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Canada’s long restoration has begun Young elites must escape the garrison mentality

Justin Trudeau presides over a rotting state. Mark Horton/Getty Images

Justin Trudeau presides over a rotting state. Mark Horton/Getty Images


April 16, 2024   6 mins

A report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has been making the rounds, and its message is not pretty: the country is hurtling toward social collapse. The “Whole-of-Government Five-Year Trends for Canada” points to compounding crises, from economic stagnation and ecological disaster to technological disruption and a general erosion of trust in institutions. Most dispiriting are its projections for young Canadians such as myself: “many Canadians under 35 are unlikely ever to be able to buy a place to live [and the fallout] will be exacerbated by the fact that the difference between the extremes of wealth is greater now… than it has been at any time in several generations.” In other words, the situation has become so dire that the government has been advised to view its own young people as a looming national security threat. It is, apparently, easier for our leaders to adjust to this new apocalyptic reality than seek to change it.

When faced with this bleak picture, the natural response is to curse our dear leader. But while I’ve written my share of polemics against the prime minister, the fact is that a change in government probably won’t alter much beyond aesthetics, because our problems just run so much deeper. Indulging in “Trudeau Derangement Syndrome”, while most understandable after eight years, will only set one up for disappointment when our Daniel Hannan-approved Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre wins his majority. Like Javier Milei of Argentina, this ardent neo-Thatcherite will try to make neoliberalism cool again. He will be given a chance to change things, and he will fail, for none of his approaches to any of the major issues, most of all on housing and immigration, are fundamentally new or different.

If it is true that a nation deserves the leadership it gets, then this slim selection suggests there is something rotten in the state of Canada. Indeed, at odds with the Mounties’ fears of a revolt is the fact that Canadians — especially the youth — have remained just as self-effacingly polite and docile as ever, even as they are deprived of their futures.

Things clearly can’t go on this way, but where do we go from here? The American answer to moments of uncertainty has always been to “return to the founders”; to ask what Washington or Jefferson would have done. It’s a quirky but ultimately sound reflex that ensures a minimum of civilisational memory, even among those who would contest the founders’ legacy. Sadly, this attitude has no equivalent in Canada. Even before the erasure of our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, in the name of “decolonisation”, Canadians (at least the English-speaking majority) have mostly been ignorant about what came before, who they are, and what their country is for. This goes for both the historical-nihilist Left and the market-fundamentalist Right, who tend to replicate the errors and contradictions of US fusionist conservatism.

There is, in other words, little to no historical consciousness among Canada’s elites, who are generally contemptuous of their heritage. In light of such hostility, I will make the case that an aggressive recovery of Canada’s historical mission, stemming from “the Tory conception of the state”, is the only way for the governing class to overcome the country’s most urgent challenges.

To this end, we must ask: what is Canada — what sets it apart? The most compelling answer is that of the historian Donald Creighton, who theorised that Canada emerged from an opposition between the river and the seaboard, that is, the St. Lawrence River system that defined Canada’s early development, and the Atlantic seaboard on which the Thirteen Colonies were settled. Creighton argues that the St. Lawrence and the lands around it formed a natural unity. Here, a series of factors — including the relative paucity of agriculture, isolation from the coast, and the primacy of the fur trade — gave rise to a distinct form of developmental capitalism, which later matured into a “doctrine of material expansion through political unity” entailing “unification and centralisation of control”. By contrast, the Atlantic seaboard had abundant arable lands and easy access to maritime trade, which encouraged a republican ethos bound to the ideals of the independent yeoman-farmer.

For these reasons, there emerged a more deferential political order in the north that may be described as “Tory”, though it is different from Toryism in England, whose feudal past Anglo-Canada lacks. As philosopher George Grant explained, both halves of North America were dominated by dynamic Protestant liberalisms premised on the “technological mastery of human and non-human nature”. Canada, therefore, is no less a product of liberal modernity than America, but where the latter’s agrarian clime birthed a republican state, the former’s harsh geography created what we might call a company-state, with its emphasis on corporate order and commercial progress over popular liberty and civic virtue as a better means of achieving the conquest of nature. Canada was, after all, built on the imperial ambitions and avarice of its great companies, whether it be the mercantile firms of the Château Clique, the Grand Trunk and Canadian Pacific Railroads or the Hudson’s Bay Company.

The whole point of founding the Canadian state in 1867 was to furnish a “credit instrument that would provide the resources necessary for the economic development of the British North American colonies”. Backed by capital in the metropole, this was the practical, overriding mission of Macdonald and the “Laurentian elite”. The deference (or docility) often associated with Canadians is not, therefore, that of the vassal to his lord but that of the worker to his manager, and that of the manager to the corporate board. For this is exactly the sensibility needed to run a company-state, one that follows orders and doesn’t ask too many questions.

At its best, this tradition, a kind of Canadian Hamiltonianism that wields the powers of state and market harmoniously to forge new economies of scale, is capable of vast creative potential, having built a country with railroads, factories, farms and mines spanning a continent. At its worst, it has led to colossal bouts of dysfunction, as is the case today. In any event, progressives in Trudeau’s camp recoil at this legacy because of its colonial origins, while conservatives in Poilievre’s camp ignore it (even as they pay devoted lip service to Macdonald) because it contradicts their rabidly anti-statist, free-market ideology. As a result, this school is dormant.

