Brian Lee Crowley

Hill Times columns

  • Latest column, “Aquaculture is the big fish that got away,” published across Postmedia newspapers, The Hill Times & the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal November 17, 2012

    With more than two billion more people expected to be living on Earth by 2050, more food will be eaten in the next 50 years than in the whole rest of human history. What is the solution to feeding those hungry mouths? The sea. Unfortunately, Canada’s potential to seize this opportunity far exceeds our grasp. Read my latest column below published in the Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix, Regina’s Leader-Post, Windsor Star, Edmonton Journal, The Province, Canada.com, The Hill Times and New Brunswick’s Telegraph-Journal.

     

    Aquaculture is the big fish that got away

    By Brian Lee Crowley, Calgary Herald, November 17, 2012

    With more than two billion more people expected to be living on Earth by 2050, more food will be eaten in the next 50 years than in the whole rest of human history.

    Feeding those hungry mouths will be made harder because the green revolution that super-charged our ability to produce food in the 1970s and 1980s is now running out of steam. We have realized most of the potential gains.

    We can and will improve our ability to grow food on land, but really, doesn’t it make far more sense for humanity to dine out on the huge productive capacity of the waters of the Earth? And given that Canada has something like nine per cent of all the freshwater on the planet, the longest coastline of any nation, and the necessary technology, expertise and capital in abundance, shouldn’t we be leading this charge?

    The answers are yes and yes respectively. Unfortunately, as is so often the case, Canada’s potential far exceeds our grasp. And therein lies a (fish) tale.

    But first, the sea as the solution to humanity’s hunger. In 1973, Jacques Cousteau proclaimed we must farm the sea as we farm the land. The reasons are clear. A little simple math: food from the sea (both animals and plants) counts for a tiny 1.5 per cent of humanity’s food supply. And yet water covers seven tenths of the Earth and, with a little coaxing from human effort and ingenuity, those waters can and should be producing far more.

    The analogy with land-based farming is strong: if we depended solely on the unorganized bounty of nature to feed us, humanity would be a shrivelled shadow of its current self. The planet only supports so many billions of people because we have learned how to make land super-productive and are learning to do so with an ever-smaller ecological footprint.

    The so-called blue revolution, taking food production into the waters of the globe, is already well advanced. In fact, it is argued that aquaculture is the fastest-growing food production system in the world at the moment. We stand astride the moment when aquaculture production is finally overtaking the wild fishery as the largest source of protein from the sea, just as in the distant past, animal husbandry eventually overtook hunting as the primary source of meat.

    This has created a worldwide industry that is struggling mightily to satisfy a powerful human need. Global demand for seafood is increasing by almost 10 per cent a year. A fifth of humanity finds its main source of protein in fish, and those people are concentrated disproportionately in the developing world. By 2020, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization foresees a shortfall of 50 million metric tonnes in our ability to supply the world’s demand for food from the sea.

    Not only are people hungry for fish and seafood, but this food is perhaps uniquely good for us, too. Michael Crawford of Britain’s Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition has even made the case that eating seafood, with its rich concentrations of things like Omega 3 fatty acids, at the right stage of the evolutionary process is what caused the human brain to evolve. We got smart because we ate fish.

    Alas for Canada, aquaculture is the story of the big fish that got away. While other countries with advantages comparable to Canada’s, places like Chile, Scotland, Norway and New Zealand, have seen their annual tonnage grow handsomely, our own aquaculture production has stagnated.

    Oh, in the early years of the industry we grew at a rate similar to our competitors. Then we stalled for a decade while others powered past us. As a result, our share of world production has fallen by 40 per cent.

    The explanation, incredible as it may seem, is that Ottawa still, after three decades of experience of the industry, cannot break itself of the mindset of the wild capture fishery. The stability, certainty and security that farmers enjoy through a secure tenure in their land, their crops and their livestock has allowed major investment in productive capacity. But as one aquaculturist said to me, trying to farm fish in Canada is like trying to operate a chicken farm under the rules of the Migratory Birds Act. Fish farmers have been punished, for instance, for harvesting their stock “out of season,” a nonsensical notion when the animals only exist because they’ve been raised by people.

    Add to that the NIMBYists who are offended by the sight of working farms in Canada’s waters and fearmongers with tall tales of Frankenfish, and you have the perfect recipe for squandering a vital piece of Canada’s ability to feed the world while creating year-round technologically sophisticated work in rural areas. Yet time and tide still wait for no man.

    Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think-tank in Ottawa. @MLInstitute

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  • The Hill Times, Vancouver Sun & Calgary Herald: What’s with over-the-top reaction to renaming of Museum of Civilization to the Canadian Museum of History? October 22, 2012

    For the government to change the museum’s name and provide millions of dollars to assist with the shift to a more history-focused mandate is not undue political interference but an overdue decision to help bind Canadians together more firmly by celebrating rather than ignoring our shared experiences building this admirable society in the cold and sometimes forbidding northern half of the continent. Read my latest column below on the renaming of the Museum of Civilization.

