The difference in conservative political styles between Canada's newly elected government and the Reagan administration here are well worth watching. Both governments are primarily interested in economic reform. The Canadians confront choices similar to Mr. Reagan's -- and worse in the sense that their budget deficit is even bigger in relation to the size of their economy and their unemployment is much higher. The differences are in their responses.
Brian Mulroney, Canada's prime minister, has denounced the huge budget deficit there in the most explicit terms. His finance minister, Michael H. Wilson, warned last week that the country can't expect just to grow out of it. "The simple fact is," he said, "that the mounting federal debt has become a powerful obstacle to growth and to private- sector job creation." That touches a couple of points upon which President Reagan and his secretary of the Treasury, Donald T. Regan, remain conspicuously ambivalent.
Here's another difference: Mr. Mulroney has gone to some lengths to assure Canadians that he is not going to try to knock holes in their comprehensive, and expensive, system of social benefits. There won't be anything like Mr. Reagan's raids on the food stamp money. Mr. Mulroney thinks that the Canadian government has gotten too big, but he keeps repeating that fairness will be the criterion for the cuts. He's proposed a few rather minor ones, including a token cut in his own salary, and he's also going to increase the national sales tax. But that's only a beginning. And there he comes to another interesting difference.
Mr. Reagan has always blamed the deficit on the allegedly spendthrift Congress, as though his signature was not on every one of those appropriations bills. Mr. Mulroney holds the more subtle, and more accurate, view that deficits arise from uncontrolled infighting among all the special interests -- the regions, provincial governments, industries, unions and every kind of citizens' lobby -- that compete for federal money. Mr. Reagan is trying to cut
TAKE 003148 PAGE 00002 TIME 14:25 DATE 11-16-84 the American budget by imposing his administration's own values on everybody else. It doesn't seem to be working. Mr. Mulroney is going to try another method, a series of consultations throughout his country to work toward a common purpose. The word "consensus" appears dozens of times in last week's outpouring of Canadian fiscal policy papers.
It's a curious spectacle, isn't it? Here you see two of the world's richest countries -- rich beyond the imagination of any previous generation -- sinking into deeper and deeper trouble because they cannot bring themselves to pay their bills. Both are anxiously searching for a way out. The Canadian method, at this point, seems a good deal more promising.