Brian Lee Crowley

Fiddling while the border cracks

The Toronto Star kindly invited me to contribute to a debate in their pages on the question as to whether Canada has a refugee crisis, especially in the context of 26,000 illegal border crossers at Roxham Road and elsewhere. Even though I am not sure that the word “crisis” is quite the right one, in a nod to journalistic style I agreed to write the piece saying Yes for the Star’s 17 July 2018 edition. My argument is that while it may not yet be a full-blown crisis, all the elements are there for it to become one, as these illegal crossings become only one more sign that Canada is losing control of the border.

As I conclude in the article:

“Regardless of the share of these illegal entrants finally accepted as bona fide refugees, the fact is they are purposely doing an end run around the rules, causing us to lose control of the border. That is playing both with fire and with the liberal Canadian consensus on immigration.”

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Thinking, not emoting, about NAFTA

One of the big public policy issues Canada is wrestling with is whether, and on what conditions, NAFTA can be renewed. Unfortunately, the political class seems more intent on whipping up emotion around the topic than helping Canadians to come to grips with the real issues and how we might turn this mess to Canada’s advantage. In order to fill this gap, Sean Speer and I co-wrote three op-eds (and Frank Buckley joined us on the first one) hoping to illuminate for Canadians some of the stakes, the realistic options and where Canada’s interests truly lie in these negotiations. In retrospect I see that the summary of our argument is that the NAFTA negotiations are like any dispute in a long-term relationship, like a marriage. There are three lessons to be learned:

  1. Get to understand what the other person wants. It’s not all about you!
  2. Look inward to find where you might have contributed to envenoming the dispute. You might think all the fault lies elsewhere, but usually responsibility is shared.
  3. Before your roving eye draws you to another potential partner, be sure you really understand how much you have invested in your existing relationship and how hard it would be to replace.

Sean, Frank and I applied Lesson One in the Globe on 3 July 2018 in which the three of us laid out what the Trump administration wants and how their world view is an important break from many of the assumptions of recent decades. The fact that Trump may come up with the wrong answers to the questions that exercise him does not mean he is wrong to ask them. There is also a video version of this piece on the page.

Then Sean and I applied Lesson Two in a 6 July 2018 piece for Macleans’ magazine where we reviewed the many ways that Ottawa has antagonised the Trump administration while bringing no benefit to Canada. As the current occupant of the White House might have tweeted, “Sad!”

Finally, we applied Lesson Three in a 20 July 2018 Globe op-ed examining the idea that “diversifying” our trade, especially to China, will somehow offer some kind of realistic alternative to our deep economic entanglement with the US. Not bloody likely!

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Getting real about China, on NAFTA, national security and trade diversification

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet these days about China, as any sensible person should. Everyone seems fixated on Donald Trump bullying Canada (and that is a reasonable concern) but the number of people who hold up China as some kind of alternative is truly staggering. If you want real, subtle, long-term bullying in unapologetic pursuit of national interests, you cannot do better than China. Add to that that China is an authoritarian, autocratic and repressive country without even a nodding acquaintance with the rule of law and a hostile relationship with the western alliance, etc., etc., etc., and China gets less appealing every day as a partner for Canada. Here are three recent op-eds in which I develop these various themes:

In the 30 May 2018 edition of the Globe, I took aim at China for its clear threats to Canadians’ national security. The context was Ottawa’s rather unexpected but welcome decision to veto the takeover of Canadian construction giant Aecon by a Chinese firm. As I pointed out, if this means that Ottawa is going to take national security threats from China more seriously (including their to-date insouciance about Huawei’s deep involvement in building Canada’s next generation 5G wireless network) that is very good news indeed and not before time.

Then came the G7 Summit. The G7 seems to me a little adrift these days, an organisation in search of a mission that would unite the disparate interests of Japan, North America and the largest European economies. My suggestion in an 8 July piece in Inside Policy: they should all agree to unite and reinforce their current disparate efforts to confront China’s disgraceful behaviour in the South China Sea that is an affront to the rule of law and freedom of navigation. There is also a video version of this piece.

Finally, Ottawa has been ramping up its focus on “trade diversification” as a kind of defensive card to play in its NAFTA negotiations with Washington. But of all the daft ideas, the one that China can replace or even partially compensate for our trade relationship with the US is surely the daftest. Read my op-ed, co-authored with Sean Speer, in the Globe of 20 July 2018 about why China is no trade saviour for Canada.

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Monarchy’s Contribution to Canada’s Greatness

Of all of Canada’s many misunderstood, abused and underappreciated institutions, monarchy and the Crown perhaps top the list. On few subjects do I hear as much rubbish talked as on the topic of the monarchy. To try and set the record straight and to explain in simple terms this most Canadian of institutions, I gave a talk to the Ottawa chapter of the Monarchist League some months ago. On 30 May 2018 MLI republished this talk, Monarchy’s Contribution to Canada’s Greatness, as a Commentary.