But can it be revitalised? Certainly not by the Boomers and Gen Xs, for they are the ones who despoiled Canada and led it into this abyss. But perhaps it could inspire ambitious Millennials and Gen Zs who are doomed to inherit this disintegrating society.

I’m thinking here of young elites in their twenties and thirties who occupy junior or mid-level posts across government, finance, tech, NGOs, and other prestige sectors. Though their credentials qualify them as “elites”, they are nonetheless subject to the same trends of material precarity, social immobility, and financial pauperisation as the rest of their cohort. This means that even as they rake in decent salaries and impressive job titles, they are unable to buy homes and meet the same comfortable measures of security that their parents had. This is the classic “pre-revolutionary” situation of frustrated young elites who lose their stake in the status quo. But the question is: do they have the potential to seize control and remake the country?

“Do young elites have the potential to seize control and remake the country?”   

I should have some idea, as I went to graduate school with them in Toronto, and though I have since moved back to my home in the Alberta hinterlands, I am familiar with their ways. And the short answer is no, they do not have the makings of revolutionary subjects — at least not yet.

As it is, they are the embodiments of homo neoliberalensis, forever bound up with the proverbial “rat race” and prone to mistaking real life for LinkedIn. If they have any brilliance, it is not that of the visionary but of the ultra-efficient functionary, for there is little of the imaginative, the poetic or the statesmanlike in them. Like the bureaucrats in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, they know how to dress well and strut about with the appearance of purpose down the halls of power, without having any idea as to what power is or to what ends it should be applied. And like that film’s protagonist Sam Lowry, in their nervous hearts, they have “nothing, not even dreams”, only a wish for survival amid what literary critic Northrop Frye called Canada’s “garrison mentality”: “a dominating herd-mind in which nothing original can grow.”

However, in the years ahead, these rulers-in-waiting will possess greater control of the nation’s financial, political and cultural power. What is needed is a vision to rouse them from their timid state and spur them into heroic action, in spite of themselves. Already, a few of the most forward-thinking policy intellectuals in this class have stumbled on a new synthesis: to solve the housing crisis with a national industrial policy. This idea remains in its most rudimentary stages, but it is the first hint of what a new incarnation of the company-state could look like. It will have to be something on par with Macdonald’s project: what railroads had been to his century, housing can be to ours, the stimulative engine of a grand nation-building enterprise, through which novel modes of technological production and innovation can be unlocked. This is the object to which they must now devote their lives, for which they must learn how to wield the company-state’s awesome capabilities.

The young Laurentians will have to secure new sources of capital from abroad, and devise the requisite instruments of developmental finance with which to steer it toward productive and profitable investments in the real economy, particularly in manufacturing, prefab and modular construction, nuclear and hydrogen energy, transportation and public infrastructure. The goal must be to mass manufacture “ready-made neighbourhoods”. (Needless to say, an expansion of housing supply will also have to be accompanied by a contraction of demand, i.e. a reduction of immigration intake.) Yet this plan cannot take shape under Poilievre, whose heavily libertarian and anti-corporate style of populism is antithetical to the company-state: it will have to wait for the government after him.

The first Laurentian epic of 1867 conquered impossible distances to create an industrialised dominion from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The second, culminating in 1967, humanised that industrial economy and created a mass middle class. The third “neo-Laurentian” epic will have to do both: to reindustrialise Canada and restore a middle-class society. Looking forward to the Canada of 2067, we may hope for its success — or we can start to work for it.


Michael Cuenco is a writer on policy and politics. He is Associate Editor at American Affairs.

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Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
8 days ago

I’ve not been to Canada, but it seems to me there’s no shortage of land, and really high housing prices. Why does the company-state need to provide housing? Normally, the free market would do so.
If so surely the solution is the removal of whatever obstacles, probably regulations, are standing in the way.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
1 month ago

In Barbégal France stands a large Roman ruin. What is remarkable about this ruin is it was a factory. A Roman factory built around the principle of the production line harnessing the power of 16 waterwheels to mill and export flour on an industrial scale. Its scale and layout resembles an 18th century cotton mill but it was built in 400AD. It stands as a testament to Roman economic organisation and engineering.

Yet less than a century and a half later, the Western Roman empire collapsed, and Barbégal was a wasteland. The confluence of a catastrophic atrophying of the competence of the empire to manage itself and the invitation of very many decidedly non-Roman outsiders to prop up Rome created an existential crisis and slowly, then quickly, the Western Roman empire stopped being. There would be no more Barbégals anywhere in the world for more than one thousand years.

To be clear, the Roman empire wasn’t on the cusp of an industrial revolution. But nonetheless Roman civilisation was more economically complex and technically far more capable than what came after. Despite these advantages, it had lost its core purpose and without any purpose the Western Roman empire became extremely decadent until it was no more.

For a millennium the new Europeans lived in the ruins of a once great empire. The ideal of Rome remained live in the minds of the new Europeans and they aped Roman civilisation to give their own civilisations legitimacy and status. We see this even today when we spend our libra pondos (pounds) in the shops.

The point of this is to illustrate that if Canada is asking itself what is the point of Canada then it is already too late. Whatever the answer is to that question, it won’t have the unifying force that forged Canada. Unavoidably, Canada will be more divided in the future than it was in the past, and amidst the division decadence will prosper to provide a palliative but further sow division. Superficial totems (no pun intended) of Canadian civilisation will live on, but the people and the idea that gave reason to Canada existing are all gone. Definitionally, a Canada without hard borders becomes subsumed into something else. Rightly or wrongly, Canada is slowly ceasing to exist as a unified and distinct polity.

