New Post has been published on http://dougsaunders.net/2014/09/public-thought-canadas-crisis-underpopulation/
Public Thought and Canada’s Crisis of Underpopulation
This essay originally appeared as a chapter in The Public Intellectual In Canada (2003), edited by Nelson Wiseman (University of Toronto Press).
The jazz pianist Paul Bley, two decades after he had left Montreal’s downstairs clubland for the frenetic experimentation of Greenwich Village, told an interviewer why it was necessary to leave Canada. There simply wasn’t, in any Canadian city, the critical mass of musical inventors, not enough people around to make the scene, and the difference was immediately, explosively apparent. “For us practicing our standards and sitting in and playing well and whatever, it just wasn’t the same breed of animal. You thought you were playing jazz … But when you heard the amount of wind that came off these stands [in New York], you realized you would have to totally lose your reticent Canadian personality before you could even expect to keep up. That the shock. That incredible power. And confidence.”
The architect Frank Gehry, five decades after he left the staid streets of post-war Toronto for the modernist foment of Los Angeles, told me that his radical reconfiguration of the public building into a new curvilinear form would never have taken place had he stayed in Canada. “I remember reading the final exam for first-year architecture – they had the exams there [in secondary school] so you could see what it was like – and you had to design a traditional little cottage. And I remember thinking, this is just terrible, boring, nothing to it. So based on that, if I had stayed there, I never would have gotten into architecture.” As it happened, his classmate at Harbord Collegiate, Morley Safer, made a similar discovery, about the world of television journalism, after spending a few years at the postwar CBC before fleeing to the greater creative possibilities of a larger country.
We have little trouble understanding why a great jazz pianist or architect, or perhaps even a TV personality, might find it necessary to leave Canada in order to achieve a full realization of their creative potential. While these pursuits and their attendant institutions all exist within Canada, it is widely appreciated that Canada does not yet have a sufficiently large population to provide the very big cities, major educational institutions, and large constellations of peers, audiences, funders, and tutors necessary to host these crafts in their most elevated and influential form. It hardly surprises us that a successful actor should relocate to Los Angeles or New York or London, or a tenor to Berlin or Milan, and in fact we tend to be suspicious, for good reason, of those who don’t. This, we know, is just the nature of a place like Canada. To be something of an outpost, albeit one that exports a good number of future stars, is no source of shame; rather, it is accepted as a consequence of being a very sparsely populated country. Canada’s underpopulation, for people in these fields, is an ever-present factor.
That is hardly a controversial point. Not, at least, when it is applied to the creative arts. When the subject turns to matters of public thought, national self-examination, and political development, though, we tend to look away. That Canada’s political, intellectual, and rhetorical development is constrained by a crisis of underpopulation should be a self-evident fact, but it is one that is rarely admitted in public. Are we less intelligent because there are so few of us, spread over such a large expanse of land? No, certainly not as individuals. But collectively, this sad confluence of demography and geography does leave us impoverished. We may indeed be able to think and imagine great things, but our sparsity renders us unable to articulate these thoughts, to build them into a network of reflection, to convey them to a wide public, to build a functioning national dialogue on a proper scale. The crisis of underpopulation is, in every important way, made manifest as a crisis of public thought.
The problem, in short, is that anglophone Canada lacks the population and audience base to create and maintain the institutions that make public thought possible – periodicals, think tanks, institutes, publishers. The economies of scale simply do not exist, beyond a minimal level, to allow these institutions and venues to develop in sufficient size and for sufficient duration to create a body of influential and fully developed and debated public ideas. The history of Canada is one of such institutions endlessly being formed, sometimes with great ambitions, and then after a brief period either going out of business or failing to attain any more than a token size, staffing level, publication reach, or public influence. We have no place to put our thought, because we do not have enough people to support a container.
What do I mean here by “public thought?” While other authors in this collection will examine this question in detail, I am deliberately going to leave my definitions broad and general, because the nature of the thought is secondary to the question of its ability to exist. For the benefit of this argument, though, I will examine two widely used definitions of public thought: as a form of influential expression and analysis located in the publishing space between formal academia and mass-market journalism; and as a form of political and policy thought located in think tanks and institutes that support the political system and articulate both academic and ideological concepts in a public space. Both of these crucial forms of thought and the institutions that support them, I will argue, are severely underdeveloped in Canada, to the point that public intellectuals are largely absent from the most important debates on identity and policy. At root is the crisis of underpopulation, a concept that I will briefly discuss before examining its effects.
