John Duffy studies #2: Why You Can’t Build Anything in Canada Anymore

  • You can’t build big infrastructure like pipelines in Canada anymore.
  • It’s hard to get clear outcomes out of our federal-provincial system.
  • Canadians are allergic to politics, they don’t want decision makers to make decisions because they don’t trust them and they don’t believe in them.
  • We’re transitioning out of a Westminster-style cabinet government.
  • There’s centripetal force at the governance level like in the 1970’s.
  • Example: health data portability, data can’t travel easily across the country because there’s a complex set of rules and control is in the hands of regulators that aren’t accountable to the elected government, they’re accountable like a “watchdog” to parliament (more like ombudsman and auditors general) meaning voters have no control over them and politicians don’t want to take them on because these regulators are seen as above politics.
  • Something has gone wrong when watchdogs are regulating “markets that have value” like the movement of health data and the reason is we don’t like politicians.
  • The cry is “gotta take the politics out”, this is case in transit politics in southern Ontario for ex.
  • If you take this logic far enough it starts to look like Singapore or China (ie. rule by people that are technically skilled and unaccountable).
  • It has become harder for the democratic will of the people to be translated into government action.
  • Thinks feds are doing more to get commercializable R&D for Canadian companies, you can feel a greater emphasis on digital/data sovereignty (disagrees with Balsillie).
  • Trudeau has reduced poverty. Should get more credit.
  • The problem: huge challenges like “galloping requirements”, climate change catastrophe, the rise of AI and simultaneously we are hamstringing our governments.
  • Watchdogs, suspicion of politicians, alienation from political life are all creating a self-fulfilling prophecy where voters feel that the big issues that are shaping our world are out of control and by witholding their participation they are ensuring these changes will be out of control to the point “people won’t be able to shape their own lives, it’s an unfolding tragedy”.
  • Canada is not like Portugal or the Netherlands because needs are consistent in those countries.
  • Canada is a funny country to try and be progressive in because you have progressive urbanites sitting on top of an economy that doesn’t look very progressive (until you look at the extent of technology used in resource sectors).
  • Politicians arent trusted enough to broker anymore, brokerage politics used to be a Canadian ideal/trait.
  • Despite the Republicans overwhelming power in 2019 (state houses, congress, presidency, judges) they couldn’t really govern (for ex. they failed to undo Obamacare).
  • There’s a problem in terms of creating democratic consensus for moving things forward as global dynamics are pulling societies apart. Deligitimizing politicans is a part of the prob and we have to relegitimize them.


  • MHF: it’s “almost impossible to build anything”, politicians have been unwilling to lead, the less politicians lead the less trust they get. Example: Christy Clark’s pipeline conditions (she had no right, its unconstitutional), similar situation with Legault and Energy East.
  • There is no longer consistency from government to government.
  • SS: politics have become transactional and small.
  • SS: there’s been skills based change, more rewards for cognitive skills.
  • Balsillie: Trudeau govt. has not done innovation, its done cheap labour foreign owned tech branch plants.

Conservative Party of Canada MPs as “delegates”

Quoted from Tragedy in the Commons pg. 87-88.

Many of the MPs we interviewed described their roles in ways that corresponded to two classic but competing definitions of a political representative’s role: “trustees” and “delegates.” According to political theory, trustees are representatives who follow their own sense of the best action to pursue. A trustee believes she was elected by the public to use her own judgement to make a decision. Meanwhile, delegates are understood to be representatives who follow the expressed preferences of their constituents, regardless of their own personal opinion. On occasions when an MP’s judgement on a legislative matter differs from voter preference, assuming they can appropriately identify their constituents’ view, the trustee will vote according to her own judgment, while the delegate will allow voter preference to have the ultimate say.

Among parliamentarians from the Liberals, New Democrats or the Bloc Quebecois, no clear preference for the role of trustee or delegate emerged. Each of those parties had MPs in both groups, and in fact, many MPs straddled the categories.

Describing a classic trustee’s conception of the job, NDP Bill Blaikie said: “My job as an MP was to do the thinking and the listening at the committee hearings and the meetings-albeit out of certain perspective that I was up front about when I ran-and then to make judgments,” Blaikie said. “The people who voted for me don’t have the time to do all that. That is what I am paid to do. . . . [My constituents] will hold me accountable at elections and in between with their input with letters of criticism or support.” And Paddy Torsney, a former Liberal MP for Burlington, said, “I think my job was to provide leadership. Not just reflect the discussion, but also to lead the discussion. And I think that is where people get caught up in ‘No, my job is to do exactly what those people say.’ . . . No, you’re actually sending me there to think and bring more information back, too.”

The majority of Conservative MPs, in contrast, approached their roles as delegates. Loyola Hearn describes the job in terms very similar to the word’s definition. “[Voters] select you to be their representative in Ottawa, to speak for them, to vote on legislation and, in some cases, to develop legislation that they feel is wanted. Basically, to work [for their interests] and to deliver for them whatever benefits might flow,” Hearn said. “All of [the constituents] can’t be up there, so you’re the messenger. That’s the job you have. . . . You are the representative for the people in Ottawa, not Ottawa’s representative to the people.”