Canada should surrender to Trump over trade
June 22 at 2:13 PM Email the author
President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the conclusion of a joint news conference in the White House in February. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Thereâs an overused anecdote in Canada about how an American newspaper guy, several decades ago, declared the headline âWorthwhile Canadian Initiativeâ the most boring one heâd ever seen. These days, however, Iâd say the headline comes off less boring than implausible. Whenâs the last time Canada proposed any sort of initiative, worthwhile or otherwise?
The administration of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was caught off guard by the election of President Trump, and has not handled well the ensuing disrupt ion of U.S.-Canadian relations. Itâs a flat-footedness that has highlighted the degree to which the Canadian establishment has become complacent and unimaginative in managing this supposedly most sacred of relationships.
Itâs been almost 30 years since then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney proposed, negotiated and implemented free trade with the United States (prompting the aforementioned headline). Yet in the decades since, the Canadian interest in the U.S. relationship has consisted mostly of âplaying within the boundaries of that big change,â as Gabe Batstone of the Canadian American Business Council told me.
Part of this is no doubt because of the unwillingness of successive Ottawa administrations to risk the political consequences of inflaming Canadian anti-Americanism. Canadians may happily inhabit a broadly Americanized culture and economy, but itâs not difficult to provoke patriotic resentment of this status quo.
Notions that having deep economic integration with the United States represents some sort of national character flaw remain mainstream. Pundits and public alike wax on with fantastical ideas that Canada could lessen this dependence on the United States if only the will was there. This resentful conventional wisdom warps the national understanding of the degree to which Canadaâs wealth, safety and general pleasantness is a byproduct of its American integration, as opposed to being organic national virtues.
Trumpâs aluminum and steel tariffs have given Canada a fresh excuse to indulge in the worst excess of such delusions. Thereâs nothing to call the recent bevy of absurd editorials that have filled major Canadian news outlets â" from an Ottawa Citizen column on âwhy Canada should get nuclear weaponsâ to Macleanâs âcase for invading America,â to any number of broader media provocations for a boycott of American goods and vacations â"- beyond manifestations of a Canadian Napoleon complex.
Even supposedly serious voices propose strategies to circumvent Trump that pander to patriotic fantasies. Retaliatory tariffs have been endorsed by all parties. Conservative politicians have argued that their partisan agenda of tax cuts and energy deregulation will offset Washingtonâs damage. The case for building new pipelines, or signing trade deals with Asia or Europe, or lowering barriers of commerce among Canadaâs provinces, or making enormous new investments in the Canadian military have all supposedly become âmore obvious than ever.â
No Canadian dares make the case for the one thing that would objectively provide long-term relief: surrendering in Trumpâs trade war before it begins.
As he stood beside the Canadian prime minister at the Group of Seven summit in Quebec, Trump joked to reporters that âJustin has agreed to cut all tariffs, and all trade barriers between Canada and the United States, so Iâm very happy about that.â It was supposed to be funny, because thatâs not Trudeauâs position.
But what if it was?
Ottawa could dramatically call the presidentâs bluff and announce its intention to embrace unqualified free trade with the United States, abolishing all existing tariffs, duties, subsidies, quotas and regulations employed to discriminate against U.S. goods in favor of Canadian ones. Canada could eliminate its astronomical dairy tariffs, adopt the U.S. understanding that yes, its softwood lumber is subsidized, and dismantle all protectionist measures aimed at keeping various American no-no industries â"- telecommunications and banking chief among them â" out of Canada on spurious pretexts of national security, or cultural sovereignty, or whatever. The ball would then be in Trumpâs court to make good on one of his other G-7 musings: âNo tariffs, no barriers, thatâs the way it should be.â
Though it might injure Canadian pride in the short term â" just as Mulroneyâs deal origina lly did â" complete free trade with the United States would impart scant hardship on Canadians themselves. All available evidence suggests one of the main things Canadians crave in life is easier, cheaper access to American goods and services. Yet such wants tend to go ignored in the politics of trade talks, which are biased toward guarding the privileges of protected industries at the expense of consumers â" i.e., milk farmers over milk drinkers.
Compensation could be offered to those most disrupted, but the United States is not Mexico. Canada is not some shaky steel town. Many of Canadaâs most jealously guarded firms in high finance, transportation and media employ only a privileged few, and are synonymous with wealth and unsavory government connections. The ultimate goal should be a Canadian economy properly positioned to maximize its competitive advantage in a binational, continental context, as opposed to one that invests large amounts of public money propping up red undant, noncompetitive Canadian industries for their own sake.
Honest free trade with America â" not closer ties with China or Europe, nor any tweaking of domestic trade or taxes â" is the only realistic plan for a long-term, prosperous Canada, immune to âevery twitch and gruntâ of the U.S. elephant, as the prime ministerâs father so famously put it many decades ago.
To a certain class of Canadian raised on a diet of anti-American preening, nothing will seem more counterintuitive than walking toward Trump. But doing whatâs right for the broader national interest sometimes means ignoring the counsel of those who possess the narrowest notions of patriotism.Source: Google News Canada | Netizen 24 Canada