The Nature of Canada’s Underpopulation
The fundamental reason why these institutions are so much less robustly developed in Canada – and therefore the reason why public thought has less voice and influence in Canada – is that the community meant to support and draw from these institutions consists of somewhere between twenty-one and twenty-four million English speakers scattered more or less sparsely over an area of land encompassing five time zones, several geographic and cultural regions, a dozen isolated political jurisdictions, and the second largest land mass on Earth. Underpopulation is a basic fact in Canada, one whose challenges have played a major part in political and cultural debates throughout the country’s history, but is hard to gauge precisely.
In 2001, I asked a group of demographers to assess Canada’s “ideal” population on cultural, economic, and ecological grounds. While this is a nebulous question, given the impossibility of defining “ideal” and the many factors beyond mere population that could influence a country’s outcomes, there was a wide consensus that Canada’s optimum point would involve a population in the broad area of 100 million people. It was around the 100 million mark, reached shortly before 1920, that the United States was first able to assert itself economically as a fully independent force and to master and export its own forms of literature, music, cinema, and theatre – it was this population level that turned America into the capital of the modern world. The demographer Morton Weifeld made a comparison: If the tiny strip of land upon which most Canadians live – that is, less than a tenth of Canada’s land mass – were to develop the population density of the Netherlands (a dense European state, but one with plenty of open spaces and parklands), then Canada would have 400 million people. A population density one-quarter that of the Netherlands would leave Canada’s natural spaces untouched. (In fact, they would probably be far better protected: densely populated places like California and France tend to do better at conservation than empty zones like the Asian steppe, which produced such ecological catastrophes as the Aral Sea disaster unobserved.) –It would give this narrow southern strip of Canada the population density of Spain or Romania, two countries noted for their unspoiled tracts of nature. And it would expand Canada’s major cities to a size capable of exerting true influence, in wake of the World Bank’s well-supported conclusion that the very largest cities will be the ones that will prosper economically and culturally in this century’s economy. Most important, of course, would be the effects on Canada’s institutions: A tripling of the current population, giving Canada an anglophone or English-fluent allophone population of about 75 million, just more than Britain’s, would be just enough to support the aforementioned public-thought institutions at a sustainable and influential scale.
The 100 million figure keeps popping up; it seems to be a constantly rediscovered benchmark of Canadian success. In 1968, a group of scholars, policy advocates, and business leaders formed the Mid-Canada Development Corridor Foundation, which argued, based on research into resource industries, that Canada required a population of at least 100 million in order to have a sustainable and independent economy (its goals were partly those of economic nationalism). In 1975, a study by Canada’s Department of Manpower found that economies of scale leading to “significant benefits to Canadian industry” would occur only after the population had reached the 100 million mark. And more recently, in 2010, the journal Global Brief argued in detail that Canada will need a population of 100 million on geostrategic, defence, and diplomatic grounds:
A national population of 100 million – three times the current Canadian population – is a symbolic quantum. It could very well be 85 million or 130 million and yield the same desired effects. And these effects would be pincer-like: first, a far larger demographic base to build strong national institutions and structures (east-west-north-south) across the vast territory of Canada – institutions that, while today often absent or weak, would eventually serve as a bulwark for international strategic influence; and second, a far larger talent pool to populate the strategic arms of the Canadian state – the military, diplomatic, general civil service and political branches of government – as well as connected sectors and organizations (business, cultural, educational, scientific) in Canadian society at large. In the process, the Canada of 100 million, through the force of new domestic structures, coupled with growing international impact (and prestige), undergoes an evolution of the national geist – one arguably appropriate for this new, more complicated, more international century. In short, Canada becomes a serious force to be reckoned with.
Whether Canada’s ideal population is 100 million or half that many is not important here; what is important is that it is not currently high enough to support fully functional institutions of public thought, given the costs of serving a minimum audience base across a very large area of territory joined by expensive transportation links and severed by linguistic and regional discrepancies.