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
1 month ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

I hate how painfully correct you are. Like the author I’m a Canadian under 35. I weep not for the nation I have lost, but for the realization that it had died before I was even born. The pain of knowing what had once been, that it will not be again, can sometimes be unbearable. But I endure, because what has been said since 1867 still holds true.

Loyal she began, loyal she shall remain.

…. even unto death.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Thomas K.

Must be hard, crying over that pint

Thomas K.
Thomas K.
1 month ago
Reply to  Francis Twyman

Funnily enough, I don’t drink. I imagine if I did I’d probably feel better… or much, much worse.

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
1 month ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Great post-on a more simplistic level,one doesn’t have to look back over 2,000 years for examples of perfectly successful countries being eviscerated by a change of regime-witness Argentina,South Africa Iran & North Korea as recent examples of how a prevailing elite can utterly destroy what are essentially vibrant economies and quickly!

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago

Presumably you are talking about Kirchner in Argentina because the economy certainly wasn’t vibrant under her.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago

I know our failing elites can be bad, but let’s not exaggerate, they are just working for their pensions, not trying to create a failed state or a totalitarian state

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 month ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

You omit the critical reason why it fell. Everyone was all too happy to switch allegiance to a Germanic warlord who actually charged them lower taxes than the Romans. There were almost no pro-Roman revolts.
The Empire, at the end, didn’t do much to benefit the average citizen. Citizenship had been made universal, therefore losing all meaning. The people had been demilitarized and pacified. The peasant farmers had been undercut with cheap Egyptian grain and slave labor. The mob was bought off with free bread and circuses. Any of that sound familiar? The citizens no longer felt ownership in the state. and had neither the ability, nor the inclination to defend the regime.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
1 month ago
Reply to  Arthur G

Fully agree.

King David
King David
29 days ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Glad to know the Black Congolese after surviving the White Man’s Genocide of Belgian King Leopold of some 40 million dead Black men women and children was not the first ones in human history to not carry on or build on the industrial infrastructure and machinery left by there colonizers. It’s some what comforting to know that even the Great White French Gauls was not able to keep the Roman’s grain mill product line going after Roman’s colonizers high-tailed it back to the comforts of Rome after the party was over. Took these Barbarians another 1000 years before they were able to figure out how to set up a similar type production line. Let’s hope it does not take the Congolese or former European colonies in Africa 1000 years to restore the railroad tracks and mechanically fix the trains the White man never taught to them to maintain or operate. I suspect the Roman’s did not teach the Barbarians how to build 16 water wheels mills to produce flour on an industrial scale. Like in the White man colonies in Africa those jobs was probably reserved for Roman’s as to keep the upper hand on technology and maintain power over the Barbarians. The Barbarians leaned well from there Roman Masters .After all Knowledge is Power. I first saw Canada thru the lens and perspective of an 8 year old Black kid whose parents departed jolly old Racists England to Jolly old Racists Canada in 1968.Only job my dad a Veterinary by trade could get was loading boxes on trains for CN Canadian Railway. He was constantly reminded how lucky he was by his white co-workers that if he had arrived a few years earlier the only Job a Black man could get was Railroad Porter. Working coast to coast on trains carrying White Folks baggage for Tips. Yes folks for Tips. So I am a little amused by the Author’s supposition that there was a golden era of Home ownership for Canadians. There may gave been a golden era for White Canada getting Aboriginal lands for FREE. But I don’t remember one for Black Folks. There’s was government subsidizing and building of homes for WW1 and 2 for White Veterans but this Golden Age once again missed Black folks. My beef is when people write about Canada or any White majority countries in Europe or globally (as White people have White majority countries on every continent from North Africa -Arab Caucazoids to Asia- Australia to Americas) they do not cover the issue of race and home land /ownership and who has access to these generational wealth building assets and opportunities. However moving forward. Yes Canada has BiG home ownership problems. Toronto or Canada is such a great place to live that capital is pouring in from all over the world to purchase Canadian real estate. Subsequently it’s a good and bad thing and I believe the Liberal Party and NDP is finally snapping out of it and givibg it the attention it deserves. This is a major problem for young people who can’t possibly own a detached home @ 1 million plus dollars. Yes young White people who the Author states are the future rulers of Canada must be placate before they do what White People do when they don’t get what they want and become White SUPREMACIST Fascist looking for minorities especially Black people to take their frustration out on. We see Trump and Polliveir and Carlson already appealing to them with attacks on DEI like DEI is the initiative stopping them from buying a home or having a future in Canada. We see the White SUPREMACIST virus from Amerikkka spreading to the Great White North and to help mitigate the government must give these young White men and their Asian allies hope for the future. Having a Real possibility of owning a home and family one day is part of the compact we make with our government so it’s understandable. I just hope the Canadian government and Corporate Canada don’t run away from its DEI and Equity commitments to Black Canada cause we Want the Canadian dream of home ownership just like every body else. After almost 60 years growing up in the GREAT WHITE NORTH I think I can speak for Black Canada.

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
28 days ago
Reply to  King David

at no point does the author say the young elites are White.

El Uro
El Uro
29 minutes ago
Reply to  King David

Glad to know the Black Congolese after surviving the White Man’s Genocide of Belgian King Leopold of some 40 million dead Black men women and children was not the first ones in human history to not carry on or build on the industrial infrastructure and machinery left by there colonizers.
Other sources claim the number of victims varies from 1 to 15 millions, but who cares. They are all created by the WHITE SUPREMACISTS who dominate everywhere.

