The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

How to Shrink Government: A Worthwhile Canadian Initiative


Patrick Nolan of the UK think tank Reform has an excellent post at ConservativeHome, one of my favorite blogs, on how the Canadian government managed to slash spending in the 1990s. In Nolan’s view, the key reason the Canadian reforms succeeded was the decision to engage in extensive public consultation. 

A consultation process was initiated four months before the 1995 Budget, which included the release of major background papers and an extensive round of public hearings. Interest groups, the media and individuals developed mock budgets in response to this consultation. This not only unearthed a wide range of options for reform, but helped shape expectations regarding the magnitude and general nature of the actions needed.

By cutting back its own activities, rather than putting the burden of deficit reduction onto taxpayers, the Government ensured the popularity of these cuts. Their popularity was also supported by evidence that reducing debt would help ensure ongoing delivery of social services and help increase jobs and growth, as sound government finances and a sound economy go hand in hand.

Imagine if health reform involved a serious consultation process, in which elected officials openly and honestly described why the employer-based coverage most Americans enjoy has become a barrier to reform. Instead we have Potemkin town halls that, for obvious reasons, have become a flashpoint of public anger: people know that they’re not being taken seriously. 


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