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November 03, 2020


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I love this post and want to theorize some negative effects of NY joining the Confederation:

- NY is probably the worst-run blue state in the county, with an entrenched 'labor aristocracy' that delivers average public services at world-record prices, paid for by financially strained 'corporations'. The state won't even negotiate (and is some cases forbidden to !!) to improve productivity. It's unmentionable on all sides of state politics. Even compared to Quebec it's bad.

- NY has a fierce NIMBY streak, one of the worst in the US. NYC will not grow, between the AOC anti-gentrification crowd and the 'I got mine' Manhattanites. Add on top the total inability to build any infrastructure and there's no reason for a Canadian to see the state as a long-term asset. Compare this to the crane counts in Vancouver and Toronto, two of the fastest growing cities in the hemisphere. And no more growth means very bad consequences for all that bonded debt... especially because the bonds are paying for daily operating expenses, not capital investment....

- NY also has a dysfunctional governance structure, with agencies like the MTA and schools being controlled from the Governors office but having boards appointed by NYC/Legislature... all designed to evade all political accountability and reward the status quo. Does this sound like a bright spot in the confederation?

Sure NYC is a huge economic and cultural center. It would add a lot to Canada. But Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, and Vancouver are no slouches either and seem to be on a better trajectory than NYC. Playing devil's advocate here.

There's a lot to unpack here, Roy! So let me take them in turn.

(1) Partially true on labor practices! The corporations aren't financially strained, in the sense that there isn't much evidence that NYC is overtaxed. The cost of public services is hard to measure, but they are good in New York even by Canadian standards. What is true, though, is that public procurement and contracting in NYS is a mess.

The problem is that in what we can best measure, infrastructure construction costs, Canada appears to have caught the American disease. The Rest of Canada will need to get a grip on the problem; adding New York to the Confederation wouldn't make it worse.

(2a) True on NIMBY! Canadian cities build a lot more housing than American ones. That said, Ontario and B.C. won't stop building houses if NY became a province and more than NYC impedes growth around D.C. What's more likely to happen is that NYC will suddenly face amped up competition from Toronto with no international border in the way.

(2b) False on public finance. NYS does not have high debt levels.
Adding together state and local debt came to 21% of GDP. Ontario was 37.1%. As for the future, I've already pointed out that Canada seems to have sadly caught the American cost disease. (See also this.)

(3) True on a messy governmental structure. But that's not something that would affect the rest of Canada, anymore than it currently affects Pennsylvania or Massachusetts. (And that weird structure reflects a really strange NYC-NYS dynamic that's sui generis.)

So you get a big jump in international importance, a boatload of new tax revenue, and all the opportunities that come from having New York inside your country! (Including opportunities that come from making reform easier there.) What's not to like?

This was a thoroughly interesting exercise. I would love to see the same exercise done for New England (or perhaps just Massachusetts as a representative state for New England) and the reverse scenario of Ontario joining the Union and....Quebec joining the Union (now THAT should be a really interesting exercise).


I appreciate your detailed response, and for educating me about debt levels. I suppose my fear is that these problems would spread to the rest of the confederation due to NY's population and cultural status, 'damaging' Canada's brighter spots rather than improving NY.

But, if New York became willing enough to join Canada, it would also reflect an institutional willingness to change that I don't see right now. Now Cuomo needs to get appointed to a cabinet job so his ego doesn't impede the process!

“...exercise for the readers”

Sure. NYS has 19.5 million people. In comparison, Ontario has 14.5 million, and 121 members of parliament. That gives NYS about 175 MPs. The House would have 513 members, 257 required for a majority. NYS would also get six senators in the unelected upper house. The Supreme Court may also need to be expanded by 3, building on the current regional balance (3ON, 3QC, 2 West, 1ATL)

(For a Canadian, the weird thing about NYS is that it’s population has been roughly stagnant since 1968! In that same period, Ontario has doubled in size. Even PEI has increased by half.)

Quebec’s population share in confederation would decline from 23% to 15%. A slight decrease in national influence, but with the upside of increased equalization. Some Quebeckers may look for greater autonomy to assure the French fact in North America. New Yorkers would need to adjust to official bilingualism at National Parks, airports and train stations (Aeroport JFK Airport), and French on all their cereal boxes.

Ontario would face the greater shock, and especially Toronto, the current HQ of Canada’s finance and English media, and a with self conception as the most international and dynamic city in the country. Ontario voted against the Tories in the free trade election of 1988, and may be uncomfortable finding itself becoming “New Illinois”.

I expect that NYS would return anti-confederation politicians to Ottawa right away, joining the long Canadian tradition of unconsummated separatism.

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