The National Post, in an editorial-like, unsigned, “National Post View“ says that “The global pandemic is forcing Canadians to consider, for the first time in generations, how precarious our standard of living has become. International trade has contributed greatly to our prosperity. Canadian resources, innovations and services are valued the world over — when it comes to trade, the world truly does want more Canada. In turn, Canadians have been enriched, literally and figuratively, by access to the rest of the world’s bounty. We are a trading nation and we’re better for it. Indeed, in normal circumstances, the freer the trade, the better … [a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree, but, the National Post adds] … this pandemic has revealed that Canada, like any country, cannot entirely count on trade to meet its needs for essential “strategic” materials and assets. When the threat of COVID-19 has ended, we must consider those critical resources and materials that we absolutely need, and need to think strategically about. We must assess how much of our safety should be kept in Canadian hands. And we must ask tough questions about how our desire for more and freer trade must be balanced against our responsibility to always ensure that Canada can look after Canadians.“
This harks back to a point I made about 10 days ago about nations wanting to be more self-reliant. “The USA,” I said, “given its size, population, climate and resources, is able to be nearly self-sufficient. Add Canada, with its abundant resources and fresh water, and the North American region IS self-sufficient.” The National Post says that self-sufficiency “is not a practical goal for every country, some of which have too few people or insufficient natural resources. Indeed, it would not be possible for Canada to be completely self-sufficient. But there are areas where we could do better than we are now — and the next time a major crisis hits, we will be better for the effort.“
The National Post will run a series of articles to answer some questions, including: “How much of our own energy needs can we meet? What about essential petrochemicals? What would be on the plates of Canadians if they could only eat food grown or raised in our own farms and pastures? Could we produce sufficient fertilizers and insecticides at home to sustain our own agricultural sector? What essential pharmaceuticals and vital medical supplies can we produce domestically? And, critically, in each of these areas (and no doubt more), can we access the raw materials needed to produce the final products in Canada?” Some of the answers will be clear: on energy, for example, we can be totally self-sufficient and a major exporter, too. But food is a problem if we want fresh lettuce, tomatoes and bananas and coffee and tea, and, and, and …
The National Post says that “Many of these important questions do not have answers. At least, not yet. But that’s why they must be asked. Canada is, and must remain, a trading nation. But we must also ask ourselves what absolute essentials must remain under Canadian control, from raw materials through to finished products. If we take the time now to answer these questions, the next crisis Canada faces will be one we face on much stronger terms.” The issue fo “Canadian control” is interesting: it is often used, by anti-American nationalists, like Maude Bar low, for example, as an excuse to try and isolate ourselves from our closest neighbour, protector and, like it or not, best friend. There are issues with ownership, but there are also laws and regulations that place limits on what owners, local or foreign, can do with their own property.
An issue the National Post might want to consider is labour. Canada relies heavily on temporary foreign workers because there are so many jobs that Canadians don’t want to do, even when wages are fairly high, like harvesting our crops and caring for the elderly But, there are risks to using migrant workers; are the risks acceptable? Why are so many Canadians unwilling to do some jobs? Are the wages too low? Is the ‘cost’ of locally grown food or safe havens for seniors more than we are willing to pay? Is our social safety net so strong that it discourages people from taking jobs? It is not racist to ask those questions.
As the article suggests, Canada cannot be totally self-sufficient. “Canada is, and must remain, a trading nation,” the authors say, and I agree. But Canada has vast natural resources, a moderately sized population and a sound political system. Canada also has another vital “resource:” the USA. We live right next door to a large, prosperous, generally law-aiding and usually free-trading nation. We share a continent. As President John Kennedy famously said (17 May 1961), “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies.” Now, President Trump may have scant regard for history, economics or necessity, but geography compels him to consider Canada in his quest to make America self-sufficient. America gets close to self-sufficiency on its own, but, as we used to say in the Army, ‘close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.’ America is as close as any country is to self-sufficiency, closer than Brazil, China or Russia can ever hope to be, but only North America ~ Canada plus the USA ~ is almost certainly about 95%+ or more self-sufficient. In other words, for both Canada and the USA, the best way to get to near-total self-sufficiency, which is, pretty clearly, what President Trump wants and also what the National Post’s editorial team thinks is highly desirable for Canada, is a trading relationship which goes well beyond the current NAFTA/USMCA. As I have said before, just a few days ago, Canada does not need and should not wish to be the 51st state, but we, and the Americans, post-President Trump, should aim to achieve a level of economic integration that makes continental self-sufficiency a reality that does not require either nation to surrender sovereignty to bi-national tribunals and boards and the like.
I’m not to going to comment on the National Post series, issue-by-issue, but it is important for Canada to strike a sensible balance between being a global trading nation, which we are, despite the fact that about ¾ of our trade is with the USA, and being part of an emerging Fortress (North) America. Nor am I going to endless repeat my TINA² notion, other than to say that it’s there and There Is No Alternative, for Canada, to being Trapped In North America. But in the current circumstances, which might shape tigs for decade or longer, that might be a good, or at least a not bad thing.