     

    What’s with the over-the-top reaction to renaming of Museum of Civilization to the Canadian Museum of History

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, October 22, 2012

    While a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, to rename a museum is apparently to launch a scurrilous and underhanded attack on its very nature.

    That at least is the conclusion one might draw from the over-the-top reaction in some quarters to the renaming of the Museum of Civilization to the Canadian Museum of History. Now there is a national scandal worthy of the name: our largest national museum might now focus more tightly on preserving and celebrating the collective memory of Canadians, while not excluding the history of other parts of the world.

    Two criticisms of the re-naming seem to be most in evidence. First is the notion that the politicians will be reaching into the decisions of the museum itself. In fact all the protections that have insulated the museum from political interference remain robustly in place. One is an independent board operating under an act of Parliament that gives them both authority over and accountability for the museum’s operations. Another is a vigilant academic, cultural and historical community, much in evidence and in a celebratory mood at the announcement of the name change. Yet another is the museum’s capable CEO, Mark O’Neill, a dedicated civil servant with high ambitions for an institution he clearly loves.

    When Heritage Minister James Moore was asked whether there was some hidden political agenda behind the announcement, he looked around him at the artifacts of Canadian history surrounding him in the museum’s monumental Grand Hall and asked how one could politicize Champlain’s astrolabe, Maurice Richard’s hockey jersey, or Terry Fox’s support van.

    For the government to change the museum’s name and provide millions of dollars to assist with the shift to a more history-focused mandate is not undue political interference but an overdue decision to help bind Canadians together more firmly by celebrating rather than ignoring our shared experiences building this admirable society in the cold and sometimes forbidding northern half of the continent.

    The other criticism levelled at the government was that the renaming was further evidence of their desire to militarize Canadian history, to promote a distorted vision of Canada as a warrior nation.

    These critics were at the wrong museum. They should have been across the river at the Canadian War Museum, moved under the previous government into their magnificent new building in 2005. There you can visit, as over 90,000 Canadians already have, their impressive War of 1812 exhibit.

    The government’s decision to put significant resources into celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 is taken as proof positive by the government’s critics that war is being glorified for crass political purposes.

    More likely it is the other way around. After years of soft-pedalling Canada’s distinguished martial past — in part because it inevitably recalls domestic conflicts over conscription — it is being given its due recognition.

    Historically we are more warriors than peacekeepers.

    Millions of Canadians know this directly. My parents, for instance, had a military wedding while my father served in Korea. My wife’s parents’ military wedding was during the Second World War. All four of our grandfathers served in the Great War. These conflicts involved the mobilization of virtually our entire society in some of the greatest collective endeavours ever undertaken by Canadians.

    They touched every family. They are seminal events in the epic story of who we are and for that reason alone deserve pride of place in our story telling.

    As for the War of 1812, one of the most moving events I have participated in over the past year was the 200th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights on Oct. 13. Over a thousand re-enactors took to the field, representing British, Canadian, aboriginal and American combatants. Fifteen thousand enraptured spectators cheered them on.

    Because of the celebrations around the 1812 conflict, I was inspired to read up on its history and discovered a moment when the nascent Canadian self-awareness hung in the balance. Much of Upper Canada was then settled by people who had come from the United States (including the famous Laura Secord). Some came as Loyalists, others as settlers seeking land. It was not obvious that they would take up arms against their erstwhile friends and neighbours in this conflict, nor was it obvious that they would be victorious if they did.

    But victory at the Battle of Queenston Heights, early in the conflict, signalled that the British and Canadians could successfully defend this land against a powerful invader.

    And the death of General Isaac Brock on the field created a hero and rallying point that inspired the locals.

    Whatever the merits of the conflict itself, it became an anvil on which a growing awareness of and pride in a separate northern society in North America was forged. And that is something to celebrate.

    Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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  • Ottawa Citizen & Calgary Herald: CIDA needs to catch up to new thinking July 14, 2012

    In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and Calgary Herald, I write about how to reshape the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) to make it an effective force for Canada in a world that desperately needs Canada’s best efforts. The full column is copied below:

     

    CIDA needs to catch up to new thinking

    By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, July 14, 2012

    If he likes a challenge, Julian Fantino couldn’t have timed his arrival better as minister for International Cooperation (CIDA). He’ll need his tough guy reputation to be real if he is to reshape CIDA to make it an effective force for Canada, and for good, in a world that desperately needs Canada’s best efforts.

    Well briefed as he will be, Mr Fantino will know that CIDA’s traditional development approach has not been a success. Nor has it been a failure, exactly. Rather, a lot of money and effort have been spent for extremely modest results. While CIDA does well in disaster response, for example, it has not managed any significant, long-term or large scale success in helping people out of poverty.

