The Fractured Nation Interviews
Diane Francis Smith
The Freeloader Economic Theory
Diane: The reason I asked you to introduce me as the author of Freddy the Freeloading Country was not to make light of Canada’s disappearance from history or to suggest that the topic was not worthy of serious discussion – quite the contrary.
Very few countries, in fact none comes to mind, have gone so quickly from self-reliance to absolute, debilitating dependency, to insignificance in such a short period of time. The rise and fall of Canada, if you can call it that, should be studied, if only to serve as a warning to others who would consider a similar “beggar thy neighbour” economic policy.
Johnny: Freeloader? Until my youngest talked to me about your book, I had never heard of the freeloader economic theory. Why freeloader when referring to Canada?
Diane: The world-wide-web defines freeloader as someone who takes advantage of the generosity of others. Freeloading is a very simple economic model on how to get by therefore a good place to begin to teach children about economics. It’s a theory based on getting something for nothing or next to nothing.
It is, to use an abused cliché, not rocket science. The only thing required of the practitioner is a complete lack of self-respect and a blustery personality to obscure a raging inferiority complex. You don’t have to think too much, others will do the thinking for you. You don’t have to manage your own affairs others will do it for you.
A lyric to a song from a late 20th century recording artist says it all “Don’t worry be happy.” But letting others do it all for you, while you march through life in blissful ignorance, does come at a cost, a substantial cost.
Johnny: And this is the type of economy or economic model, you maintain, was a characteristic of the last fifty years of Canada’s existence?
Diane: Yes, and in my opinion, the adoption by Canada of the freeloading economic model was the most significant contributing factor to the country’s demise.
Johnny: When did Canada become a convert to the freeloading economic model?
Diane: The descent from self-reliance to freeloading, and it was a descent, did not just happen from one day to the next. The descent can be traced to three key political decisions taken over a period of about thirty years. While history tells us that these decisions were made when the same political party was in power, history also tells us that when another party came into power, professing to have different objectives than the party it replaced, it did not take the necessary steps to reverse, what were obviously disastrous decisions, but instead continued the same policies.
Johnny: Can you give us an example of one of these disastrous decisions?
Diane: Of course. Take national defence, for instance. For reasons which historians still don’t quite understand and I think your viewers will find quite incredible, Canada in 1959 decided that it could no longer provide for its own defence. This was an even more incredible decision considering what the country had shown itself capable of before this fateful decision.
Johnny: Canada, in its infancy and during the first part of the 20th century accomplished many noteworthy, complex and challenging things. What, for you, were the most memorable, those that you claim the country had shown itself “capable of” before, as you said, Canada decided it could no longer provide for its own defence?
Diane: Gladly. In the last quarter of the 19th century with only 5 million souls Canada built a transcontinental railway; during the First World War, with a population approaching nine million Canada raised and equipped an army of over 500,000 men and women and sent them to fight and achieve victory an ocean away.
During the Second World War, with a population of slightly more than thirteen million people at its outset, Canada not only provided for its own fighting men and women but supplied so much war materials to its allies in the struggle that it earned the distinction Arsenal of Democracy and, to get the war materials and supplies to the battlefields, Canada created the second largest merchant marine in the world.
During the 20 year peace between the two world wars Canada created a national broadcasting company so that all Canadians could share in the Canadian experience; during the same period Canada created a national airline so that even remote communities would have access to air transport – Air Canada would become an international carrier with a world-wide reputation for good service and safety before sinking into bankruptcy fifty years later at the hands of its American management.
Only four years after the end of the Second World War, Canada designed and built the first jet transport in North America. It made its maiden flight in August 1949 only 13 days after the flight of the British Comet, the first jet passenger flight in the world…
Johnny: And this was the country that decided in 1959 that it could no longer provide for it’s own defence?
Diane: Yes. Incredible isn’t it?
Johnny: When you are talking about the country not willing to continue providing for its own defence, are you referring to the cancellation of the all-Canadian, all-weather advance fighter-interceptor, the Avro Arrow, by the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker?
Diane: You’re not born a freeloader, Johnny. Something has to happen to start making you doubt your own abilities to look after yourself. For Canadians, in my opinion, this was the cancellation of the Arrow. While its economic impact was significant – an immediate loss of more than 14,000 jobs – it was the psychological impact which, in the long run, was much more damaging, sowing doubts about the nation’s ability to do the big difficult things.
For me, John Diefenbaker was the first of what you referred to as “these hollow men”, in your introduction to this week's topic. He was a man who could not rise above his own insecurities, a vindictive petty man in public and in private who began the process of cutting Canada down to his size. With the loss of self-confidence that the cancellation of the Arrow introduced, the next decision that would complete the descent into dependency was inevitable.
Johnny: From what I remember of my Canadian history, after the cancellation of the Arrow, Canada did go on to accomplish quite extraordinary feats. For example, in 1962 Canada introduced nationalized health care which gave every Canadian access to quality health-care no matter what their social status or income level; in 1965 the Liberal government of Lester B. Pearson, against vociferous opposition from this same Diefenbaker gave the country its own flag; in 1967, which well-known author Pierre Berton recalled in his novel The Last Good Year, Canada held a grandiose, majestic, inspiring world fair.
Diane: Yes, the 1967 world fair was indeed quite an accomplishment but, as Mr. Berton makes quite clear, it was the last good year. The country could have used the spirit of 1967 to undo some of the damage done to Canada’s self-confidence by the cancellation of the Arrow but for some reason it did not. Instead the downward spiral to beggar economics continued.
Johnny: In your opinion why did the 1967 Montreal World Fair, why did it not serve as a catalyst to get Canada moving again in the right direction? Why did it not re-energize the country?