Mustard Clementine
Mustard Clementine
1 month ago

I wrote this a while ago and have become increasingly convinced of my own thesis. I truly feel the only chance we have of anything getting fixed, here in Canada, would come from a crash (and it would only be a chance, not a guarantee). https://www.mustardclementine.com/p/weve-let-our-housing-crisis-get-so

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

That was a good read, thanks for sharing. I found lots to agree with in it, but I’m not sure I’m on board with the crash theory. I think it would make things worse for everyone.
But what I expect is that the comfort millennials grew up in, plus the disappointed expectations and the bitterness that breeds is going to make us into a quite harsh governing class when the time comes.

Mustard Clementine
Mustard Clementine
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Oh, I also think it would make things worse in the short term – but less so than any other option, over time.
Because we’ve let it get that bad, and I don’t believe anyone, at any level of government, incoming or outgoing, has any sincere desire to fix it. So the only option we have left is for things to break, and force the change we need. Because those in charge will do anything to keep the dying system on life support – until there is just nothing left that they can do to stop it from collapsing.
I am probably a good example of the harsh governing cohort of which you speak, in that way 🙂 – and I agree, I was saying that to my partner the other day. Even if things do crash and we “win” in the end, as we likely will as the next biggest demographic – we’ll likely do some petty, casually cruel things. Like drastically cutting benefits and services to the elderly – which a part of me thinks is deserved, to a certain extent, but we’ll likely take it too far. And I also think it will end up affecting the core boomers who draw our ire less, and hit tail-end boomers and Gen X more.

George K
George K
1 month ago

“My aunt, a tail-end boomer with an exceptional level of self-awareness compared to the average elder in her demographic cohort”. LOL, so true. My parents are boomers.

Mustard Clementine
Mustard Clementine
1 month ago
Reply to  George K

Mine too – the more usual kind, versus said aunt.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
1 month ago

Government expenditure accounts for 42% of Canadian GDP, and government heavily regulates that portion of the economy it doesn’t directly control. Must be all those rabid market fundamentalist Canadian right wingers, whose existence has escaped the notice of most other commentators.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

The idea that we should trust our Canadian government to fix this problem is ludicrous! The ONLY thing our government is able to do is cut cheques. In general, large bureaucracies are inept; in this particular case, the federal bureaucracy is moribund and ineffectual. Look everything they touch – it falls apart! There is a reason why Canada’s productivity has been falling for years, and that reason is our federal government.

Dan Croitoru
Dan Croitoru
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The author seems to have a solution: just expropriate genBoom and genX and redistribute everything among gen Y and Z according to their racial and sexual profiles and maybe according to the quality of their selfies … lol

Michael W Enc
Michael W Enc
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

No better yet, you Boomers ought to be sent to lovely “communal retirement camps” in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, to reflect on your sins and make up for what you’ve done to our country, which you, of course, inherited in pristine condition from the heroic generation of your parents and proceeded to rape and pillage like there was no tomorrow. (Indeed, for your descendants, it feels like there is no tomorrow–no future!) A more spoiled, entitled, narcissistic, and decadent generation there has never been in the long history of the world. In the name of Sir John A. and all that is good in this fair land, justice will be meted out yet! …”lol”

Dan Croitoru
Dan Croitoru
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael W Enc

lol – who’s gonna supply the gas? I heard IG Farben are cautious this time …

Michael W Enc
Michael W Enc
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

What a morbid comment, Dan! What a sick, twisted mind you must have… Anyway, I hope you all live to a 120, I truly and sincerely do! We need you to live as long as possible to serve as a reminder for the young people on what happens when a generation discards all decency and morality and becomes entirely degenerate: we need you to be living illustrations of this lesson so that it may never be forgotten… But you’ll also be provided with many enriching activities up there like breaking rocks and hauling logs for exercise, lots of time to reflect…

Dan Croitoru
Dan Croitoru
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael W Enc

lol … rolling .. “breaking rock and hauling logs” may I suggest having Boomers beat the X-ers if the logs/rock quota not achieved. Thus the Z darlings can enjoy the view “Hey, look! Papa bat un enfant!”

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
1 month ago
Reply to  Michael W Enc

No blame, of course, can attach to you and yours. You do nothing to change the situation, just moan.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

Such impatience, they just need to wait for the massive inheritances they will receive from boomers, with all their properties and financial assets. They can then sell the million dollar home

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Ditto for the the contribution of provincial and municipal governments as well, they always lack “resources ” and need more, all the same

Terry M
Terry M
1 month ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

“the powers of state and market harmoniously to forge new economies of scale, is capable of vast creative potential destruction”
FIFY

Samuel Ross
Samuel Ross
1 month ago

Not a bad article, son. I’m impressed against my will. Setting aside your statement that Pierre Poilievre will not be able to fix what ails Canada (for who knows what man will do in the future), I appreciate your considered analysis of Canada’s misfortune and what may bring it to better times.

George K
George K
1 month ago
Reply to  Samuel Ross

I like him thrashing Trudeau but I wouldn’t trust a professional politician with fixing x a leaking tap. And besides, I’d love to see federal gov’t out of my life except for… Not sure what it’s good for, our military is a useless toy in American hands, I couldn’t care less for Canada’s international stance besides a few trade agreements, maybe. Provinces are entirely capable to decide for themselves.

