I have written twice, recently, about why Canada and the USA should work together to achieve a substantial measure of continental self-sufficiency. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that the existing global supply chains need to be re-evaluated for broader strategic goals ~ not just national security and military aspects, including e.g. the 5G networks, but also energy, food and health-care/medical self-sufficiency, too.
I an earlier post (first link), I said, “Above all, we must manage four more years of Donald J Trump. The best way to do that is to pay less attention. We must accept him as he is, we must learn to ignore his more inane outbursts, and follow the main thread of his ‘logic’ which is, essentially, isolationist.“
But he makes it hard, doesn’t he?
The other day I saw, on BNN~Bloomberg and in the Globe and Mail, that “The Trump Administration asked 3M Co. to stop sending U.S.-made respirators to Canada.” The story appears to have begun on 2 April when President Trump said, on social media:
“P Act,” I guess, refers to the Defense Production Act (1950) and I see that President Trump issued an order using the authority of that act to empower the Secretary of Homeland Security to “use any and all authority available under the Act to acquire, from any appropriate subsidiary or affiliate of 3M Company, the number of N-95 respirators that the Administrator determines to be appropriate.” That, it appears, means ALL of 3M’s stock of respirators, including those already scheduled for delivery to Canada.
But this begs two questions:
- Why do we not make essential things in Canada? and
- Can we trust a global supply chain?
There are sensible answers to both.
First, we are, simultaneously, large and small. We are the second-largest country (after Russia) by area, bigger than the USA, bigger, too than China; but we are only 39th (out of 232) in terms of population., and 65 of the countries smaller than Canada have populations less than New Brunswick. We are not exactly a global pipsqueak, but we are considerably smaller in population than, say, Mexico, the Philippines and Italy and none of them is anywhere near self-sufficient in much of anything. Canadian investors make business choices every day, some have strategic implications and, now and again, governments intervene to serve what it perceives to be the national interest. But, by and large, business and government operate on different sets of priorities. Those of business are, generally, very clear and easy to understand; those of governments are less clear, when they exist at all. The globalized market, whether it is regional like ASEAN, continental, like the EU and NAFTA or even multiregional like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), is designed to lower costs, thereby making it easier for more people, all over the world, to buy the things they need and want. Government policies might be globalist, but they are, much more often, aimed at securing a temporary, transient advantage in one domain or another. Government, in my opinion, tend, in peacetime, to pursue short-term tactical goals, corporations are more likely (but the case is far from universal) to pursue longer-term, strategic ends.
In that sense, then, Donald Trump is acting almost exactly as we would all expect … his action, although both stupid and cruel, is entirely in keeping with his character. He is an instinctive isolationist. He neither understands nor cares abou the consequences of acting on his instincts; he’s going to do what he wants because it’s his boorish, braggadocious, bullying nature. It’s just who he is and we, all, Americans, Brits, Canadian, Danes and so on must just deal with him as we deal with other forces of nature ~ complaining doesn’t help. President Trump will punish Canada because it’s in his nature to be a shortsighted, stupid, selfish skipper of a ship of state that is taking on water.
There is no point in retaliating. President Trump actually likes trade wars … that’s the measure of his foolishness. We should note, however, that a US customer has doubled their order from a Canadian (Naniamo) company for “a special paper pulp used in the manufacture of disposable surgical masks, gowns and other medical products.” (Note, please that they do make the stuff necessary for the N-95 espirators in question.) Will that impress President Trump? No. Will it be noted by Vice President Pence and other senior officials and business leaders? Yes … if Canada goes ahead, being a good neighbour and an honest trading partner, and fills the order.
A few people will shout a Prime Minister Trudeau to block the order … to retaliate. They are stupid ~ trade wars are a silly idea, tit-for-tat- trade disputes with the USA are a lose-lose proposition.
The correct response for Canada is to do what Ontario’s Premier Doig Ford says, and ramp up Canadian production facilities to produce what is needed. It is not abandoning global or continental or even national supply chains, it is, merely, taking a step towards self-sufficiency. That’s what Ontario needs to do. Ditto for Quebec, BC and Nova Scotia and so on. Those who can need to produce and share with other Canadians and, indeed, with our American friends, too.
We can not react to Donald Trump by trying to be like him. The correct response to President Trump’s ill-considered, mean-spirited actions is to do the opposite while we wait for him to finish his terms in office when he will be, I am fairly certain, replaced by another but much more reasonable ‘America Firster.’