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Why the SCC must not have the last word on Comeau and barriers to trade

Another hot topic for Canadians in 2018 was the disappointing decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on the Comeau “Free the Beer” case. Here is some of my commentary following that decision:

First, I took the SCC to task for its failure to honour Canadians’ economic rights and its tendentious reading of the plain language of the Constitution. In a 21 April 2018 op-ed published in the major dailies throughout New Brunswick (where the Comeau case originated) I also pointed out that it was probably always a long shot that the profoundly economically-ignorant SCC might solve Canada’s failure to fix its internal barriers problem. That puts the onus right back squarely where it has always been: on Ottawa’s shoulders.

On 30 April MLI released a video of me making the same case.

Finally, on 16 May 2018, Sean Speer and I co-wrote a piece for Inside Policy reiterating these arguments and adding new ones about Canadians’ economic rights!

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Trans Mountain: the worst is not behind us, but ahead

Trans Mountain pipeline (TM) is surely one of the most talked-about issues of 2018. Here are three of my recent contributions to the debate:

First, on 18 April 2018 I wrote a ground-breaking piece for MLI’s Inside Policy magazine making the case that the greatest challenge to TM’s success is not the rather feeble court challenges offered by the government of BC, but rather the easily foreseeable broad campaign of civil disobedience that awaits the project once construction begins in the early autumn.

A shortened version of the IP piece appeared in the Sun newspapers on 23 April 2018.

Finally, on 25 May 2018 I did another Pod Bless Canada episode, this time with MLI Sr Fellow Dwight Newman on the legal situation of the TM project. Even though this was recorded just before the announcement of the federal purchase of TM from Kinder-Morgan, the discussion remains highly germane.

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MLI launches Pod Bless Canada — first 6 episodes

The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has launched a new series of podcasts entitled Pod Bless Canada. Each episode of roughly 30 minutes showcases a chat between an MLI representative and someone knowledgeable about a key issue of the day.  Here are links to the first six episodes:

On 2 Feb. 2018, Sean Speer and I talked debts, deficits and responsible public finances.

On 16 Feb. 2018 Shuvaloy Majumdar and I talked about the Canada-India relationship in the context of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s trip to India.

On 22 Feb. 2018 it was the turn of MLI Sr Fellow Ken Coates to join me to talk about the opportunities for Indigenous people in the natural resource economy.

On 6 March 2018 Sean Speer to discuss the nexus between business and political decision making in Canada.

On 20 March 2018 in one of my personal favourites, Canadian J. Michael Cole, a specialist on Taiwanese affairs, came in to discuss with me China, Taiwan, cross-strait relations, tensions in the Indo-Pacific and more.

Finally, another favourite: on 23 March 2018 Ryerson University history professor Patrice Dutil and I talked frankly about whether Canadians should feel ashamed about Canada’s past.

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To counter Russian disinformation, the West must rebuild its ability to mobilize ideas

After the Cold War, the West dismantled much of its capacity to oppose Russian propaganda and disinformation. Now our own complacency and an emboldened Vladimir Putin is leaving us prey to bad, damaging, mistaken, misleading and dangerous ideas as I write in an op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen that appeared on 21st March 2017. Time for the West to rise to Russia’s challenge once again. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about, as Putin seeks to undermine the trust on which so much of the West’s institutions and prosperity rely.

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How globalisation bowled over the taxman

As I wrote in my Globe column for the ROB, carbon taxes are all the rage, but they are not going to be the tax reform that will bring national tax systems into the 21st century. Governments and their traditional tax systems have become the latest bystanders sideswiped by the globalisation juggernaut, and the shift from corporate taxes to more objective tax bases like sales and consumption are going to be the response. In this context, people should stop ventilating and look more closely at the Republicans’ border adjustment tax. In my estimation it is a back-door way of introducing something like  a much needed national sales tax in the US.

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Provincial liquor monopolies: you can run but you cannot hide

Canada’s liquor control boards – the provincially run bodies that control the sale of alcohol to Canadians – have proven surprisingly adept at enduring through calls for lower prices and greater consumer choice.

But as I argue in a new commentary for MLI, that doesn’t make them immortal. The fact that they have survived so long is itself a tribute to their political advantages for provincial governments, even as their economic advantages are gradually eroding under the onslaught of the consumer power revolution. In this Commentary, based on a talk I gave to the Canadian Association of Liquor Jurisdictions, I lay out the strengths and the challenges liquor monopolies must manage if they are to survive and how their world is changing thanks, among other things, to increased judicial scrutiny of trade barriers as well as the traditional objections of consumers and taxpayers.

We live in a world driven by the power of the consumer, and regulatory obstacles to consumers getting what they want are falling all around us. That has bodies such as the provincial liquor boards, with their monopolies, lack of choice and high prices, swimming against the historical tide.

 

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Brian Lee Crowley