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
1 month ago

This was very interesting, as I know very little about Canada.
Cannot really imagine what a Canadian revolutionary would look/sound like though. Even the term “Canadian revolutionary” seems like a contradiction in terms. If such a thing exists, I’d imagine they’d say things like: “I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to overthrow the government.”

John Ormston
John Ormston
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

This is classic. I am Canadian and I laughing out loud at this comment!

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
1 month ago
Reply to  John Ormston

The pull of wealth and energy of the USA drags away the ambitious in Canada or at least used to. My maternal grandmother was a product of the Scottish who landed in Philadelphia in the years leading up to the American Revolution. As loyalists to the crown they fled northward and settled in what is now Nova Scotia and were happy and industrious there – hotel owners and fishermen until the early 20th century when slowly they began to make their way to schools (nursing & MFA art) in Boston. Some returned to ‘Novy’ as they called it but most didn’t. I am positive they wouldn’t recognize the Canada of today where the government has taken control of much and entitlement is well entrenched. Out of necessity, early settlers were more resourceful and scrappier; Wealth wasn’t on order as just mere survival.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  John Ormston

The British revolutionary, by contrast, would say “Would you chaps mind awfully if I overthrew the government?”

Arthur King
Arthur King
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

The Convoy Protest was an example of Canadian militancy in the face of goverment authoritarianism. We stood up for our God given right to freedom.

Chris Warfe
Chris Warfe
1 month ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Did you read the article? I think not. Possibly it is the fault of the ADHD symptomatic of so many Convoy Supporters Nothing is more antithetical to Canadian Tories ( if such a thing still exists, the people listed as examples died a long time ago ) than “The Convoy” . Canadian Conservatives of the Poilievre type are that most hated of things to true Canadian Tories — THEY ARE LIBERTARIANS! Alas Sir John A and the National Dream are no more!

Arthur King
Arthur King
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Warfe

There is libertarian conservitism.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Ha ,good one, they revolt for a few hours usually under the influence, then go back to their day jobs the morning after, and start all over again. Whining over a 10$ pint can be habit forming.

Terry M
Terry M
1 month ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Well, even the anthem is passive.

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
28 days ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

LOL, but Canada’s history is more interesting than that. We’ve had the Riel rebellion, the FLQ and the Squamish Five. All unsuccessful – but none at all polite.

Sylvia Volk
Sylvia Volk
1 month ago

Sorry, this sounds like lecture-hall bafflegab, with the underlying assumption that Laurentians will always shape Canada. Cuenco also has the chutzpah to predict the weaknesses of the next government, which probably won’t even be elected before 2025. Nice crystal ball work there.
Poilievre’s an effective opposition leader. He’s also facing challenges from hostile media with gotcha questions; he figured out how to squash them, and does. And hostile hecklers during his rallies; he’s figured out how to stop that too. And is doing it. It’s surprising how effective he is. If he becomes prime minister, yes, he’ll face big problems, and he might surprise us there too.

George K
George K
1 month ago
Reply to  Sylvia Volk

I wish you were right, and I surely like to hear “my” voice articulated by Poilievre but I’m trying to be realistic. PP is a professional politician, he’s never been even a drama teacher for that matter. And more importantly I’m not sure that the real power lies in Ottawa. The same “elites” who made Trudeau a PM, will continue to steer the politics in this country under PP

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  George K

Resurrect Brian Mulroney if you want leadership

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
1 month ago

O for the near-paradise of the Acadian Company State, to which Canada may one day return!
Interesting article, though I don’t share the author’s curated nostalgia, nor his faith in a Northern version of the “Tory conception of the state” to restore a frontier era sense of national unity.
True that Canada’s geography and related settlement pattern contributed to the remote-managerial or company-state approach. Contrasted with 277 in Britain and 35 in the States, even today Canada has only 4 people per square kilometer–90 percent of whom live within 160km (100 miles) of the U.S. border.
But while they had to find a way to get along with their spread out neighbors and co-exist (in one way or another) with the remnant of Native tribes like the Blackfoot and Cree, I doubt my hardscrabble Canadian ancestors–come from Scotland and Ireland to Alberta, by way of Nova Scotia and Illinois–could have found much to say about Canadian unity, even if they’d wanted to. True they weren’t part of the “Laurentian elite”, but I still think that such cohesion is aspirational, something never had enough to be lost.
In that sense, there is hope for a national future which attempts to understand and face its history, good and bad–though not to return to some favourite window of the past as we understand it. A huge portion of every recent North American generation has indulged in the fantasy that they were born doomed. Wholesale condemnation of the Olden Days seems to compete (unevenly) with facile idealisation of the Golden Days as a popular excuse for why its impossible for you and your contemporaries to actually do or enjoy much of anything. Nonsense. Life has always been hard. Ask the ghosts of your ancestors–or even your living grandparents–ya crazy kids! Once you get past their fonder memories, you may hear stories of how things really were back then.
Though superimposed on a general complaint, Mr. Cuenco does well to end on a hopeful note–a hope that calls for work, not just wishes.
In the excellent David Frum article linked to at the attempted erasure of MacDonald, we find the more balanced perspective of a thoughtful late-Boomer:

