Eric Crampton on a homage to Canadiana, refugees, red tape, the dairy cartel, corruption, artificial intelligence, Dilbert & more

Today’s Top 10 is a guest post from Eric Crampton, head of research at the New Zealand Initiative.

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Most of the time, I look at policy in Canada and despair at how much worse things are back home. But the past few months have reminded me that Canada gets a couple of things right that New Zealand simply hasn’t managed to figure out yet.

And so today’s Top 10 begins with an homage to Canadiana, with a policy twist. Here’s some of the recent best, and worst, from the Great White North. And then the other interesting bits from the accumulating browser tabs.

1. Refugee Policy.

Canada gets this one very very right. When the Syrian refugee crisis hit its peak a few months ago, New Zealand’s civil society yearned to help. Churches rallied to demand that the country increase its refugee quota. People promised that they could help by taking in a refugee family for a while. But, it was all rather useless. The government’s cap on refugees is the government’s cap on refugees, and it doesn’t matter whether you or anyone else wants to help – the most you can do is give money to the charities helping refugees in camps in Lebanon and elsewhere. That kind of charitable contribution is truly worthy and is one of the best things you can do, if you’re charitably minded. But New Zealand could learn from Canada’s example.

In Canada, the response to the crisis was rather different – because Canada’s institutions for dealing with refugees are that much better. In Canada, groups of five individuals, or churches, or other organisations, can pledge to support an incoming refugee for a year. When they do that, one more refugee is allowed into the country. Instead of running campaigns to lift an arbitrary cap on numbers, civil society organisations could work to build the resources to let more refugees come.

By letting communities put their money where their hearts are, Canada simply is able to do more to help. We could learn a lot from that here. Here’s the Government of Canada website welcoming the 25,000 Syrian refugees Canada is hoping to help.

Here’s the Ottawa Citizen’s explanation on how Canadians can help refugees.  It’s also worth noting that privately sponsored refugees do far better both in integrating into the community and in securing employment. 

Why not trial this kind of compassionate policy in one of our regions that would be happy to have more people? Trying this kind of policy seems a lot more productive than shouting at the government, or other voters, about morals and the like. It would let those who want to help go ahead and get on with doing so. And Canada’s Michael Ignatieff explains why fixing refugee policy makes good strategic sense too.

2. Red Tape.

Overall, Canada’s regulatory red tape seems much worse than New Zealand’s. Just try milking a cow without buying quota from the dairy cartel. But, Canada’s also started working to make things better. In April, they passed the Red Tape Reduction Act. Every new regulation introduced has to see one old regulation repealed. Where did they get the idea? Canada has provinces, and British Columbia came up with the idea first. They started down this road in the 2000s. And now it’s federal government policy. The Mercatus Centre explains how it’s worked.

There are two big lessons for New Zealand.

First, if you don’t put a cap on red tape or some other regulatory budget, bureaus will just keep producing more regulation. Why? If they want to do something, it’s cheaper for the government to load the costs onto business through regulatory fiat than to run it as an on-budget expenditure. With no Fiscal Responsibility Act to keep things in check on the regulatory side, well, we get what we’ve got. Canada shows one way of turning that around.

Second, trying things out in one region to see if it works can help us in figuring out which policies make sense. It could have been that British Columbia’s project would have been unworkable – and a disaster if rolled out nationally all at one go. But they tried it at smaller scale, within a province, then rolled it out more broadly when it showed results. We at the Initiative really want this kind of approach adopted in New Zealand as well.

3. And now for the dark side: corruption.

Canada’s provincial structure allows policy innovation. But, on the other side, something is rotten in the Province of Quebec. The Charbonneau Inquiry found that the rumours of corruption there were, well, rather worse than a lot of people might have expected. I grew up in Manitoba, closer to Western Canada. We’d hear rumours of corruption in Quebec, but Quebec politicians, both at the provincial and federal level, always told us that those were just nasty things promulgated by Quebec-hating Anglos. They hid corruption behind culture. Well, no more hiding.

4. Craft Brewing?

Things vary a lot province-to-province, and things are improving in Manitoba, but what a disaster overall. When I left the province of one million people, there was one craft brewery in operation: Fort Garry. Things are improving a little bit: you can buy a growler (refillable container) of beer from either of the two Winnipeg-based craft brewers at the government monopoly liquor vending outlets. And, for the first time, those breweries are being allowed to have taprooms in which up to no more than 50 patrons are permitted to sample beer. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s far more open brewing scene encourages fantastic innovation. And yet another study finds that light drinking is good for you.

5. The Dairy Cartel.

TPP or no, Canada’s dairy sector remains ridiculously protected. The Canadian Dairy Cartel moaned that imports equivalent to 3.25% of Canada’s 2016 milk production will be allowed into the country, but drew some comfort from that the Canadian government would provide them substantial compensation for even that small concession. The Toronto Globe and Mail painted it as a missed opportunity. They’re right. They could have bought out the dairy farmers’ quota entirely, abolished supply management, and still left consumers and farmers better off. But it would have required somehow explaining to Canadian voters that the package made sense. And it is hard to explain complicated things to voters sometimes.

But enough about Canada. On to other matters.

6. Obesity isn’t always as bad as you think.

Being grossly obese isn’t good for your life expectancy. But being a bit overweight seems to help. Some of our health messaging around obesity perhaps could be a bit more nuanced.

7. On the promise of A.I.

The New Yorker piece on artificial intelligence and Nick Bostrom is excellent. They do not warn of the dangers of Roko’s Basilisk, but it’s best not to speak of those. I won’t even link it. Don’t search for it either. It was probably stupid of me even to mention it.

8. Europa: Oh, but I’m keen to find out what they’ll find when they send out the Europa lander.

9. It’s rather ridiculous the hoops through which researcher Jarrod Gilbert has to jump to do his work: the New Zealand Police do not make it easy to access public data that they hold. But that is true across the New Zealand Government. We need better access to open data across the board.

10. Finally, a fun way to save a bit of money in your Christmas shopping – if the kids aren’t sharp enough to pick up on it.