The Effects of Underpopulation on Public Thought
The first category of public thought to consider – the one perhaps most commonly considered – is public thought as a popular and influential form of expression and analysis located in the intellectual and media space between academic studies and journalism. This is the critical, reflective public thought of the review essay, the intelligent magazine, the print-heavy weekly. The “public intellectuals” who work in this arena have traditionally been a prevalent and influential force in the English-speaking world and are the group most broadly discussed in the United States, in part because of the fame of such communities of public thinkers as the New York Intellectuals and the neoconservatives, all of whom worked in this intermediary publishing space. There are similar communities in Europe, notably the circle of German thinkers, writers, and journalists who contribute regularly to the feuilleton sections of the broadsheet newspapers. (In France, public thought is more heavily reliant on accredited academics, though the feuilletons and intellectual magazines serve a similar purpose.)
This class of public thinkers are sometimes university-based academics and sometimes independent thinkers drawn from literary and journalistic communities, writing generally in essay forms (including review essays and longer magazine think-pieces, as well as occasional newspaper essays, and more recently the highbrow blog post and online essay) that engage both intellectual concepts and current cultural and political debates, in a language and format accessible to educated non-specialist members of the general public. Their work is, for example, the subject of Richard Posner’s provocative book Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline. The “decline” discussed by Posner is not a decline of public thought or its institutions in the United States per se, but rather a wilting of its quality caused by the shift of the mass of thinkers from the world of independent publishing into academia (causing them to resemble more their European counterparts), thus entrapping them in an increasingly micro-specialized disciplinary environment and damaging their ability to be universal, general-interest thinkers.
The crucial institutions of this sort of public thought are traditionally the political-essay weekly or fortnightly (the Spectator and New Statesman in Britain, and in the United States the New Republic and Nation on the left and the National Review and Weekly Standard on the right); the small political or intellectual magazine (the most famous being the New York–based magazines Politics, the Partisan Review, Commentary, Dissent, and the National Interest, some of which began as left-wing periodicals and became neoconservative in their later years); the review-essay weekly (the Times Literary Supplement, London Review of Books, and Literary Review in Britain, and the New York Review of Books in the United States); the “intelligent” mass-circulation monthly or sometimes weekly magazine (notably Prospect in Britain, and the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, and New Yorker in the United States); and the book publishing company willing to engage in serious long-form policy or academic-based popular non-fiction – whether an academic publisher willing to publish more generalist, popular titles (like Oxford University Press or the University of Chicago Press), or a mass-market publisher willing to publish more serious and analytical titles. This sphere of public thought also extends into the more sophisticated broadsheet newspapers and their online offshoots in most countries.
In Canada, this sort of public thought has always struggled against a severe shortage of institutions suited to its publication. Compared to the British and American publications listed above, the space between the mass media and the academic journal in Canada has generally been a barren plain, with occasional sprouts of momentary creative activity punctuating a thin undergrowth of publications too small and limited to have any impact on the national debate.
Even in far larger countries, the variety of periodicals in which public intellectuals thrive have always struggled to remain viable, regardless their influence. In the United States, the political-intellectual weeklies that have tended to dominate debate on the right and left have long regarded their threshold of medium-term survival as being a circulation of 100,000 copies. This level is just enough to support a minimum staff (heavily bolstered by unpaid interns and backstopped by charitable contributions) and to commission the sort of writing that suits the magazine’s goals. At the moment, the fortnightly National Review (203,000 copies) and the weekly Nation (158,000) are managing to break this threshold, while the fortnightly New Republic (54,000) and the Weekly Standard (81,000) are not, leaving their publication futures in jeopardy if they are to rely strictly on subscription and advertising revenues. Even at these circulation levels, however, these magazines are rarely able to remain solvent from their own resources. All four, to greater or lesser degrees, have relied on the ownership or largesse of wealthy individuals who have shared their political affinities. Indeed, the Nation has made this dependency a matter of pride, boasting in its advertising that it has lost money during every one of its 150-plus years of publication. The situation in the United Kingdom is similar, but the threshold smaller. There, magazines generally regard something in the circulation range of 30,000 to 50,000 to be the threshold of survival or failure, and even then they tend to rely heavily on volunteer efforts. The Spectator, the flagship of Britain’s conservative public intellectuals, manages between 75,000 and 80,000 subscribers, while its left-wing counterpart the New Statesman has hovered around 30,000, its existence often threatened by its low numbers.