The tragedy of history is that many terrible things happen because of human error, or even the inherent intractability of human problems, not human guilt. The Canadian state of the early 1880s was weak and poor, and only hazily in control of the massive slice of map labeled with its name in the world atlas. Canadian leaders wielded scanty resources and were guided by inadequate information. These unsatisfactory but uncriminal realities have been frothed into a language of “genocide” and “democide” invented in other places to describe the worst atrocities in human history.

https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/06/defense-canada-prime-minister-john-macdonald/619236/

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
1 month ago

Curious article that inadvertently or perhaps intentionally highlights the problems – sort of.
Let’s start with “young elites in their twenties and thirties who occupy junior or mid-level posts across government, finance, tech, NGOs, and other prestige sectors.” Notice that none of the ‘prestige’ sectors involve actually producing anything. The fact that a government job, once considered to be a trade-off between private-sector advancement and riches for lower-pay long-term security, is now a sweet “have your cake and eat it too” gig. 
Then there’s a bunch of meandering bafflegab before we get to this bit of inspiration: “The young Laurentians will have to secure new sources of capital from abroad, and devise the requisite instruments of developmental finance with which to steer it toward productive and profitable investments in the real economy, particularly in manufacturing, prefab and modular construction, nuclear and hydrogen energy, transportation and public infrastructure.”
Translation: Young Canadians are/will realize that the country has to get back to doing what made it successful in the first place but I wonder if they realize that going back to “dance with that one that brung ya’” will require a seismic political and social shift away from the progressive neo-socialist rabbit hole the Trudeau Liberals have dragged us down. Canada can no longer afford to stifle/stall/delay resource development with Net Zero ideology. Canada can no longer afford a bloated a public sector and their iron rice bowls. Canada can no longer afford the luxury of unsustainable immigration levels. Canada can no longer afford the luxury of “Not necessarily the best” DEI and ESG practices.
The Trudeau Liberals and their MSM friends have done a great job of re-imagining their failed and destructive attempt at a WEF-inspired Great Reset as a “doing our best with the hand we were dealt” response to external challenges. Then they deflect responsibility by resorting to schoolyard challenges against the Poilievre Conservatives: “OK smart guy, got any better ideas?”. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than Trudeau’s climate tax fiasco. A craven and obvious attempt at wealth redistribution that hasn’t budged the needle on emissions, pundits repeatedly opine that the onus is on Poilievre to have a better climate plan. Why?
Which brings us to “this plan cannot take shape under Poilievre”. Pierre Poilievre (PP) knows what the problems are but he also knows that he has to elected first before he can deal with them. Certainly the climate tax will go as there’s growing support among the provinces. Even Trudeau admitted (oddly) that immigration levels are too high. PP will certainly move on spending cuts but the Liberals are counting on an electorate divided between those that are hoping PP will make the necessary cuts and public sector/NGO dependents that are afraid he will. The author claims PP is anti-corporate but it’s more a case of being anti-corporate subsidy. 
In any case, it will require strong and bitter medicine to fix what ails Canada.  

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
1 month ago

NO, NO, NO. Big government is the problem, not the solution.

George K
George K
1 month ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

Big federal government especially

Daniel P
Daniel P
1 month ago

Don’t blame GenX, we have been under the rule of the Boomers all our lives.
And you do not want to mess with us because we do not care about hurting your feelings or offending you. In fact, if you let us know what hurts your feelings of offends you we will just do it more for fun.
Your talking about a generation who’s main slogan is “Whatever”.

George K
George K
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel P

Sad but true

Walter Lantz
Walter Lantz
1 month ago

Curious article that inadvertently or perhaps intentionally highlights the problems – sort of. 
Let’s start with “young elites in their twenties and thirties who occupy junior or mid-level posts across government, finance, tech, NGOs, and other prestige sectors.” Notice that none of the ‘prestige’ sectors involve actually producing anything. A government job, once considered to be a trade-off between private-sector advancement and riches for long-term security, is now a sweet “have your cake and eat it too” gig.  
Then there’s a bunch of meandering bafflegab before we get to this bit of inspiration: “The young Laurentians will have to secure new sources of capital from abroad, and devise the requisite instruments of developmental finance with which to steer it toward productive and profitable investments in the real economy, particularly in manufacturing, prefab and modular construction, nuclear and hydrogen energy, transportation and public infrastructure.” 
Translation: Young Canadians are/will realize that the country has to get back to doing what made it successful in the first place but I wonder if they realize that going back to “dance with that one that brung ya’” will require a seismic political and social shift away from the progressive neo-socialist rabbit hole the Trudeau Liberals have dragged us down. Canada can no longer afford to stifle/stall/delay resource development with Net Zero ideology. Canada can no longer afford a bloated a public sector and their iron rice bowls. Canada can no longer afford the luxury of unsustainable immigration levels. Canada can no longer afford the luxury of “Not necessarily the best” DEI and ESG practices. 
The Trudeau Liberals and their MSM friends have done a great job of papering over the damage caused by their failed and destructive attempt at a WEF-inspired Great Reset as a “doing our best with the hand we were dealt” response to external challenges. Then they deflect responsibility by resorting to schoolyard challenges against the Poilievre Conservatives: “OK smart guy, got any better ideas?”. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than Trudeau’s climate tax fiasco. A craven and obvious attempt at wealth redistribution that hasn’t budged the needle on world emissions yet pundits repeatedly opine that the onus is on Poilievre to have a better climate plan. Why?
Which brings us to “this plan cannot take shape under Poilievre”. Pierre Poilievre (PP) knows what the problems are but he also knows that he has to elected first before he can deal with them. Certainly the climate tax will go as there’s growing support among the provinces. Even Trudeau admitted (oddly) that immigration levels are too high. PP will certainly move on spending cuts but the Liberals are counting on an electorate divided between those that are hoping PP will make the necessary cuts and public sector dependents that are afraid he will. The author claims PP is anti-corporate but it’s more a case of being anti-corporate subsidy. $30B in EV manufacturing subsidies were recently announced even as the future of that Chinese-dominated industry was gathering doubt.  
In any case, it will require strong and bitter medicine to fix what ails Canada.  