    Simply spending more money for more modest results does justice neither to Canadian tax payers nor to the poor whom CIDA is supposed to help; especially when better options exist. But what are those options?

    Well, over 500 million Chinese have been moved from poverty into jobs though private sector investment without any assistance from NGOs, CIDA or other traditional development actors. Globally, government-private sector partnerships are creating game-changing innovations such as Advance Market Commitments where aid donors guarantee markets for drugs for the poor that pharmaceutical companies can then produce without the risk of going broke. Remittances (money sent back home by developing world expatriates working in other countries) often eclipse Canada’s development spending by a wide margin and are more effective at spurring durable growth.

    The number of people who benefit from these interventions measured against the money spent is truly staggering, far outstripping anything traditional development strategies have done.

    Development agencies in the US, Britain, Australia and Europe along with the World Bank and UN have moved aggressively to change their culture to embrace funding for innovation and allying with actors such as private companies and diasporas that have long been the largest sources of cash and effective new ideas for real sustainable development.

    Canada has almost completely missed the boat on such innovations and it shows. But there are options for the new minister to help Canada catch up.

    Renowned development economist Paul Romer is seeking Canadian assistance, not money, to help create an economic reform zone in Honduras. This idea, embraced by the Hondurans themselves, is to harness private capital to effectively build a brand new city in the country, operating on western institutional lines, with the rule of law, independent courts, enforcement of contract, non-corrupt police and officials, all guaranteed by treaty and a foreign oversight group. Canada could be an important guarantor of the integrity of these institutions, unlocking private sector investment in housing, infrastructure and manufacturing. Romer’s idea is that the world needs more Canada; not more of its cash, but rather more of the institutions we have developed and that help confer such success on our own citizens. If this idea succeeds in Honduras it could form a model for such economic zones all over the world and be magnets for growth in the developing world.

    A second opportunity is to join Canadian banks in delivering cell phone banking to the poor. In Haiti, for example, only ten per cent of the population have access to a bank account but over eighty per cent have access to a cell phone. Turning cell phones into bank accounts, creating a secure, quick and low-cost way to handle money, would have a huge, game changing, impact for the poor. This is happening through alliances between cell phone companies and banks, including Canada’s Scotiabank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, which not only has a whole department dedicated to innovation and working with private companies, but houses a mobile banking division.

    When Scotiabank comes to talk mobile banking to CIDA, however, not only is there no mobile banking specialist, but hardly anyone even has experience of working with the private sector. The last minister made some large strides in this direction, but the work remains unfinished.  Most other western aid agencies now have plenty of such experts and work with the private sector as a matter of course. The same problem faces Paul Romer or anyone with an idea outside the traditional development model. CIDA has taken timid first steps, working with natural resource companies and NGOs to promote responsible development, but such exceptional partnerships must be made the rule, and quickly.

    India, China and the Asian Tigers have proven that development isn’t chiefly about money, and CIDA already has a budget big enough to make a real difference. But only if we learn to spend that money to bring the best of Canada— our innovativeness, our creativity, and our institutions—to those who can put them to work. The new minister has his work cut out for him.

    Brian Lee Crowley (@brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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  • The Hill Times & Calgary Herald: If we demand respect, Quebecers will come around July 9, 2012

    Our great failing vis-à-vis Quebec has not been our unwillingness to change to accommodate them. It has been our unwillingness to demand their respect for our differences, and for the country. And if we do demand that respect, far from slamming the door on the way out, Quebecers will find their emotional attachment to Canada renewed and refreshed. My latest column for The Hill Times and Calgary Herald below:

     

    If we demand respect, Quebecers will come around

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, July 9, 2012

    Is Quebec now « une province comme les autres »?

    Not if you listen to the usual suspects obsessing about how « dangerous » it is that the federal government has only a handful of seats in Quebec. Horror stories have abounded of late, including one about former prime minister Brian Mulroney expressing his fears about Quebec politics to Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

    Ottawa’s alleged “weakness” is contrasted with the likelihood of a victory for the Parti Québécois in the looming provincial election. The nightmare picture painted for us is of a frightened federal government dominated by non-Quebecers facing a strong provincial government committed to taking Quebec out of Confederation. Who would speak for Canada in a referendum campaign, is the question asked in anguished tones by the professional doomsters.

    For many years, I have believed fervently that this way of thinking about the issue has it exactly backwards, and for once, I think we may have a chance to test out which view is right.

    Where we all got so badly off track was in convincing ourselves that because Quebecers were different and valued that difference that the rest of the country had to apologize for not being like them. Our differences were reason for us to feel guilty. And if we protested that we too saw value in our thoughts, the way we behaved and the history that made us, we were bad Canadians, clinging to an outmoded past best bundled surreptitiously, like all family skeletons, into a dusty attic.

