Brian Lee Crowley

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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Gender-based Analysis as if *everyone* matters

In the Sun newspapers on 8 June 2018 Sean Speer and I had some fun at the expense of self-righteous government social engineers by pointing out the hypocrisy and double-standards implicit in Ottawa’s policy of “gender-based analysis”. We argue that if GBA is a serious policy, we must look at the differential impact of policies on each sex and seek to mitigate sex-specific harms wherever they may occur. But of course the government thinks that it only matters if *women* are disadvantaged by a policy, not men. A case in point: the many policies currently in place that are placing enormous strain on the natural resource economy. As Sean and I wrote:

“One currently-ignored area ripe for more people-centred analysis, for example, is natural resources and the trade-offs that policymakers are implicitly making between employment and other considerations such as reducing carbon emissions. Proper GBA would reveal that the effects of this policy are relatively minor for women but devastating for men.”

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Sean Speer and I tackle the role of marriage and family in social policy

In the struggle to gain insight into the causes of social ills like unemployment, poor educational performance, welfare dependency, inequality, social mobility and a host of other vital issues, almost  any and every explanation is considered worthy of study except one of the most important ones: the vital role that marriage and the family play. In this 11 May 2018 op-ed for the Sun newspapers Sean Speer and I set the record straight.

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Of deficits and infrastructure

One of the signature policies of the Liberals in the last election was their promise to increase substantially infrastructure spending and to run a deficit solely for this purpose. As Sean Speer and I argued in this 19 April 2018 piece for Inside Policy their policy has failed on both counts. Not only have they proven woefully ineffective at spending infrastructure dollars, they have nonetheless run up deficits on a host of other spending.  Ottawa’s approach to infrastructure badly needs a rethink.

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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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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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Trudeau was selling deficits, but the G7 wasn’t buying

The 2017 G7 meeting in Japan should give Prime Minister Trudeau ‎reason to reflect on his plan for deficit spending as Sean Speer and I argued in an op-ed in the Financial Post on June 3rd 2017. Trudeau arrived in Japan determined to sell other leaders on the merits of budgetary deficits to grow the economy. But his peers weren’t buying. ‎The summit’s 14,000-word communiquĂ© was silent on calls for more government spending. Perhaps the other leaders know something Justin doesn’t…or that he’s trying his hardest to ignore.

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Redistribution vs an agenda of opportunity

Writing in the Sun newspaper chain on November 27th, 2016, my colleague Sean Speer and I tackle on of the hottest issues of the day: redistribution vs opportunity and which best serves the interests of Canadians.

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Don’t blame foreigners, but governments, for high house prices

Sean Speer and I released a paper through MLI on 29 Sept. making the case that the fingering of foreigners as the primary cause of rising house prices is a pure piece of theatrical misdirection. Rising prices in Vancouver and Toronto are a direct result of burgeoning opportunity in those cities (e.g. that is where all Canada’s recent net job creation has been) PLUS a decades long campaign to dry up the supply of new housing. Rising demand + stable supply = higher prices. We laid out the case in an op-ed that appeared in the ROB on the 29th.

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Brian Lee Crowley