Arthur King
Arthur King
1 month ago

The writer fails to see the Canadian Midwest and its outsized impact on Canada. The region was largely founded by Midwest Americans and has developed various reform movements. It is not hampered by mortibound Laurentian thinking but is more American in its outlook. Midwestern Canadians like the writer may not even realize they belong to a different historical outlook due to Central Canadian dominated curriculums. Most of us we fed the Two Solitudes BS, without knowledge our region is largely german-american and Ukranian. We are a distinct society who historically has been exploited by the Laurentians. Currently the Canadian Midwest is asserting it existing sovereignty from the federal system. My hope is we can tackle transfer payments which are a huge drain on our prosperity. Second, we must move to an even more decentralized system such that the justification for the massive Quebec dominated federal government can be rendered obsolete.

Chris Warfe
Chris Warfe
1 month ago
Reply to  Arthur King

OMG! Do you have a single idea in your head that was not planted there by Western Separatists ( you know – Americans of the Trump variety!). Listening to you, living here in Quebec, makes me want to do something I previously would have been disgusted by – give Legault a big hug! ( at least Quebec Separatists get their ideas directly from the “best” Right Wing thinkers in Paris – Zemmour ) With that I think I will retire to the wine cellar for a nice “Niagara Bordeaux”.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Chris Warfe

It’s always been the problem with oil on the brain, ha

Sean G
Sean G
1 month ago

Michael Cuenco, you’ve written a brilliant analysis here. In a sentence I think you’ve given Canadian GenX-ers too much agency: a lot of us spent our early adult lives floundering while Boomers had a lock on jobs they held onto for far too long. A lot of us had to leave, at least for a while. (My gratitude to a certain country outside of North America, to which I owe a viable career that came, eventually, and I’ll probably move back there.) I will concede, however, that GenX was just far too passive. As for what Canada’s for… Indeed, it’s culturally empty. And you’re right about Poilievre; it’ll just be business as usual alongside an even more blatantly pro-US foreign policy: I’ve always seen Canadian PMs as some kind of hyperactively synchophantic lapdogs jumping up the legs of US Presidents.

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
1 month ago
Reply to  Sean G

Yeah, those boomers had a lock on jobs alright. Every hiring manager in the country decided to keep them on and pay them more, even when it was clear they couldn’t do the job as well as some Gen-Xer. Held onto them for far too long! How unfair!

michael addison
michael addison
1 month ago

The trouble with Pierre P is that he seems to in many respects resemble BoJo – e.g. a populist aligned against the system (“gatekeepers” to use his jargon), but, like Boris, doesn’t espouse actual conservative policies that could alter the country’s trajectory. For example, is he for a low tax, deregulated smaller state? Is he willing to challenge the wokeification of Canadian institutions and dismantle the liberal-consensus blob that dominates the narrative in Canada? There is precious little evidence of this. So, he’ll likely tilt at windmills and ultimately fail and Canada will continue its slow descent into mediocrity while deflecting from same with its usual formula of condescension and smugness, particularly with respect to its more successful and dynamic southern neighbour. Having been an expat for 20+ years, it is very difficult to avoid concluding that the place has become poorer, less dynamic and more delusional. Sad.

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
28 days ago

heck even Ford can not challenge the wokeification of Ontario so don’t hold out hope for PP.

George K
George K
1 month ago

As an immigrant in Canada I can tell that becoming “canadian” is like signing up for a service: you pay taxes and the company provides services ( decent environment, education, healthcare etc. ). Of course, the company (“Canada Inc”) has a sort of customer support but it’s not going to solve all your problems with “Canada”, so if you’re always free to sign off and move elsewhere. Immigrants shouldn’t mistake Canada for a “home” or think they’re getting shares in this enterprise.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  George K

Welcome to Canada, where most immigrants have to work their way up from the bottom to the top, as it’s always been, and where it’s the case in all countries with immigration. Consider yourself lucky

Rob Keeley
Rob Keeley
1 month ago

I’ve often wondered idly why a wealthy, presumably cultured and educated country like Canada has never produced a classical composer of any significance, compared with, say, the USA. A couple of great pianists (Glenn Gould, Marc-Andre Hamelin, for instance) – but no world-class conductor? (Happy to be proved wrong)-

Oh, and it would help if the media weren’t state-controlled.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob Keeley

Depends what you mean by “cultured”, Canada has produced plenty of accomplished musicians including Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Oscar Peterson, Gordon Lightfoot and bands like Rush, Tragically Hip, Guess Who and many others. I also like classical music, except for it’s tendency to lean towards cultural snobbery

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
28 days ago
Reply to  Rob Keeley

??? the Canadian media is not state controlled! There is the CBC but it is not state controlled – at all. I worked there for a bit. The rest of the media is not even vaguely involved with the state. Newspapers are very poor (which presumably is why so many of us are here on UNherd) but state controlled it absolutely ain’t.
As for Canadian classical music, there’s Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Ben Heppner, R. Murray Schafer just to name 3 off the top of my head. Canada does not have a huge population but we hold our own. Visual arts, not so much unfortunately. Theatre has been a bit dead for a while – which is one reason I ply my trade in London.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

 the situation has become so dire that the government has been advised to view its own young people as a looming national security threat

Hence the need to emasculate them through CRT pedagogy and LGBQT ideology.