    We acquiesced in rewriting our history to make Quebec a unilingual French-speaking province, when the English presence is nearly as old and every bit as legitimate as that of French-speakers. The rest of the country, including Ottawa, watched in silence as oppressive and revanchist policies were put in place that drove hundreds of thousands of Canadians from their homes in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec simply because the province decided it would be made onerous and unpleasant to live, work and be educated in English there.

    English-speaking Canada collaborated in the demonization of English Quebeckers with the dismissive epithet of Westmount Rhodesians, implying that law-abiding citizens whose only crime was to wish to preserve the language and the institutions their ancestors had legitimately established in Quebec were somehow a distasteful remnant of a repugnant colonialist and racist past.

    In the name of celebrating “la difference” we went along with an orgy of public spending, tax rises, state intimidation of business, public debt and other policies that have so devastated the provincial economy that the last time I looked Quebec had nearly a quarter of the national population but a mere seventh of the private sector jobs. One reason for the decline of my beloved Montreal Canadians is likely the ruinous taxation the province imposes, driving talented athletes as well as businesspeople to less confiscatory jurisdictions.

    But lest Quebecers turn around and blame Canada for their self-inflicted economic decline, we lessened the blow by massively subsidizing this perverse behaviour. We never breathed a word of criticism, however, lest it be taken as proof we despised Quebecers and they were better off in their own country. In fact with each election and referendum we offered to up the bounty.

    We accepted the emasculation of Ottawa to the point where we have to beg the provinces to tear down the barriers they themselves have erected to the freedom of people to buy and sell their goods and services to other Canadians across the land. Ottawa feels daring when it allows individual Canadians to buy a bottle of wine in Niagara or the Okanagan and take it home to Calgary or Sorel without fear of arrest.

    These behaviours were sold as necessary to make Quebecers feel “at home” in Canada, the price of “keeping the country together,” but they were nothing of the sort. They were acts of collective self-abasement. But if I have learned anything about negotiations in life, it is that if you don’t respect and believe in yourself, the people on the other side of the table certainly won’t. They will exploit your self-doubt.

    Our great failing vis-à-vis Quebec then, has not been our unwillingness to change to accommodate them. It has been our unwillingness to demand their respect for our differences, and for the country. And if we do demand that respect, far from slamming the door on the way out, Quebecers will find their emotional attachment to Canada renewed and refreshed.

    On this I can cite no less an authority than one of the founders of the separatist movement in Quebec, Pierre Bourgault, who said, “Believe in yourselves and then maybe we’ll believe in you too.…The day you believe in Canada as much as I believe in Quebec, 90 per cent of your problems will go away.”

    Amen.

    Brian Lee Crowley (@brianleecrowley) is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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  • Climate change: adapt or die! May 14, 2012

    Tired of the sterile debate between dogmatists on both sides of the climate change debate? Time for a fresh look at a hugely complex issue that both sides are guilty of turning into a caricature for their own benefit. It is not necessary for the science to be “settled” (whatever that means) for us to take the possibility of climate change seriously. But taking it seriously doesn’t mean we have to take leave of our senses and acquiesce in extreme policies that are in any case highly unlike to eliminate climate change. Have a look at my latest column on the topic in The Hill Times. As I argue there, “The key discussion, then, is not about whether climate change is occurring, but how great we think the risk is, and how big the insurance premium is we are willing to pay to mitigate the potential damage. ” Enjoy!

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  • The Hill Times: A climate policy hardly anyone talks about May 14, 2012

    In my latest column for The Hill Times today, I argue that we need to think differently about climate change. We need a climate policy that would accept the risk of manmade climate change, but reject utopian and unworkable schemes to ‘stop’ it or that assume that human nature can be abolished. We would concentrate our scarce resources where they would maximize human well-being: on policies, technologies and infrastructure that allow humanity to adapt successfully to uncertain climate conditions in the future. The full column below:

     

    A climate policy hardly anyone talks about

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, May 14, 2012

    The time has come to think differently about climate change.

    For too long the debate has been monopolized by two parties. One has got religion, fervently believing in man-made climate change, and that only large changes in human behaviour can stave off disaster. Their opponents argue that the science is uncertain, unsettled and inconclusive, and therefore that no action is warranted until we possess that missing certainty.

    I don’t agree with either camp. In most areas there is only ever certainty of uncertainty. In other words, both those who believe certainty has been achieved and those who say it has not share the same assumption: that certainty is what we are after and we can get it.

    The reality is that long-range future energy, climate, economic, and other carbon-related environmental conditions are and will remain significantly uncertain, highly variable, and largely unpredictable. Scientists and mathematicians know that the systems involved in the various dimensions of climate change policy are in fact extremely complex and often chaotic, fraught with considerable, irreducible uncertainty.

    But contrary to the so-called sceptics, this uncertainty does not licence inaction. Most human decisions are made in conditions of imperfect uncertain information. We have to act even though we don’t know everything.

