By Ray Fleming

SINCE I have always been an admirer of how Canada governs itself despite difficulties of distance, two languages and a separatist-inclined Montreal and Quebec, I am pleased to hear that Britain's Lib-Con coalition is learning from Canada's recovery from a dreadful budget deficit in the 1990s. “We really need to look at how the Canadians did it”, said Chancellor George Osborne yesterday, when he announced that the British public will be asked to make suggestions about what the role of government should be.

He said: “Canada brought together the best people from inside and outside government to carry out a fundamental reassessment of the role of the state.” Fair enough, but there is a huge gulf between consulting the best people from inside and outside government in a structured way and throwing out an invitation to all and sundry to contribute their thoughts. How will these thoughts be gathered and assessed? If it is to be done by research companies putting questions to representative citizens then it is no different from the focus groups that have been in use for years. If it is a free-for-all there will be chaos and the government will just do what it wanted to do in the first place. But why are MPs, who are supposed to have their ears to the ground, not being used? And what about journalists and other media people who are sounding out and reflecting public opinion all the time?