Herbert Grubel: Getting Politicians to Accept the Will of the People

common-good-vs-self-interest.pngvon Herbert Grubel, North Vancouver, BCThe results of reliable surveys show that a majority of Canadians want changes in important government policies…

Herbert G. Grubel, Professor of Economics (Emeritus), Simon Fraser University, Senior Fellow, The Fraser Institute

von Herbert Grubel, North Vancouver, BC

The results of reliable surveys show that a majority of Canadians want changes in important government policies. For example, a survey by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, a not-for-profit organization, found that in 2016 out of 4,547 respondents 55.1 percent indicated that Canada’s health care system needed fundamental changes and 8.6 percent that it needed to be rebuilt completely.

An Angus Reid poll taken in 2017 found 57 percent of respondents supported the statement “Canada should accept fewer immigrants and refugees”. A 2016 government survey found that 54 percent of Canadians believed that the annual immigration level should be below 150,000.

Another Angus Reid poll taken in 2017 found that two out of three Canadians nation-wide, 50 percent by residents of Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island and 60 percent of residents in the rest of British Columbia favor the construction of the Kinder-Morgan pipeline for the shipment of petroleum to Vancouver.

Public opinion on these issues is based on solid evidence about the negative impact of current policies on the well-being of Canadians. Thus, health-care reform is needed because Canada’s government monopoly system has a shortage of diagnostic equipment, long wait-lists for surgeries and generally has higher costs and poorer outcomes for patients than any other Western countries.

Current immigration policies impose a heavy fiscal burden of over $30 billion a year on Canadians because recent immigrants on average have much lower incomes and pay much lower taxes than average Canadians. The large number of immigrants exceeds the country’s absorptive capacity and contributes much to the crises in the housing and rental markets and congestion on roads and recreation facilities.

Public opinion on the desirability of constructing the Kinder-Morgan pipeline is based on studies done by the federal regulatory agencies and the Ottawa government showing that the value of its economic benefits exceeds the environmental costs of accidental spillages of oil.

Disregarding the public will, the government of British Columbia has worsened the problems associated with health care by forcing private health-care providers to cease operation by the imposition of prohibitive fines on violators. The federal government has increased the number of immigrants from 240,000 to 280,000 annually and promised more increases in the future to as much as 350,000 by 2020. The government of British Columbia has vowed to prevent the construction of the pipeline by requiring further reviews of environmental risks the cost and delays of which threaten the economic viability of the project.

Why are Canadian governments adopting policies that are clearly in conflict with the well-justified wishes of the public? The answer is quite simple. The politicians running these governments care more about getting elected or re-elected than the public interest. They increase their chances of electoral success by maintaining current policies that serve the beneficiaries of these policies.

These beneficiaries in the case of health care policies are the unionized workers and the many civil servants who operate the system and enjoy incomes and benefit packages greater than are available in the private sector.

The beneficiaries of current immigration policies are employers who see immigrants as a source of low-cost labour, and business owners, professionals like lawyers, engineers, accountants and teachers who see them as markets for their goods and service, the construction and real-estate industries benefiting from the growth in the residential housing market and immigrants already settled in Canada who want to see their communities grow in numbers and political influence.

The beneficiaries of policies that prevent the construction of facilities needed to produce and transport natural resources are organized groups of environmentalists with financial support from abroad.

Political parties know that these beneficiaries of existing policies will vote for them if they promise not to change them. On the other hand, the majority of voters who wish to have them changed do not have the same powerful self-interest to vote against parties opposing changes.

To change this condition it is essential that the public be well informed about the cost existing policies impose on them and thus encourage voting for parties promising to change the policies. Only a relatively small proportion of the general public has to be persuaded to do so in order to overwhelm the voting power of the special interest groups.

This goal can be attained through the work of think tanks like the Fraser Institute, CD Howe Institute and others which, with the help of academics, the media and public interest activists inform the public about their interest and voting power. If they succeed in mobilizing the public well enough on a subject like fiscal deficits and the establishment politicians refuse to respond properly, populist parties can become successful and force existing parties to change their policies. This has happened before when in 1993 the Reform Party gained enough votes to enter parliament in large numbers and induce the creation of balanced budgets.

The beneficiaries of current policies not in the interest of the public should also be targets for information. For example, workers in the health-care industry should be made to realize that if private clinics were allowed to operate freely in Canada, most patients now seeking treatment abroad would increase the demand for and pay of Canadian health care providers. Recent immigrants should be made aware of the negative effects current policies have on competition in labor markets and on their incomes and taxes needed to service growing debts. Jason Kenney in his capacity as Canada’s immigration minister has done so successfully and caused large proportions of immigrants to vote for his party and proposed changes to existing policies.


1 thought on “Herbert Grubel: Getting Politicians to Accept the Will of the People”

  1. In Switzerland, we have ample data that show the great difference between opinions drawn from polls and decisions in referenda. An example from helath care: In the “Gesundheitsmonitor 2016” two thirds of respondents said they prefer market-oriented solutions to state intervention. In referenda we observe rather the opposite proportions. Great majorities vote for the maintenance of often too small state-owned hospitals, for huge sums to expand the current hospital landscape with the cantons as dominant players, and against an abolishment of the regulation für insurers to make contracts with all health care providers.

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