    While we may not have established that man-made climate change is an absolute certainty, it is a serious risk. And rational people act so as to manage serious risks, even when they cannot say with confidence exactly how great the risk is. The risk that any particular house will burn down is rather small. And yet fire insurance is almost universal. Most people sensibly believe that large risks, even if the probability they will occur is small, are still worth protecting yourself against.

    The key discussion, then, is not about whether climate change is occurring, but how great we think the risk is, and how big the insurance premium is we are willing to pay to mitigate the potential damage. That is a completely different conversation.

    Another thread in that conversation will concern the climate itself. The earth’s climate has changed continually and frequently throughout its 4-billion-year history and will continue to do so for hundreds of millions of years to come. Moreover, natural forces have caused the climate to change suddenly and drastically many times in the past and are certain to do so again. Human activities may indeed be contributing to climate change now. But more powerful, uncontrollable natural forces continue to operate. So policies that promise to prevent climate change are destined to fail and can only waste resources which can better be applied to improving human security and welfare, especially via strategies that will permit humanity to be more adaptable in the face of the potential impacts of climate change.

    Yet a further thread would be a cold hard look at what we know about the greatest variable in climate change policy, which is not the climate, but the behaviour of people. Any climate change policy that depends on transforming human nature is not a solution, because it will not work. Too much wishful thinking goes on that “science” should inform all our decisions, and yet we somehow think the findings of the physical sciences can and will trump what we know about how real people think and act. As a result, the policy “solutions” utopians promote (we will give up cars and use buses and bicycles) assume a malleability of human attitudes and behaviour that has little or no basis in social science or historical precedent. We must plan on the basis of how people actually behave, rather than how we wish they would behave.

    We would also dispense with the widely accepted but quite mistaken idea that small scale experiments can always and easily be massively scaled up. This presumption confounds one of the broadest and most consistent scientific principles, that forces and phenomena observed at a small scale usually work quite differently at a larger scale, and vice versa. So, for instance, advocates of carbon cap-and-trade schemes claim that such “market-based” solutions worked to reduce power-plant sulfur oxide emissions and replace ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbons with more benign products. But those industrial markets are orders of magnitude smaller than the global market for carbon-based fuels and other products. There is little reason to think that such policies would escape this scale effect.

    The climate policy we need, therefore, is the one that hardly anyone is talking about. It would accept the risk of manmade climate change, but reject utopian and unworkable schemes to “stop” it or that assume that human nature can be abolished. We would concentrate our scarce resources where they would maximize human well-being: on policies, technologies and infrastructure that allow humanity to adapt successfully to uncertain climate conditions in the future.

    Brian Lee Crowley is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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  • The Hill Times: There’s no realistic alternative to the F-35s April 16, 2012

    In my latest column for The Hill Times, I discuss why there is no realistic alternative to the F-35s and that the government should have the courage to say so and defend the price tag that goes with it. The full column is below.

    There’s no realistic alternative to the F-35s

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, April 16, 2012

    At last – a defence debate Canadians can get excited about. The government has been caught understating the cost of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. We’ve been misled, say the auditor general and the Parliamentary budget officer. Outrage is the order of the day.

    Or not. For every expert in high dudgeon because the cost of the planes should be projected over 36 years, not 20, or the cost should include pilots’ salaries and a lot of money being spent regardless of what kind of plane we have, there are just as many who will say that it has been normal practice not to state these things in this way.

    Probably on balance the government engaged in some sharp practice and deserves to have its knuckles rapped, but then it is highly likely that all governments that have engaged in any kind of major military procurement deserve the same. Many blanch when presented with the full bill for the military preparedness that is a sine qua non of sovereignty and the protection of national interests at home and abroad.

    The government’s real failing, then, has been its unwillingness to say to Canadians what the real cost is of being a serious country in a dangerous and uncertain world. That would be a defence debate worth getting excited about.

    In that debate, question No. 1 would be how a middle power like Canada can protect its sovereignty and its interests from threats without impoverishing itself? The answer is by being part of a military alliance based on shared interests and values, like democracy, the rule of law, justice, and respect for human rights.

    That means we collaborate with the American-led Western alliance. No serious person would suggest that we could throw our lot in with, say, China or Russia, the only alternatives worth mentioning.

    Membership has its privileges, but also its costs. If we expect our allies to come to our aid if attacked, we must reciprocate. That means government has a double task. Not only must it take the measures necessary to keep the country safe and free, but it must show the alliance that it can shoulder a reasonable share of collective defence, based on alliance-wide assessments of international threats and unpredictable contingencies (Libya anyone?).

    If you’re with me so far, the next question is, in such an alliance, what constraints am I under in buying military equipment like fighter jets? Answer: the benefits to everyone are huge if everybody has roughly the same equipment. When Sweden sent some of its Gripen fighters to participate in the Libyan campaign, they ended up grounded in Italy because American jets used an incompatible fuel.