This may help explain why such publications play little or no major public role in Canada: the subscription levels are an order of magnitude lower than those in the United States, and less than half those in Britain. There are no public-thought weeklies or fortnightlies of this sort in Canada, and serious monthly or bimonthly periodicals have struggled to exist. If the threshold of survival is 30,000 in Britain and 100,000 in the United States, in Canada it is generally considered to be 10,000 by magazine professionals. In practice, the magazines that have tried to carry the flag of public thought have rarely managed to break the 5000 mark. This is the case for This Magazine on the left, which continues only because of its charitable status (and thus receipt of indirect state funding through charitable-donation tax deductions) and reliance on volunteer labour; and for the erstwhile Western Report and its various precursors and successors on the right, all of which fell below this threshold and failed. (It is striking that Canada today lacks a serious long-form periodical, in print or online, for public intellectuals on the right.) While some of these publications have nurtured journalistic careers, none can be said to have influenced public thought or policy in Canada to any notable degree in modern times.
There have been periods of glory for such small magazines. For a time in the 1960s, the Canadian Forum, under the editorship of Ramsay Cook and William Kilbourn, managed to exert some real influence on the Canadian centre-left, both in the Liberal Party and the newly formed NDP; it played a significant role in launching the career of its sometime contributor Pierre Trudeau (as did the francophone, highly influential, but rarely read Montreal counterpart Cité Libre). And the small magazine Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication managed, under the editorship of Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan between 1953 and 1959, to have a considerable influence on the cultural politics and understanding of media at the time (as did McLuhan’s subsequent books, whose widespread discussion, publication, and influence mark a high-water mark for this sort of public thought in Canada). Today there remain a number of small Canadian public-thought publications of good quality that are focused on small but wide-interest communities of educated citizens, including a reinvigorated Queen’s Quarterly (which wielded some influence in the post-war decades), Global Brief, and Policy Options. Despite their importance, they do not have the influence or reach of their counterparts in other English-speaking countries, probably owing to the geographic and population challenges of Canada.
Without much chance of finding a home in viable single-focus publications, this sort of public thought in Canada has been left to the larger and more general-purpose weekly or monthly long-form magazine, which tends to balance entertainment and journalism with more serious fare that epitomizes public thought. This has been, especially in the United States, the most influential venue for the public intellectual, with publications ranging from the weekly New Yorker (with a circulation, however diminished, still exceeding one million) to Harper’s (220,000) and the Atlantic Monthly (400,000). In Britain, this field is left largely to Prospect magazine, whose circulation of around 40,000 is balanced by its considerable influence on larger-circulation mass media. Also, the weekly glossy magazines of daily newspapers sometimes rise to the level of public thought, notably the New York Times Magazine, which frequently publishes influential essays by both academics and journalists, but also occasionally the magazines of the Times or the Guardian in Britain.
In Canada, the fate of such long-form magazines has been a matter of constant public interest and concern throughout the post-war decades, precisely because of their status in formulating public thought and constructive policy debates in a way that could bring together the academy, the media, and government in a neutral territory. For much of that period the lion’s share of magazine advertising lineage in Canada was tied up in the Canadian editions of Reader’s Digest and Time, which together accounted for more than half the Canadian magazine business in both circulation and staffing. In the 1960s, when the federal government began talking seriously about taxing these titles to produce a fund for Canadian magazines, the need for significant public-intellectual titles came to the fore. Robert Weaver, the editor of Tamarack Review, expressed a popular view when he wrote, in 1961: “This fund should then be used to assist magazines that need support to stay alive, but the bulk of it should be used to establish and subsidize indefinitely one national monthly of the type of Harper’s or the Atlantic Monthly.”
