If fixing the deficit was a challenge for the nation, then the whole nation had to be called upon to contribute. No carve-outs were permitted for defense or social programs. Taxpayers not reliant on public spending were expected to contribute through higher taxes, though spending cuts exceeded revenue increases by five-to-one.
Lesson No. 3: Once reforms were underway, time was of the essence.
Proceeding piecemeal would have undermined the broad social consensus and would have delayed the handsome payoff that Canadians enjoyed once they had broken the deficit cycle.
Lesson No. 4: The spending cuts at the heart of reform took account of the ability of program beneficiaries to bear the burden.
Rather than an arbitrary mentality or mandating "across the board" cuts, Canadians tested spending programs against clear criteria, relentlessly seeking real value for money.
Lesson No. 5: A simple, easy-to-understand target was critical to rallying public support.
Eliminating the deficit became something of a national obsession, and there was a palpable wave of national pride once it was achieved. Canada showed that if you get all the other elements right, the supposedly insurmountable institutional obstacles to reform often prove to be paper tigers.
A case in point is the Canadian Pension Plan, Canada's equivalent of Social Security. Reform required approval from not only the federal government in Ottawa but also seven of the provincial governments - the equivalent of needing Washington and a large majority of state legislatures to sign off on changes to Social Security.
Even so, the Canadians managed to do what the U.S. Congress has not.
The takeaway for American politicians is that thoughtful reform, cleverly managed, paid handsome political dividends. The Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chrtien, which introduced these changes in 1995, was handily reelected in 1997 and 2000, and reforming provincial governments enjoyed similar success.
Surely the American political class is no less capable than its Canadian counterparts of taking up this challenge. It can strengthen the nation while bolstering its own political fortunes.
Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, a public policy think tank in Ottawa.