    Under “interoperability” the same fuels, spare parts, airborne fuelling technologies, weaponry, and signalling distinguishing friend from foe, all are simply given. Costs are lowered by spreading them across all allies; our own servicemen and women are made safer and more effective.

    Now having eliminated most of the alternative fighter jets worldwide for reasons of alliance management and interoperability, we come to a crucial question: of those remaining, how do you choose one?

    Based on the debate around the F-35s, one might conclude that everyone from the auditor general, the Parliamentary budget officer, the opposition and most newspaper editorialists, the answer is cost. We should hold an open competition and choose the cheapest fighter good enough to do the job.

    Rubbish.

    Why?

    We are on the cusp of a great change in fighter jet technology. The old standard, so-called fourth generation, still has some life in it, but it will soon be in its dotage. Fifth generation jets have information technology, weaponry, stealth capabilities and other overwhelming advantages. Yes, not all the bugs have been worked out, but they will be. The stakes are simply too high.

    America is getting out of the fourth generation business and putting all its eggs in the F-35 basket. It will not fail to solve the plane’s problems.

    European manufacturers are stumbling in the technology race; they will not make the shift to fifth generation. That means a future with only three cutting edge fifth generation planes: the American, the Russian and eventually the Chinese.

    Final question: if in coming decades, God forbid, Canada needs to fly combat missions against enemies with the latest technology, do we intend to win, or to send our pilots into combat with outdated equipment that was “good enough” years ago when we bought them in a time of technological ferment?

    You have now gone through the thought process that led most of our allies, the Canadian military, and governments, both Liberal and Tory, to conclude that there is no realistic alternative to the F-35. They are right and the government should have the courage to say so and defend the price tag that goes with it.

    Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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  • The Hill Times: Most successful fishing nations give fishers a right to a share of the catch before they go out to fish March 20, 2012

    In my column for The Hill Times today, I write about fishery reform on the East Coast and the use of Individual Transferable Quotas (ITQs) to guarantee a fisherman’s share of the catch. The full column is copied below.

     

    Most successful fishing nations give fishers a right to a share of the catch before they go out to fish

    These tradeable shares, owned by the fishermen, are called Individual Transferable Quotas, or ITQs

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, March 19, 2012

    Writing in the National Postlast Wednesday John Ivison said that Ottawa was finally getting serious about fishery reform on the East Coast.

    Not before time. The fishery should be a source of wealth and prosperity for Atlantic communities, not a social program and gateway to EI benefits as it is today. It would have to be a genuine industry, managed both sustainably and profitably.

    Otherwise, it will die as the older generation retires and there is no one to take their place.

    The fishery’s central problem lies squarely in the absurd fiction that managing the resource via central planning will ever be anything but an abject failure. That’s why Ivison’s story, which says Ottawa is considering an approach based on markets and incentives, is such good news, if true.

    As I wrote several years ago when I lived in Atlantic Canada, our politicians control access to the fishery, but don’t benefit from its sound management. Fish don’t vote, but people in coastal communities do, and they want more access to the resource and the EI access that comes with it. The result: politicians allow too many people to do too much fishing until stocks collapse.

    The most successful fishing nations in the world today abandoned this approach long ago. They give each fishermen a right to a share of the catch before they go out to fish. These tradeable shares, owned by the fishermen, are called Individual Transferable Quotas, or ITQs.

    Fishermen don’t just get a right to put their nets in the water. If the science determines there are 100 tonnes of fish available, each fisherman gets a right to catch a specific percentage of that stock, usually based on past fishing history. The season’s over when they’ve caught their quota, unless they buy more from other quota holders. If they want to leave fish in the water to multiply, no one else can swoop in and catch them. And if they want to lease or sell their quota to someone else, they’re free to do so— something they cannot do with their licences today.

    The evidence of the success of ITQs, in general, is impressive. In New Zealand, Iceland, Alaska and elsewhere it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the fisheries management and performance have been revolutionized. Ironically, it is Canadians like Peter Pearse and Tony Scott of UBC who pioneered this approach to fish management and have seen their ideas transform fisheries abroad, but too little at home.

    ITQs end the traditional destructive “race to fish” because fishermen no longer have to beat the other fishermen to the fish; their share of the catch is guaranteed. Less money has to be spent on growing catching power, and finding ways around DFO’s controls on gear. Catching your quota when and where you want means enhanced safety; fishermen can stay at home if the weather is dangerous, for example.

    Fishermen get better prices for their catch. Quota holders fish when prices are high, and take more time to clean and handle the fish to enhance their value. Fishermen can earn a better living, even when catching fewer fish.

    On the West Coast, where quota fisheries are widespread, fishermen like them. That’s doubly significant because many of those same fishermen fought their introduction tooth and nail. One reason for the change of heart is that ITQ fisheries, being profitable, have the means and the incentive to fish efficiently and can pay higher wages to productive on-boat workers.