That would never occur, of course. When the Canadian magazine industry did come to be protected by Ottawa in the 1970s, the largest recipient of funds in English Canada was Maclean’s, which used the federal money (as much as $3 million a year in subsidies during the 2000s) to shift away from public thought – that is, to change from a long-form monthly resembling Harper’s or the Atlantic Monthly, which it had occasionally been in the 1960s, into a newsweekly in the vein of Time, closed (until its recent resurrection) to the sort of public thought that Canada seemed to lack. For a period of three decades, this left the middle ground, largely unaccompanied, to the vicissitudes of Saturday Night, a magazine whose fortunes are often treated as synonymous with those of public thought in Canada; its collapse in 2005 was entirely a product of underpopulation, with both reading and advertising audiences far too small to support a serious monthly. Its successor the Walrus, formed by former staff with a greater interest in serious public thought, and with the backing of private individuals willing to risk their savings on a marginal title, has proved a lone outpost of a certain sort of public-intellectual writing in Canada during the past half-decade. There were other titles that briefly carried the torch: the Imperial Oil Review, which was serious and influential, if limited, between the 1950s and the 1970s; Quest, a large-circulation newspaper-insert title billed as “Canada’s urban magazine,” which for a few years in the 1970s, under the editorship of Michael Enright, managed to be a genuine vehicle for serious public thought, until it lowered its brow and then folded.
Review magazines have had a similarly spotty history, and this may be why the review essay, so important to influencing public debate in Britain and the United States, has never had much of a foundation in Canada. Books in Canada and Quill & Quire have largely relegated themselves to consumer-oriented reviews rather than essays. In the 1980s and until its demise in 1993, the Idler served as an important voice for public thought on the right (and proved, in the end, to be something of a test flight for the more intellectual incarnations of the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post, both of which ran substantial essay sections in the late 1990s and early 2000s). The one success story here is the Literary Review of Canada, which from its inception in 1991 has been a small-scale counterpart to the New York Review of Books, publishing important essays on public affairs and academic developments. But, like other publications, it is limited in scope by its government funding, which requires it to stick exclusively to Canadian topics and titles, a restriction that keeps it out of many important international debates.
Book publishing may appear to be one bright spot in Canadian public thought – indeed, it could be credibly argued that there are too many non-fiction titles published – but the effects of underpopulation are tangible. Most of the important public-intellectual publishing in Canada is done by the Toronto-based branches of the major New York publishers (Random House and Penguin – which have now merged – and HarperCollins). There is a good reason for this: independent Canadian publishers have failed to remain consistently viable because the size of the publishing market is simply too small. McClelland and Stewart, the flagship independent publisher for English Canada, managed to retain a voice in the post-war decades almost entirely because of large-scale government subsidies at every stage of the book-writing and publishing process (that is, so long as the contents of the books were largely Canadian, a fact that has prevented Canadian publishers from having much international influence), and occasional full-scale government bailouts, including a rescue loan of almost $1 million from the Ontario government in 1971. None of that prevented M&S from folding in 2000; since then, it has been operated on a near-charitable basis by the University of Toronto and Random House. The limited scale of Canadian publishing can be felt in the range of important titles by Canadians that must be published outside Canada. The most visible recent example was the Toronto historian Margaret MacMillan’s chronicle of the Versailles Treaty negotiations, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World, a work that became a major part of public debate, but which failed to achieve publication in Canada until after it had been in print in Britain for almost two years and had won the two largest British non-fiction awards. As with many such books, it was likely absent from the Canadian book market because it did not directly concern Canada (despite being of central interest to Canadian debates about nationalism and culture), and therefore was ineligible for most forms of publication financing from federal and provincial governments. This, alas, remains a commonplace situation.
