notice that these are central planning type solutions rather than, say, a simple tax on carbon.
From my reading, doesn't Canada have serious problems with free speech, political correctness, and freedom of religion?
Yes, but there’s no change on those issues that I can detect in the platform. The discussion is about whether there is a net change in freedom, not about the absolute level of freedom.
Sorry to be pessimistic, but these Liberal-party guys seem rather "technocratic" to me. Bad omen, for technocrats only understand theorems but not reality.
I’m pretty sure Justin doesn’t understand theorems. :-)
Thanks for this very informative post.
You’re welcome.

Pithlord writes:

A few quibbles,

On subsidies for children and on agricultural cartels, there isn't much difference between the Liberal Party of Canada and the Conservatives.

The LPC will definitely appoint more "politically correct" judges and human rights officials, so that is actually a significant net loss. On the other hand, the judges it appoints will be way more civil libertarian on criminal justice and terrorism issues, and will go further than the government itself will go for political reasons.

The singular use of "they" or "their" is widely accepted in Canada, and was used in legislation under the Harperites. It was also used by Shakespeare, the KJV of the Bible, and Jane Austen, so I think we are being faithful to the traditions of our common mother tongue. It's much harder to be gender neutral in French.

Daniel Klein writes:

Ditto Colombo: Thanks for this very informative post.

John S writes:

"allowing more people in is a huge plus"

To who? What benefits do Syrian refugees bring to Canada?

Nathan W writes:

Under Harper, it was getting nearly impossible to get any information on anything the government was doing. Now, for $0 you can make FOI requests for even things like the emails of ministers. Does the freedom to know what your government is doing count for something?

I think getting rid of warantless police state activities is worth just about everything on the cons list on its own.

Also, I'm pretty skeptical about considering environmental and energy efficiency regulations as "unfreedoms" in a context where quite a lot of Canadians actively support such regulations.

John - are you seriously asking how helping refugees is good for freedom? It will cost Canada in the short run, but it is standing up for long-held values, and is absolutely good for the freedom of a great number of refugees at a cost of perhaps $25 per Canadian.

Janet Neilson writes:

On citizenship and immigration, the Liberals also promised to scrap legislation that allows the government to strip dual citizens of their Canadian citizenship, which I think is incredibly positive and was one of the policies that tempted me to vote Liberal (though, ultimately, I didn't). The relevant line from the platform is:

"We will repeal the unfair elements of Bill C-24 that create second-class citizens and the elements that make it more difficult for hard-working immigrants to become Canadian citizens."

Janet Neilson writes:
John S writes: "allowing more people in is a huge plus"

To who? What benefits do Syrian refugees bring to Canada?

John, the claim is that it is a plus for freedom - as in the extremely fundamental freedom to live and work where one wishes - and not a plus for Canadians.

But, of course, Syrian refugees should be expected to bring plenty of benefits to Canada. Syrians are more hands to grow and build things and more minds to solve problems in the same way that every human being is.

Plus I don't think it's controversial (though maybe that's just my social bubble) that Canada needs more people to pay for its social programs.

John S writes:

Janet, you wrote,

"Syrians are more hands to grow and build things and more minds to solve problems in the same way that every human being is.

Plus I don't think it's controversial (though maybe that's just my social bubble) that Canada needs more people to pay for its social programs."

May I ask then: if this is true, then why set the limit at 25,000? Why not take in the 1.5 million or so Syrian refugees in Turkey?

You could even go much further--according to the UN, there are nearly 60 million forcibly displaced people in the world today (19 million refugees and 38 million internally displaced persons).


If more hands and minds are unquestioningly better, shouldn't Canada import all 60 million of them?

Nathan W writes:

John says "If more hands and minds are unquestioningly better, shouldn't Canada import all 60 million of them?"

If you think that's a good point, then I don't have much respect for your intellect.

Refugees can eventually add to the country, but it takes time for them to become integrated into the economy. They need time to learn language skills, it takes time for new real estate to be built (making figures like 60 million refugees completely implausible), and a hundred other things.

We can easily handle 25,000.

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