During the global economic meltdown of 2008 and the subsequent recession, Canadians maintained an unusually triumphant mood. The apparent strength of the banking system and the absence of a collapse in real estate prices led to uncharacteristic smugness.
Thieves of Bay Street, the new book from long-time CBC news producer Bruce Livesey, argues that Canada’s self-satisfaction was misguided. In fact, he posits, lax regulations, which have not changed significantly since the crisis, allowed some Canadian-based companies to play a major role in the financial disaster in the U.S.
Livesey delivers a series of compelling anecdotes describing the various flaws and shortcomings of Canada’s financial system and the assortment of largely toothless government bodies designed to regulate them. At times, however, the book seems more like a collection of articles – all thoroughly reported and competently written – than a clear, cohesive narrative.
The author seems to want to make some larger point about Canadian business (and even political) culture. Thieves of Bay Street begins and ends with references to the clubby nature of the Canadian Establishment, even drawing comparisons to the Family Compact. But Livesey does not convincingly demonstrate how this establishment is gaming the system. Indeed, many of the white-collar criminals in Thieves of Bay Street are not part of what Peter C. Newman or anyone else would describe as the Canadian Establishment. Which is, of course, not to say that the author is wrong, just that he fails to make this part of his case.
Still, Livesey’s book serves as a corrective for much of the cheerleading that has permeated business journalism in Canada over the last four years.