As Canada’s population has increased, public thought has become more viable in general, and a generation of intellectuals (discussed throughout this volume) have been able to work in Canada; but the fact is that the population remains too small and sparse to support a full stable of institutions without frequent failures and bankruptcies. This form of public thought did have something of a golden age in the 1960s, albeit one confined to a small circle of people who tended to meet at the roof bar of Toronto’s Park Plaza Hotel, propelled by the unlikely advent of the newspaper-published weekly magazine. For a brief moment, the rotogravure magazines, joined by Maclean’s and Saturday Night during a moment of seriousness, served as a vehicle for public thought. The Globe Magazine carried policy-oriented essays from 1957 to 1971; the Canadian magazine, published by Southam and the Toronto Star from 1965, was substantial and serious for a while in the 1960s, until it started losing money; and very briefly, the Star Weekly, under the editorship of Peter Gzowski from 1967 to 1968, was a home to substantial content, though that ended after it lost $2 million on a circulation of 646,000. For a while, these glossy titles parried with the burgeoning academic modernism emerging from New York and Paris, held dialogues with the likes of Susan Sontag, Hanna Arendt, and Irving Howe, and provided a platform that allowed academics like McLuhan and Northrop Frye to achieve a genuine public significance and influence. But this seriousness was both a cause and a reflection of these magazines’ lack of profitability: all these titles, with the exception of Saturday Night, would either shut their doors or abandon public thought by the mid-1970s. It is interesting that Gzowski and Enright, two key figures in this brief era of public-thought publishing, ended up in CBC Radio’s current-affairs programs, which may have been Canada’s sole consistent outlet for public intellectualism.
The second to consider is public thought as a means to support, renew, and provide a reliable intellectual policy basis and source of professional development for the major political parties through policy institutes or think tanks. This group of thinkers overlaps with the first in that they tend to express themselves through the same media institutions (as well as by publishing reports and books through their own institutions which are then reported upon by these periodicals). But the “think tankers” play a different role in a nation’s political life. Sometimes they are drawn from academia or the media, but just as often they come from the staff of the major political parties; these form the three poles of a triangle that tends to define the career movements of these public intellectuals. When a party is in power, these think tanks serve as a source of policy advice, a test bed for renegade or experimental ideas within the party’s sphere of policy interest, and a platform for acceptable dissent within the ideological parameters defined by the party. When the party is out of power, the major think tanks serve as a source of employment for political staff who would otherwise disperse into careers elsewhere, places where policies can be formulated and reconceived during periods of opposition, and a set of competing institutions that serve to reinvent and renew the political thought of their respective ideological group. The large, successful think tank is a vital base for a nation’s political thought located between the academy, the political party and the media, and speaking to the public directly through all three.
In the United States, the think tank and the public thought it produces have become as central to the political system as the parties themselves, if not more so. In his major study of these institutions, Do Think Tanks Matter?, Donald E. Abelson examines their role over three decades of election and administration. Jimmy Carter’s “outsider” bid for the presidency was built on the authority of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institute, which had served as intellectual redoubts for deposed Democrats during the Nixon and Ford years: after Carter’s election victory, he appointed no fewer than fifty-four CFR fellows and more than a dozen Brookings staff to his administration. Ronald Reagan took this an order of magnitude further, building his entire candidacy on the conservative think tanks that had served as the Republican retooling operation during the Carter interregnum. During his campaign and transition to office, Reagan assembled 23 domestic- and economic-policy task forces with 329 advisers, and 25 foreign-policy and defence working groups with 132 advisers, all of them drawn from Washington’s major conservative think tanks. Individual think tanks used even more extensive resources to build the conservative revolution. In autumn of 1979 the Heritage Foundation drew on more than 300 staff and advisers to produce an 1100-page “blueprint for the construction of a conservative government,” which the Reagan team relied upon heavily; the foundation estimated in 1982 that 60 per cent of its proposals had been adopted. When Reagan took office, the think tanks formed his cabinet and staff: in his first term, he appointed 55 Hoover Institution staffers, 36 from the Heritage foundation, 34 from the American Enterprise Institute, 32 from the Committee on the Present Danger, and 18 from the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This provoked a Democratic Party response: the candidacy of Bill Clinton, who virtually emerged from this world of public thought. Clinton had been a founder and later a chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, created in 1985 as a source of economically liberal ideas for party renewal. And he had taken part in the 1989 creation of the centre-left Public Policy Institute. And George W. Bush, another “outsider,” nevertheless relied heavily on the think tanks – especially the Hoover Institution, which provided most of his 100 campaign advisers. He also employed, and later appointed to cabinet, scores of officials from the American Enterprise Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. His foreign- and defence-policy advisers (the “Vulcans” who devised the War on Terror) were drawn almost exclusively from the Project for the New American Century, a 1990s-era neoconservative think tank, and the AEI. And all the while the Democrats were biding their time in the Brookings, the CFR, and the PPI, waiting to create the core of the next Democratic administration; their staff are now the core of the Obama White House.
