As the prime minister, David Cameron warns of the need for massive spending cuts to bring down the UK's huge public deficit, the coalition is citing the experience of Canada's Liberal government during the 1990s. In 1992, Canada had a When they were in opposition, senior Conservatives studied the Canadian experience in some detail.
At the weekend, deputy PM Nick Clegg praised the way the Canadian Liberals consulted the public over where to make cuts -
But springboard stories need to be handled with care. There's usually more to them than the politicians let on, or understand. And context is key.
Today, the FT recounts how external developments - helped the country's numbers to come right.
Larry Elliott of The Guardian has described some of the differences between Canada's economy then and the UK's now:
There are other reasons why the Canadian experience may not be exported so easily. Today, The Guardian's Heather McRobie points to some important political-cultural distinctions. She says that the Canadian government took a comprehensive approach to deficit-cutting, with a high level of co-ordination between departments. She doubts that this country's Conservative-dominated coalition government could do the same.
Neil O'Brien of Policy Exchange has stressed that the Canadian government took a consistent, "no exemptions" approach -- and devolved responsibility for finding savings to officials. The latter would be a major departure for the UK's centralised model of government. O'Brien also points out that the size of the UK deficit gives the coalition a much bigger mountain to climb than Canada faced.
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But a report from The Times last year gives a somewhat different perspective:
Perhaps we should be wary of the way UK commentators can cherry pick factoids from other countries' experiences (that is, tell stories). I speak from experience -- I sometimes think that New Zealand post-1984 has been used to back up every policy argument in the UK.
Nick Clegg may have been on safer ground when he stuck to the way Canada's Liberals managed the politics of fiscal consolidation. Last year, Brian Tobin, another former Liberal minister who was involved in the Canadian deficit cutting exercise, was asked what were the lessons for the UK. His main conclusion:
"What needs to be done...is to speak frankly, openly and honestly.
This level of candour will be a new experience for UK politicians and voters. All the major parties were slated during the campaign for not being straight with people about the deficit and their plans to reduce it -- although I have to say the Liberal Democrats came off more lightly than the others.
Still, coalition ministers will need to get their narratives in order, and quickly. In today's FT, Paul Martin, who was Canada's finance minister in the 1990s, agrees that informing and consulting the public were hugely important elements in his success. But the article also points out that: