There are increasing questions about the current circumstances of our country with language such as “failing,” policies characterized as “divisive”, and increasing recognition for political change, even from within the governing party.This question begets more questions as to what does failing mean? Certainly, there is no imminent danger of Canada falling into insolvency or being conquered militarily. But many understand the loss of flexibility from debt, the validity of pessimistic forecasts and our chronic inability to approach our considerable potential. In that sense, Canada is failing. But why?The failure is not in our people. It is in our institutions — notably the Constitution, Parliament, the Supreme Court, trade unions and the provincial governments themselves.The single most important however, is not even an official body. It is an informal group long identified as the Laurentian Elite (LE). There is no official membership. There are no policy conventions (and sadly to the best of my knowledge, no secret handshake.) Yet, this elite of people who think 'right thoughts' includes Canada's most eminent politicians, public servants, business leaders, leading academics and media (especially the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star).They are mostly from Ontario and Quebec. As an entity, this group of people is extractive: that is, their goal is to have the vast Canadian hinterland serve the interests of an axis of influence that runs no further than the 540 km connecting Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto.For those who think the Laurentian Elite is simply a myth for malcontents, consider the interview Mr. Trudeau gave to Tele-Quebec interviewer Patrick Lagace in November 2010, five years before he came to power. Asked a leading question by Lagace, his candid and revealing reply was that, “Canada isn't doing well right now because it's Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn't work."Lagace then asked whether Trudeau thought Canada was "better served when there are more Quebecers in charge than Albertans." Trudeau replied, "I'm a Liberal, so of course I think so, yes. Certainly when we look at the great prime ministers of the 20th century, those that really stood the test of time, they were MPs from Quebec. There was Trudeau, there was Mulroney, there was Chrétien, there was Paul Martin. We have a role. This country, Canada, it belongs to us."Read the CBC's remarkably candid account here.Unfortunately however, there is truth to those arrogant comments. They affirm Laurentian Canada's deep-seated resentment of Alberta (although not quite deep enough to ungratefully accept equalization funds). The answer also underscores the mindset of central Canadian elites who are the beneficiaries of many extractive institutions.So let's look at how Canada's institutions fail CanadiansThe Constitution — In respect of our Constitution, its main purpose is to distribute powers between Ottawa and the provinces. For decades the feds have intruded into provincial areas of course, but nothing that compares with the current government. Patriated in 1982 after years of failed attempts, Quebec declined to sign on. It persistently ignores its provisions with the acquiescence of the federal government. Western Canada complains but goes along.The Supreme Court of Canada — Most significant change from the previous British North America Act was the addition of a Charter of Rights. This has created a litigation quagmire as activist courts, led by The Supreme Court of Canada, responding to vague feelings (as opposed to facts) of progressive plaintiffs that override the right of freedom of expression of others and violating strongly held values of many Canadians. In a recent speech in Vancouver, one of the justices took his own Court to task, asking for a return to the long held maximum of “judicial restraint.” A past Chief Justice described the constitution as a “living tree” effectively making law versus interpreting the centuries of common law. As the Court nurtures this growing tree, it is the interests of the elites that benefit, not those in the extremities of our country.Previously affirming Quebec’s right to private healthcare delivery under certain circumstances, the same court refused to hear an appeal from BC, upholding the federal resistance to others possessing the same right. This highlights the importance of geographic balance in the composition of the Supreme Court dominated by Ontario and Quebec, yet another institutional bias.All appointed justices, by definition, have integrity. But it is also fair to observe that we are all products of our upbringing, geography, culture and more. We are all entitled to see the world through our own eyes, and so are judges.Parliament — The House of Commons is elected by representation by population (except for a guaranteed minimum of seats for Quebec). On the surface this is democracy at work. But when one considers that most elections are determined before the vote counting hits the Manitoba border, democracy as an institution, in the eyes of Westerners, is incomplete.Our parliamentary system was inherited from Great Britain, a unitary country. Our system, a federation, differs from that of Great Britain by way of broad geography, a variety of values, different economic interests and provincial legislatures. A superior approach is the US, a republic which also features a Senate which recognizes the above and ensures each state enjoys equal say. The Senate — Recently less party partisan, the Senate still reflects the values of those who appoint. It is now a sinecure for party workers and accomplished citizens with virtually no power. Is it a surprise that the Senate reform initiative by Prime Minister Harper to empower real “sober second thought” and provide a more inclusive country, was vigorously and successfully opposed? Such was the power of the Laurentian Elite, and its acolytes in Parliament.Public Service — Generally flying under the radar, the public service has an outsized impact on policy generation and its execution. The requirement for bilingualism ensures Quebecer’s influence policy and the federal government. This limits participation of Westerners and Maritimers (New Brunswick excluded) who are not bilingual. More institutional bias.Unions — The delivery of government programs highlights the fact that in Canada the unions, especially those in in the public service, have also become significant extractive institutions. With a large and ever growing public service, especially in recent years, the unions continue to extract more from Canadian taxpayers. This includes healthcare workers, teachers (both being provincial) and those involved in the critical movement of resources and products to maintain Canada’s reputation as a reliable trading country.The recent legislation by the federal government outlawing replacement workers, no doubt to gain votes in the next election, further confirms the influence of unions in our country.For those who see an anti-union bias, part time for 35 years I represented hockey players and gained an appreciation for the Players Association and the Collective Bargaining Agreement. My bias, whether athletes and government employees, is against the notion that there is never enough.The Provinces — The provinces are also important institutions in our federal system. Quebec has taken authority for many issues the federal government exercises in other provinces. This includes collecting taxes, immigration, private healthcare and language laws.Recent federal belligerence and continued intrusions are the motivation of Alberta and Saskatchewan to pass strong legislation reaffirming provincial responsibilities, receiving further criticism from central Canada and other elites who like Canada as it is.There are many other extractive institutions in our country to the benefit of some, usually elites, and the detriment of most. Equalization benefits Quebec to the detriment of Alberta. Our now antiquated bilingual and bicultural requirements are of no importance to Quebec which discourages and disallows English, contrary to the legislation. Elsewhere, we continue silly signage and announcements in French.There are other important institutions — aboriginal bands, the RCMP, the military — which have also become extractive and are floundering.The nature of the important bodies described above and the political influence of the Laurentian Elite, mostly from Ontario and Quebec, have turned Canada into a country that is increasingly more extractive than inclusive. Our prime minister and his government are seen by many as autocratic and considered to explain — in part — Canada's relative decline in prosperity compared to the US and other more pluralistic countries.It's helpful to recall the national appeal of the trucker convoy. It started in the West as a spontaneous protest against the arbitrary restrictions that impacted their ability to earn an income. But while it started out West, truckers joined from every direction. And, when they asked for a meeting with the prime minister he refused to meet and escaped... to a hideout in the Laurentians. Where else?When a review was finally held, the Commissioner was a Trudeau family friend and neighbor in the Laurentians. Who else?Canada's institutions are heavily biased in favor of central Canadians, supported by the ubiquitous Laurentian Elite.Likely the above will be ignored or dismissed as more of the usual whining by the usual suspects. Maybe, but who from the LE, including the federal government has made a sincere attempt to understand the validity of issues raised by Alberta and Saskatchewan?This is the third in a series of four on how nations fail. In the final article this weekend, Herb Pinder offers a new vision for a better, more inclusive, united and prosperous Canada.