Brian Lee Crowley

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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Water, water all around — unless you’re landlocked like Alberta

Being landlocked is a bad place to be generally speaking on the international stage. Coastal states are guaranteed freedom of the seas, but landlocked states may not be able to reach the seas and their commercial bounty without having to bribe neighbouring coastal states. Ottawa was created in 1867 to prevent such extortionary behaviour by Canadian provinces. So what gives when BC is yet again threatening to close off Alberta’s access to tidewater? My views on the issue were laid out in my 12th May column for the Globe and Mail’s ROB. You can read the unedited text below or here online.

Geography distributes its bounty capriciously and the results can be extremely painful for those who end up penalised by their place on the map.  The outcome of the recent BC election may be about the deliver an object lesson in this principle to this country’s only two landlocked provinces: Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Internationally, being landlocked is a very uncomfortable place to be. Unless you are a Botswana exporting diamonds (small, light and high value products that can be shipped by, say, plane) you likely need to put your exports on a ship to get them to world markets, thereby realising their highest value.

Because ocean shipping is so vital to economic success, the world’s nations agree that ships engaged in bona fide commerce will not be obstructed. Nations can’t target the shipping of other countries and demand ransom to let it reach its destination. That’s piracy.

The main exception is when military or diplomatic conflict causes countries to throw up embargoes against offending countries’ goods, or to prevent them from receiving shipments of things like arms or nuclear materials. Such exceptions are exceedingly rare when seen against the volume of ocean-borne trade.

But landlocked states face a completely different obstacle: their goods must cross another country’s territory to get to port. International law is of little help, and the 45 such landlocked states must negotiate access with neighbours who may have conflicting economic interests, historical enmities or simply little interest in helping.

What the neighbours universally have, however, is the whip hand in the negotiations. They tend to use that to extort benefits far in excess of the actual economic value of the infrastructure and services needed to get their landlocked brethren’s goods to port. And having to get their products through a “transit country” makes companies reluctant to invest in the landlocked. It injects a level of political risk that is difficult and costly to manage.

Landlocked countries thus tend to be poorer than their economic fundamentals justify. All because of accidents of geography and the political leverage they create.

Before 1867, the various colonies that were to become Canada suffered from the ability of each to impose tariffs on the products of the other as they crossed their territory. A key benefit of Confederation was explicitly to tear down these barriers, turning Nova Scotian or Quebec products into Canadian products that could move freely across the national territory, including to ports for export to world markets.

But as we’re discovering, the thirst of transit provinces for bounty to allow neighbouring provinces to move their products has never gone away.

Our only Pacific province has lately been the most egregious offender, preying on the vulnerability of landlocked Alberta and Saskatchewan in their efforts to get their resources to world markets.

Take the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, intended to bring Alberta petroleum to Asia via the port of Vancouver. Before the just-concluded BC election, the Liberal premier, Christy Clarke, had already shaken down the pipeline company for $1-billion to “allow” the pipeline expansion to be built. The province has no jurisdiction, pipelines being a federal matter, but the province could threaten enough obstructive behaviour that the company could see that peace with the province might be worth a hefty price tag. This is nothing but Third World corruption carried out at the expense of Canadian resources, a corruption only made possible by the arbitrary fact of Alberta’s landlocked geography and Ottawa’s complaisance.

Now BC has doubled down on transit province bounty-seeking, this time targeting thermal coal. The province has threatened a thermal coal export tax, ostensibly to punish the Americans for their softwood lumber machinations, but the result will be to sideswipe Alberta, which might lose as much as $300-million in sales of such coal now going through the west coast. Saskatchewan hasn’t been targeted yet, but they understand all too well that they are no less landlocked, and therefore vulnerable, than Alberta.

Assuming recounts and other factors don’t change the BC election result, the situation will only worsen. With the Green Party, unalterably opposed to Kinder-Morgan, holding the balance of power count on all the parties to vie to outdo each other in environmental virtue and the chauvinistic promotion of BC interests, as if they can be separated from the national interest of all Canadians. Kinder-Morgan is sure to be a flashpoint. This behaviour is a dagger aimed at the beating heart of federalism.

As for the much vaunted new free trade agreement between the provinces, it is silent on this issue, proving yet again what a paper tiger it is. Meanwhile Ottawa, created in 1867 in part to be the guarantor of the integrity of Canadians’ freedom to trade, looks on benignly.

