As stories decrying America’s dysfunctional politics mount (see Spitzer, Weisberg, and Fallows), I take solace in the boring, if irrelevant, politics in Ottawa. The current maelstrom afflicting Canadian politics is Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s proroguing–shutting down–of Parliament. The prime minister’s unilateral decision has provoked condemnation in many corners, but nobody’s writing off the viability of the Canadian political system. The government is functioning, the opposition is wrangling, and the public is content.

What’s most impressive about policymaking in this country is its focus on the long run. Think tanks, bureaucrats, and politicians have taken the lead in thinking about challenges confronting Canada in the next few decades. Watching CPAC–the Canadian Public Affairs Channel–is an eyeopener. The countless conferences and summits going on in Ottawa concerning Canada’s economic policy and national security are reassuring. Canada@150, for instance, is an initiative of the Policy Research Initiative of the Government of Canada, and it’s intended to encourage the input of public servants. The Liberal Party of Canada, the current opposition, is hosting a conference in Montreal (Canada at 150: Rising to the challenge) to develop a platform and to push for a national debate about public policy in the country. And then there’s Canada2020, a project that brings political and community leaders to speak about “social and economic prosperity” for Canadians.

While the majority of the Canadian public is disinterested in the kind of nuts-and-bolts policy thinking that goes on at these conferences, there is a minority–a public policy elite, if you will–that’s concerned about the country’s future. It speaks to the historically elitist nature of Canadian politics, which has been driven by a coterie of serious but entrenched interests (the Toronto/Montreal Liberal Anglo clan, and now a new Western clan). Our politics have never been populist or truly democratic. The reason for Canada’s sensible, consistent public policy is that the public isn’t involved in policy. The political system in the United States, on the other hand, is beholden to what Richard Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics.” Witness: the Tea Party movement, a collection of confused and vile morons pretending to uphold what they imagine to be the American constitution. Canada doesn’t have that kind of mass participation, and that’s a good thing.

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