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Canadian policy: copying and gradualism
Don't scare the median voter
Canadian policymaking tends to be cautious and risk-adverse, relying on copying and gradualism.
Andre Siegfried, a young French scholar writing more than 100 years ago, observed that because of Canada's fragility, Canadian politicians sought to avoid emphasizing social or regional divisions.
Joseph Heath noted in The Efficient Society (2002) that although Canada has been quite successful in pursuing efficiency, getting maximum results with minimum waste, it doesn’t feel efficient; it feels sluggish and laid-back.
Matthew Yglesias, writing about California’s underperforming education system:
My view is that laggards should not usually try to be innovators. If Texas wants to make its schools better, the only clearly superior examples are from liberal states (Massachusetts and New Jersey) with much higher taxes and per-student spending levels. So if you’re a Texas Democrat, the solution is to raise taxes and spend more. And if you’re a Texas Republican, you need to try to innovate. But California should be copying the more successful liberal states.
Copying is exactly what Canada does. Policymakers in Canada pay a lot of attention to what other jurisdictions have done. When you're trying to convince policymakers and voters to support a policy, it's extremely helpful to be able to point to some other jurisdiction which has already done so successfully. (This is why I spend quite a bit of time talking about what other jurisdictions have been doing on housing.)
Conversely, Canadians aren't comfortable with being the first to do something. I remember that when BC decided to delay the second Covid shot by four months instead of three weeks, there was quite a lot of anxiety, with press coverage commenting that nobody else had done this. (It turned out to be a good decision.)
Canadian policy also tends to favour gradualism and compromise. You don't see a lot of cases where Canadian policy can be described as a "leap of faith."
As Greg Berman and Aubrey Fox argue in Gradual, incrementalism works. Revolutionaries promise paradise but often bring about bloodshed, bread lines and book-banning. Humanity has grown more prosperous by making a long series of often modest improvements to an unsatisfactory status quo. The Industrial Revolution, despite its name, was not a single, sudden event but thousands of cumulative innovations spread across nearly a century. “Over time, incremental reforms can add up to something truly transformative,” note the authors.
For housing, I usually describe what I think should happen as the “next level up.” A series of incremental policy changes is going to be more feasible than policy changes which are sweeping and revolutionary.
In low-density residential areas, allow “gentle density” - multiplexes, townhouses, small apartment buildings.
Allow high-rises near city centres and rapid transit stations. This is where land prices are highest, because you have more people wanting to live there.
Allow housing “by right” instead of requiring rezoning, which is time-consuming and uncertain (and therefore expensive).
Similarly, use fixed development charges instead of negotiating them. They act like a brake pedal; if more housing is needed, let up on the brake pedal by lowering the charges.