Barry Stokes
Barry Stokes
1 month ago

First of all these hypothetical ‘newbies’ need to dump net-zero and set about a program of industrialisation utiliising the wealth of raw materials beneath our feet….gas and oil in particular, and rare-earth metals and minerals. With the current global issues and in terms of the future, we’re going to need them, for our own benefit and for would-be purchasers.
Cue screams of anguish and rage from the eco-zealots who live in a fantasy land.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Barry Stokes

Let’s burn all the oil, gas and coal until it’s all gone, then what? Speaking of fantasy land, more like flood zones.

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
29 days ago
Reply to  Francis Twyman

I don’t know, but last century no one had heard of fracking, or smart phones, or AI, and so far our free-market engineering ability to make more out of less has outstripped every supposed lack. Always.
We don’t have an economics of scarcity we live under an economy of miracles. Tell your grandchild what your first phone and first camera looked like, and then ask her to show you her iPhone. Then suggest that her technological world is a dead end? It’s old-school scarcity-thinking that is a dead end, driven by old people with no ideas except fear-mongering. Chill. We got this.

Apo State
Apo State
1 month ago

The author of the article does not even mention Quebec. Although it was part of the “Laurentian” economy, Quebec’s linguistic and cultural peculiarities — not to mention its repeated attempts to secede from Canada — are very much a part of the dysfunctionality of the Canadian government.
You can never fully understand Canada without taking into account the essential French/English divide, and how it persists from the Plains of Abraham to today.

Francis Twyman
Francis Twyman
1 month ago
Reply to  Apo State

There is nothing “peculiar ” about Quebec, they are only seeking to protect their language and culture , something the rest of Canada was never able to understand or accept, without New France and Quebec there would have been no Canada, the United States would have taken it all.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 month ago
Reply to  Francis Twyman

I think followers of the British General Brock would take issue with you there. Brock would have continued on to New Orleans but for a sniper.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 month ago

As an outsider boomer in UK apparently as guilty of despoiling, I’ve been to Canada several times over the years. Ottawa was part woke 30 years ago. I say part woke because you could walk from the Ottawa Chateau Laurier; from Charity breakfasts to hippy love ins and white dreadlocks in only a few hundred yards; with out of town motorbike gangs dealing in drugs.
Always the question, why is Canada different to USA? Agriculture? Both have country rednecks, truckers and oilmen, traditionally as unwoke as can be. It’s the redneck who’ll elect a Trump; a charity breakfaster Trudeau.
Boomers are getting it in the neck everywhere. A generation sired by the folk who fought the biggest conflict in history; thought it time to celebrate landing on the Moon, have a car, a fancy TV, a house, disposable income.
Yes, a few quid, dollars, pesos, fled offshore. Nothing in Gen Z world to lure it back. The millennials want it back but its not theirs. I’m not sure they know how to spend it.

Andrew Roman
Andrew Roman
1 month ago

All this talk about generation this or that assumes that everyone or most members of any generation are just like everyone else in that generation. There were many poor boomers and are many wealthy in subsequent generations. This type of human stereotyping by year of birth is generalizing too broadly. It reminds me of astrology. Now we can read your generation’s horoscope and predict your future as a Canadian.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
29 days ago

Will the potential leadership of Canada do anything to revoke the insane euthanasia and other woke inspired laws?

James P
James P
29 days ago

When I was in my twenties, living with my similarly aged true love, interest rates were 20%+ and my friends who owned homes were abandoning them for lack money to pay those rates. We eventually left Canada, made money and a child elsewhere, and returned home in our late thirties with a downpayment for a small house. Our kids definitely face economic challenges, but they aren’t unfamiliar to us.

Dr. G Marzanna
Dr. G Marzanna
28 days ago

well, there is much in here that rings true – ouch – but as a cynical Gen Xer who grew up in Canada, I wish to absolve us of the destruction of Canada. That was purely a Boomer job. We came of age into recession after recession. While some of us managed to buy homes, they weren’t houses they were ‘condos’ most of them (in Vancouver at least) leaky. The decent jobs, pensions and so on were clung onto by the Boomers.
Then, just as things looked like they might improve, we were flooded by exceptionally high immigration which reduced the average wage AND raised house prices beyond anything anyone had ever seen before. Add in enormous amounts of (often) illgotten wealth from totalitarian regimes abroad which skewered the economy. Ordinary Canucks were taxed to death while newcomers swan around on untaxed wealth earned abroad.
Finally Canada ate itself. The late Gen Xers and the Milenniums invented woke: decolonisation, indigenous-worship, drug-users-rights, and so on. To be Canadian was a hopeless task. Why bother, since we were so evil.
By this time I had already repatriated myself to my ancestors’ lands of Europe (how noble of me!) where I have far more opportunities and a much more optimistic milieu to thrive in.
I’d love to live in Canada again but the mentality absolutely depresses me. I hope you are an agent of change, Michael.