In Britain, think tanks and their members have become increasingly crucial to political party development and election success during the past thirty years. While a number of venerable party-linked institutions had existed across the spectrum for a century or more, Margaret Thatcher made unprecedented use of a new constellation of large and well-financed institutes in her recreation of the Conservative Party during the 1970s, drawing heavily on the staff and resources of her own Centre for Policy Studies, which she co-founded with Sir Keith Joseph in 1974, and the very large and influential free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. Tony Blair’s recreation of his party as the liberal-left New Labour depended heavily on the social-democratic think tanks Demos, the Institute for Public Policy Research, and Progress. When Gordon Brown launched his own reinvention of Labour in a more classically social-democratic mould in the first decade of this century, he relied on the venerable Fabian Society and the newly created Brownite think tank Compass as well as the IPPR. The Liberal Democrats, for their part, are increasingly reliant on the key liberal think tank Centre Forum. During their rise to coalition-government prominence, the post-Thatcherite “Notting Hill” Tories, under David Cameron, drew their current political staff and ideological framework overwhelmingly from the large conservative think tanks Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Justice, the newer centre-right institute Reform, and the new “red Tory” think tank Res Publica, launched a year before the 2010 election in an explosion of funding and attention. Together, the above institutions and a few others like them form the intellectual and staffing backbone for the three parties and their source of renewal.
Nothing of this sort has been able to materialize in Canada, because the economies of scale render such institutions uneconomical beyond a token level. There are think tanks in Canada – hundreds of them – but none are of sufficient size to fulfil the party-support and policy-formulation functions they do in larger countries. The threshold for permanent, sustainable influence in a think tank appears to be around 100 staff members. In the United States, the Brookings Institute has 250 staff and the Hoover Institution 320; others with more than 100 staff include the American Enterprise Institute (190), the Urban Institute (450), the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Council on Foreign Relations (more than 100 each), the Hudson Institute (125), the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (220), the Heritage Foundation (150), and the Carter Institute (160). In Canada, only one conventional think tank, the conservative Fraser Institute, has more than 50 staff (it has 64 employees, and a budget of $10 to $15 million); the venerable centre-right C.D. Howe Institute, which ought to be a Canadian version of the Hoover Institution or of Britain’s Centre for Policy Studies, has only 21 staff and a budget of under $5 million, preventing it from playing a central role in any political party.
Indeed, the organizations that have provided the most support to Canadian political-party development in recent years have not been conventional think thanks, but lobbying organizations. Prime Minister Stephen Harper built his political career, and honed his brand of conservatism, as president of the National Citizens’ Coalition, a conservative lobbying and tax-campaign group with a budget of $2.8 million. Liberal prime minister Paul Martin built his leadership bid and drew some of his key staff from the Earnscliffe Strategy Group, a lobbying and policy-research firm with about twenty staff. While these organizations serve some of the party-continuity and staff-development functions of a think tank, they are missing the crucial element of public thought: as message-driven lobby groups, they do not produce the deep and independent supply of policy knowledge, or the continuous independent research into future tangents of policy and politics, that a real think tank could. They also are simply not large enough to serve as the “third leg” of the democratic stool.
The Osgoode Hall scholar and former Privy Council official Irvin Studin, writing in the public-intellectual journal Policy Options, identified this lack of comprehensive think tanks as the source of a “democratic deficit” in Canada, in which political parties become “captured” by a permanent bureaucracy which has intellectual resources at hand that are simply unavailable in the political realm due to think-tank economies of scale:
Our political parties are in dire need of designated policy think tanks … in order that they be able to form stronger, deeper and, most importantly, more consistently prepared governments when they come to power … The political executive in our present political system and culture – one in which the civil service has the overwhelming policy advantage over the government of the day – is ill-equipped to meaningfully deliver on any large-scale, complex policy agenda of its own making … If such a large-scale policy agenda is promised to the electorate in the course of a general election, all the worse: what is the point of a month-long series of national debates and convulsions over a series of policy promises or “directions” that can nary be delivered in any recognizable form? … The democratic deficit lies in the fundamental asymmetry or incongruity or imbalance between the legitimacy of the elected political executive and the overwhelming policy-cum-administrative power of the modern unelected bureaucracy. This imbalance necessarily grows as the policy environment becomes more complex: files require increasing degrees of expertise, and the incumbency and division of power advantages of the bureaucracy become ever significant – unless, of course, the political executive itself becomes far more sophisticated. Rectification of this democratic deficit, it follows, must lie in a redressing of this imbalance.