Who speaks for Canada? Answer came there none.

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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What makes Canada great: My talk to MLI’s Canada 150 Dinner, 16th February 2017

Forget diversity, multiculturalism or social programmes. Despite what you may have heard, these are not the things that make Canada great, however desirable they may be in their own right. The things that have brought untold millions to settle in Canada were here long before these ideas ever saw the light of day.

Instead we have to look for the explanation of Canada’s greatness in things like our grounding in the New World, our tradition of freedom and our willingness to sacrifice to protect what really matters. At least that’s the argument I made in my talk at the MLI Canada 150 Dinner on 16th February 2017.

Multiculturalism, public health care and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are all well and good. But they don’t get at the essence of why true patriots love Canada, says Crowley.

The willingness to sacrifice in order to protect the freedoms uniquely available to us in the New World: now that, ladies and gentlemen, is a country worth celebrating.

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Think what you like of Kevin O’Leary—He is right to call for the restoration of Ottawa’s economic power

Writing in my fortnightly Globe column I make the case that commentators can harrumph all they want at Kevin O’Leary’s plan to discipline the provinces for damaging Canada’s national economic prospects. He is doing nothing the founders of Canada didn’t plan and allow for.  His rhetoric may be a little over the top, but he is not wrong to say that Ottawa has the tools to discipline provinces who act contrary to the national interest (including via withholding some transfers) and that they should be used when circumstances warrant.

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The dark art of deliverology: does it work?

The dumbing down of the public service continues apace as Ottawa’s appeal to the guru of deliverology underlines. The whole subtext of deliverology is that civil servants exist merely to execute politicians’ will. What tosh. if that were so, why spend so much time in the British parliamentary tradition underlining and celebrating the non-political and independent nature of the civil service? The CS exists to give independent, expert, non-partisan advice to ministers and their authority to do so is in no way dependent on the electoral mandate of their political masters. The failure of governments of all stripes to understand this relationship is poisoning the relationship itself. Of course the CS isn’t helping with its shameful displays of partisanship following the last election, but that is a different topic for another day!

Deliverology is merely the latest false gospel promoted by charlatans to give a semblance of legitimacy to the increasing creep of politics into the CS. And it doesn’t work anyway, as I lay out in some detail in my Globe column for the ROB that appeared on April 29th, 2016.

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Premiers once again fail internal trade test. When will Ottawa step up?

As I argue in my March 26th column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers, the Liberals have chosen internal trade liberalisation as the one issue where they see eye to eye with the Tories in looking to the provinces to tear down those barriers. Yet the premiers’ own self-imposed deadline of mid-March for an extensive new deal has come and gone without a peep from any of them. The truth is that the provinces are too busy protecting local interest groups to protect Canadians’ rights in this area. Ottawa alone has the authority and legitimacy to do it, but not yet the will despite the fact that it is Canadians’ rights at stake. Bipartisanship in Ottawa deserves a more worthy standard-bearer than this.

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Why 50% plus 1 shouldn’t be enough to break up European countries either

Regular readers of this site and blog will know that I am a ferocious opponent of the idea that Canada should be vulnerable to being broken up by a vote of 50% plus one of a province’s residents in a referendum on independence, and in this the Supreme Court of Canada and I are of one mind. But Canada is not the only place in the world where local nationalist movements are trying to use the referendum weapon to dismember venerable democratice nation-states such as the UK and Spain. Writing for CapX in the UK, I make the argument for Europeans as to why they too should learn the lessons Canada has learned from a half century wrestling with the separatist nationalist movement in Quebec, including the rules that should govern any referendum, what the threshold of success should be and what should follow a Yes vote.

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Why reform beats Senate abolition every time

If abolition is the answer you get to about the Senate, you are not asking the right question. Only one parliamentary federation in the world doesn’t have an upper chamber and that’s Pakistan — not the place I want to go for lessons in democracy. In this special op-ed commissioned by the National Post, I review why a Senate is a good idea and the reform principles we should employ in making sure ours plays its vital role in our evolving democracy.

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800 years ago, Magna Carta. Still worth celebrating today!

Click here for my take on why Magna Carta still matters to Canada 800 years after King John signed it under protest on a muddy field at Runnymede. A specially commisioned column by the Ottawa Citizen.

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Brian Lee Crowley