Grumpy neighbours

Paul Koring, writing on the iPolitics website, says that “Amid all the noise — including the fit of pique over Boeing’s dumping challenge to Bombardier’s C-Series sales resulting in Ottawa’s decision to buy more ​obsolete​ Boeing F-18s second-hand from Australia which are barely newer than the F-18s, ​his father ordered 35 year ago — there remains genuine uncertainty whether Canada-U.S. relations are the worst they have been for decades or whether it’s just a brouhaha ​driven by ​Trump’s 6YSB3YIDRRCDNED74OIQNYMFPUbombast.” His fear, which i share, is that it’s not just President Trump who is a tad grumpy … it’s all very well, he says, that senior Canadian officials “often point to Iowa and Michigan as two the the U.S. states that would suffer the most if Trump’s rips up NAFTA. But economic evidence isn’t political reality. A majority of voters in both those states, many lured by Trump’s vow to rip up “ “the worst deal ever,” voted for him.” It’s not just President Trump, I think; tens, even a hundred million Americans worry that the whole world, including those nice Canadians, are just out to screw them. They want something to change.

It isn’t NAFTA, per se; 99% of Americans, just like 99% of Canadians and just like President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau neither know nor care about the costs and benefits of free(er) trade. It’s the idea that foreigners are allowed, even encouraged to make stuff 10-places-on-earth-with-the-funniest-names-3“over there” that Americans (nd Canadians) used to make “here” and then sell it, duty free, to us, “here.” It just seems intuitively obvious to many Canadians (as it does to even more Americans) that making widgets in Punkeydoodles Corners, Ontario, must be better than importing them from Penang in Malaysia. But it’s not … see Adam Smith and all that. But just as it seems that no one ever finished (or remembered) what John Maynard Keynes wrote, it seems that no one ever actually read The Wealth of Nations, either. Perrin Beatty, a former Conservative defence minister (in the Mulroney government) and now President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is quoted by the BBC as saying that “he is “considerably more concerned now” than when the talks launched in August … [and] … the future of the trade pact “will depend on what the man in the Oval office thinks one morning when he wakes up, whether he decides that he wants to serve notice of termination or whether he wants to allow all the negotiations to continue”.” The BBC also notes that “As the business relationship with Canada’s largest trading partner looks precarious, the Trudeau government has turned its attention to finding new clients in the Asia Pacific and China, though those negotiations have also been rocky.” That’s something about which I have commented in the recent past.

It’s not clear to me that President Trump cares much about Canada, he, and many Americans, seem fixated on what they see as cheap Mexican labour making things that they (Trump and the people he wooed and won in 2016) believe used to be or should be made in America. But hope, as an old army chum reminds me, is not a useful coarse of action and Canada cannot just hope that President Trump will give us a pass. It is even less clear to me what cards Prime Minister Trudeau has left to play. My personal sense is that Team Trudeau decided, in the fall, that NAFTA was doomed ~ that’s why they did the “virtue signalling” on green, feminist and first nations issues that they must have known would be quite unacceptable to the Americans … since NAFTA was going down, they appear to have reasoned, they might as well score a few domestic political points while it was sinking.

If NAFTA is done then Canada needs the CETA and the TPP to expand our overseas trade while re adapt to a new continental reality of trade under basic WTO rules.Prime Minister harper did a good job for us on CETA; Prime Minister Trudeau seems to have dropped the ball on the TPP and free(er) trade with Asia. He is headed off to India in February … perhaps, we can only hope, he will not screw up there.

But, mainly, I think, we have to try to understand what is driving so many millions of Americans to turn away from 70 years of bipartisan liberal internationalism and shift, somewhat uncomfortably, towards nationalistic “no nothing” isolationism. I had my go, from a bit of a pop-psychology perspective, in the past summer, and I stick by my contentions that:

  • For the better part of two generations highly paid and generally unionized American and British and Canadian industrial workers have been unable (not unwilling) to keep up with the demands of an increasingly technological workplace in which Asians, in particular, were willing and able to do more for less; and
  • White, poorly educated America has never had it so good. The welfare state, the Caq2uPMUUAABjjHnanny state, has been, if anything, overly kind: there is, quite simply, nothing like the Great Depression of the 1930s, which their great-grandparents endured.” Instead they listened to the siren songs of both Bernie Sanders (later echoed by Hillary Clinton) and Donald Trump and blamed everything on the “establishment” and the “established” order of things, including free(er) trade.

In Canada we had, until the end of 2015, a competent government that had navigated the turbulent decade from 2005 to 2015 more sensibly than most … it was far from a perfect government but it made fewer mistakes than the one in America, Britain, Chile, otw210_53433379Denmark and so on. But it was boring and it kept on reminding people of the “unpleasant truths” when they really wanted (and voted for) the “comforting lies.” When people are grumpy, as Canadians were and as Americans still are they vote for nonsense even when they know it’s nonsense ~ they just want change. It isn’t even “throw the rascals out,” it’s just “let’s try something different.” Brexit, Trudeau, and 20171014_AMD001_0Trump are all “something different,” something new, they represent “real change,” and they are all based, in some measure, on “comforting lies” rather than “unpleasant truths” and, eventually, they all get a bit shopworn, too. It’s already happening to Justin Trudeau and to the Brexit folks ~ reality makes short work of rash promises. It will happen, I am pretty sure, to President Trump, too. The large, moderate “mushy middle” who know that both he and Bernie Sanders were wrong, will, eventually, come to its senses … the question is: will that happen in 2020 or will it take a full generation or so?

I believe that the best way, the only way to deal with our grumpy neighbours is to wait for them to come to their senses ~ however long that may take ~ and, in the meanwhile, to negotiate new business deals with others, as Prime Minister Harper did with the EU.

 

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