In the Reaganite positioning, big government was bad. Supplying social services was called "tax and spend," which was equated with waste and corruption. That was just spin of course: a major function of government is necessarily the provisioning of social services. On a micro level we could think of a condominium building: if the condo association decided to collect no condo fees and provide no services, then the snow wouldn't be plowed from the driveway and the hallways wouldn't be vacuumed; the leak in the roof wouldn't get fixed; the legal requirements of the association wouldn't be met.
Throughout the last 25 years we have had a trend of government cut-backs that have been not only harmful to our well-being, but also inefficient and costly. We need to rethink government's role in providing services: ideally, we need a new philosophy for the role of the state. It's not a trivial activity and presents some major challenges. I'm not just thinking of the need for prioritizing, but also the need to rethink the government's relationship with civil service unions; devise a public credo that provides for a more equitable sense of government handouts; figure out how to handle the retiring baby boom generation; and so on. We need to change the debate to a more realistic understanding than the old neo-con slash approach: use cost-benefit analysis to show the real cost of not spending money in some cases, such as reducing money for preventative health care or the training of doctors. And so on: I don't think I've probably even skimmed the main issues.
The US has a visionary president now, but Canada can't rely on him to create a conceptual approach to this post-Libertarian era because the US has a much more limited view of social services than Canadians do. Stephen Harper is obviously not going to provide that kind of vision: he's an old-order neo-con. But Michael Ignatieff might be the perfect person for the job, with the intellectual depth and the visionary perspective necessary to forge something new and appropriate for Canada.