    The story is similar in Atlantic Canada, where about half of fish landed by value are caught under some form of property rights. I know of at least one Nova Scotia ITQ fishery where the fishermen volunteered to fish unallocated quota and use the money to finance more and better science so that they could better understand the fish stocks in which they now have a direct and quantifiable interest.

    What ITQ fisheries we have in Canada have improved conservation, profitability, safety, and fishermen’s incomes while getting the industry to shoulder the costs of its own science and policing. And now fishermen increasingly police each other, because someone over-fishing their quota is now stealing from his neighbour’s quota. There is no third party surveillance system more powerful than this. These are all huge victories.

    But the extension of the quota system to new fisheries in Atlantic Canada has slowed because reform lacks a champion willing to tackle inertia and vested interests. A government wanting to change the culture of Atlantic coastal communities for the better could do a lot worse than putting the fishery on a businesslike basis with ITQs. Add a dollop of EI reform and the east coast fishery would be transformed from subsidy sinkhole to a source of prosperity for Canada and for coastal communities themselves.

    Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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  • Ottawa Citizen: Regardless who wins the U.S. election in November, Canadians will be holding more cards than we have in the past March 10, 2012

    March 10, 2012 – In today’s Ottawa Citizen, I write about the greater degree of freedom Canada now enjoys in its relationship with the U.S. The full column below:

     

    Advantage, Canada

    Regardless who wins the U.S. election in November, Canadians will be holding more cards than we have in the past, writes Brian Lee Crowley

    By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, March 10, 2012

    Given the buffoonery of the U.S. primaries, the Nov. 6 election can seem  agonizingly far off. It will, however, be upon us before we know it. Then the  really interesting times will begin, for while we cannot vote for those who will  have a share of power in Washington, we can and must think about how to manage  the new cast of characters to Canada’s advantage. And not only will there be new  players in the White House and on Capitol Hill, but they will be dealing with a  different kind of Canada than in the past.

    Don’t get me wrong: the odds today favour the re-election of President Barack  Obama. His margin in the polls, however, is far from commanding and a Republican  nominee such as Mitt Romney, with the ability to reach out successfully to  independents and even some Democrats, would be highly competitive.

    But even if Obama wins, much will be different. He will appoint at least some  new cabinet members and other senior members of the administration, for example.  But most importantly he will now be in his final term, insulated from further  electoral calculations, at least where his personal future is concerned.

    Furthermore while there will be new faces in both the House and the Senate,  the rancorous partisanship of recent years is likely to deepen.

    All of this makes thinking about managing our most important economic and  political relationship complex enough. To those calculations, however, we must  now add the new selfconfidence that Canadians feel, the new choices they have  and the new points of friction with America.

    Consider that Canada has become the darling of international economic  observers for our management of our fiscal affairs and banking system, and how  we emerged from the recent recession faster and stronger than any other major  industrialized country.

    Contrast that with the continued weakness in America, the unresolved housing  bust, the stubborn unemployment and the continuing debt binge. Canada faces its  own economic challenges, such as population aging, household debt and poor  productivity growth, but does so from a position of relative strength, not  weakness.

    Now consider the greater degree of freedom we enjoy in trade. For years  governments came to power in Ottawa promising to reduce our dependence on U.S.  markets, and those same governments left office with the trade dependency deeper  than ever. But as a result of continued American economic weakness and the rise  of industrializing countries such as China, India, the Asian Tigers, Indonesia,  Brazil and others, our trade dependence on the U.S. is lessening. In 2000 we  sent over 87 per cent of our merchandise exports to the U.S. In 2010 it was  about 75 per cent.

    We are extremely unlikely ever to escape deep economic integration with the  United States in manufacturing, because we don’t make much in the way of  finished products in Canada. We tend to make pieces of larger products put  together via a complicated production system spread throughout North America.  Our relative degree of freedom to shift our production to other markets is  rather small.

    Not so with our natural resources, however, and those resources are far more  likely to underpin our economic growth in the foreseeable future than  manufacturing, even though manufacturing’s future here is brighter than many  imagine.

    Take natural gas. To date our assumption has been that our chief interest is  to become integrated into a seamless North American energy market, feeding the  consumers and industrial processes south of the border while importing American  capital to pay for the necessary infrastructure. Today, however, thanks to the  shale gas revolution, North America is awash in natural gas. The futures price  is a paltry $2.30 U.S. per thousand cubic feet and is forecast to stay low for  years to come.

    Contrast that with the situation in, say, Japan where they have taken  numerous nuclear reactors off-line following the Fukushima disaster and are  filling the gap with, among other things, natural gas. Canadian gas sold in  Japan would fetch a hugely higher price there than in North America. Canada’s  trade interest, in addition to close and enduring ties to our chief market in  America, is in selling more to Asian and other rising markets, but we have to  build the infrastructure to get our products there. China and other  industrializing countries are driving the rise in value of our resources, which  we can sell anywhere.