The rectification of this “democratic deficit” involves the same challenges, and involves overcoming or working around the same underlying demographic problems, as the cultural deficit chronicled earlier in this chapter. Studin advocates publicly funded think tanks, an idea that would not be unprecedented (they exist in other countries), but would be politically awkward given their role in partisan affairs. But this is the main solution that has been applied, in the post-war decades, to the cultural deficit: to the extent that institutions of public thought exist in Canada, it is because governments pay for them. There is, in itself, nothing wrong with this. Other, larger countries have publicly funded journals, magazines, newspapers, and book publishers. But, as we have seen, the need to rely entirely on state funding – that is, the lack of sufficient population to support any self-sustaining institutions – leads to nationally centred funding sources that tend to bias these institutions towards parochial and national issues and away from larger syntheses that might produce a larger international impact.
In both cases, Canada is unable to think. This does not mean that Canadians are unable to think; a very high literacy level and high education level tend to produce, and export, a great number of public intellectuals. But because public thought exists not in the individual mind but in the institutions that bond thinkers into a communication network linked to specific audiences, Canada remains intellectually crippled. Either the population will need to grow to a more viable level, or the institutions of public thought will have to rely on artificial support.
 Bill Smith, “Interview with Paul Bley,” Coda, April 1979.
 Doug Saunders, “Gehry’s lament,” Globe and Mail, 29 Sept. 2001, R1.
 I am limiting this discussion to the three-quarters of Canada that uses English as its main language, and bracketing francophone Quebec out, because the terms of discussion are somewhat different. It might be argued that the Quebecois community has been better able to forge a “national conversation” at the public-intellectual level because its population is more tightly concentrated across a geographically limited and linguistically isolated space and because the dialogue around nationalism has both circumscribed the range of public-thought topics and forged a sufficient body of publications and institutions to propel this conversation at a reasonably heightened level. On the other hand, there are many in Quebec who would argue that these very factors have impoverished Québécois public debate. Because of these very different terms of reference, I am leaving aside the francophone Canada discussion.
 Statistics Canada’s 2006 census counts the total Canadian population as 31,612,897; those for whom English is the “language spoken most often in the home” number 20,840,743, or 66.7 per cent of the population; those who speak a third language in a province where English is the sole official language number 3,118,142, or 9.9 per cent. We can assume that some proportion of bilingual francophones participate fully in the English-Canadian culture, but also that some percentage of third-language speakers and bilingual anglophones do not.
 Doug Saunders, “Why Canada needs 100 million people,” Globe and Mail, 31 March 2001, F3.
 Edward Cowan, “Vast development plan is urged for mid-Canada,” New York Times, 15 Sept. 1968.
 Study cited in Richard Gwyn, “Just what kind of country would you like Canada to be?” Windsor Star, 4 Jan. 1975.
 Irvin Studin, “Canada – Population 100 Million,” Global Brief, Spring/Summer 2010.
 Richard Posner, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003).
 Fraser Sutherland, The Monthly Epic: A History of Canadian Magazines (Markham, ON: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1989), 205.
 Donald E. Abelson, Do Think Tanks Matter? Assessing the Impact of Public Policy Institutes, 2nd ed. (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009), 127–49.
 Ibid., 24–7.
 One organization classed as a think tank, the Conference Board of Canada, has 200 staff, but despite the quality of its economic research, the Conference Board acts more as a policy-support organization for the corporate community than as a conventional political think tank.
 Irvin Studin, “Revising the Democratic Deficit: The Case for Political Party Think Tanks,” Policy Options, February 2008: 62–7.