    Add to these considerations the diverging attitudes between our two countries  on things like immigration and the desirability of natural resource development  such as the Keystone XL pipeline, and Canada now finds itself in the unusual  situation of having more choices than ever before in its relationship with the  U.S.

    Our degree of freedom is still mightily constrained, but it is real. Time to  start thinking about what to do with it.

    Brian Lee Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an  independent nonpartisan public policy think tank in Ottawa:  macdonaldlaurier.ca.

     

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  • The Hill Times: Sell to China, but never change who we are to do so February 20, 2012

    In today’s Hill Times column, I discuss trade with China. There is a great deal of pressure within Canada not to say anything that might ‘offend’ the Chinese because the subtext is that they will punish us economically if we dare speak our minds. What should we do? Our only possible response to speak away, while taking all the counter-measures necessary to protect ourselves, including aggressive counter-espionage and a healthy skepticism about the independence of Chinese companies from the regime in Beijing. The full column below:

    Sell to China, but never change who we are to do so

    By Brian Lee Crowley, The Hill Times, February 20, 2012

    Sir Wilfrid Laurier, Canada’s greatest prime minister, had two sage pieces of advice for Canadians about trade. First, free trade with the United States is the indispensable cornerstone of our prosperity. Second, we should build on that primary relationship by seeking markets wherever they are to be found.

    A century later, that is still good advice. Specialize, but diversify. We have free trade with the U.S, to whom we send the lion’s share of our exports, but we want to reduce our dependence on that single market. Put that unease about our dependence on America together with their recent erratic behaviour over the Keystone XL pipeline, for example, and Canadian eyes turn, quite naturally, to China and its vast expanding market.

    Yet there is a powerful, but inarticulate ambivalence in the minds of Canadians about drawing closer to China. In the media that ambivalence is usually portrayed as a reservation about China’s treatment of its own people, or its “human rights record” at home.

    China indisputably is a conscienceless regime that treats domestic dissenters and opponents with breathtaking callousness and cruelty. From its arrogant, unaccountable and corrupt system of government to its cheerful resort to firing squads (5,000 executions in 2009—more than the rest of the world combined), harvesting of organs from opponents and its violent suppression of Tiananmen Square protesters, Tibetan autonomists, and Falun Gong supporters, the odious Chinese regime is certainly an egregious offender against international norms of human rights.

    But that in itself is not sufficient to make us avoid trading with China. We have traded with as bad and worse regimes: the Soviet Union, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, Libya before the revolution and others have all been places where Canadians have bought and sold despite appalling human rights records. Canada rightly criticizes all such regimes, but does not interfere with its own citizens’ rights to engage in trade as long as they do so in accordance with Canadian law.

    The real reason to be exceptionally wary and prudent in our relationship with China actually has nothing to do with how they treat their own people and everything with how they treat us. Make no mistake: China is projecting its amoral pursuit of its regime’s interests into the wider world, including right here in Canada. Wherever China has acquired economic and political power, it has used it to intimidate opponents and hold itself above the law.

    In Asia, for example, China unabashedly uses its growing economic and military clout to intimidate smaller countries. It is unwilling to see its expansive and weakly justified claims to resource-rich parts of the South China Sea subjected to normal rules-based settlement in international forums. It prefers to become economically dominant in smaller countries like Vietnam and the Philippines and then use that power to bully their partner into submission. The recent welcome political liberalization in Burma can be traced its military junta’s increasing unwillingness to be pushed around by China and the consequent need to repair relations with the west. Small Asian countries warmly welcomed America’s stated intention of becoming more present in East Asia because they want a powerful counterweight to the overbearing Chinese.

    Then there is China’s aggressive campaign of spying and espionage against foreigners in general and Canadians firms, individuals and interests in particular. Despite considerable media coverage, Canadians seem blithely unaware of the extent of China’s spying efforts. To pick just one recent example, a defector from China’s intelligence services has indicated China has 1,000 economic spies at work in Canada, more than any other country. Canadian researchers have been instrumental in uncovering a worldwide software-based Chinese spy network that targeted sensitive government information, while industrial espionage has pillaged Canadian industrial and business secrets.

    In sum China’s is a nasty regime that wishes us ill, unashamedly exploits weakness in its trade partners and holds itself above both the law and international norms of decency wherever it is to their advantage. We may be economically dependent on the U.S., but we debate that dependence and every exercise of American power openly and vigorously. We constantly tell America what we think without fear of serious retaliation because they are a mature transparent society that shares our values and operates under the rule of law. By contrast there is a great deal of pressure within Canada not to say anything that might “offend” the Chinese, on whom we are far less dependent. The subtext: they will punish us economically if we dare speak our minds.

    The only possible response is for us to speak away, while taking all the counter-measures necessary to protect ourselves, including aggressive counter-espionage and a healthy skepticism about the independence of Chinese companies from the regime in Beijing. By all means sell to China. But we should never change who we are to do so.

    Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.

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