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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A primer on Canada’s pipeline mess for Canadians and others

On the topic of pipelines in general and Trans Mountain in particular, there has of course been much action in recent weeks, including most notably Ottawa’s acquisition of the TM project from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion. Here are two examples of my commentary on the issue:

30 May 2018 I published an op-ed in the Financial Post arguing that the Liberals are chiefly the authors of their own misfortune on TM, through their ill-advised political alliance with the hard-line environmental movement. I predict that they will reap the social licence whirlwind when their erstwhile allies really get serious about civil disobedience.

Then on June 12th I sought to explain to an international audience the issues surrounding TM and pipelines in general in the context of Ottawa’s sudden ownership of TM. The Washington Examiner was kind enough to publish my piece. I also did a video version of the op-ed which is available at the top of the MLI page.

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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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VIDEO: Ottawa subsidizing risky provincial borrowing

VIDEO: Ottawa subsidizing risky provincial borrowing

 

New MLI video shows that Euro-style debt crises can happen here if status quo continues

Alberta and Ontario lead the parade of Canadian provinces running unsustainable public finances, in part thanks to the market’s belief that Ottawa will never let a province default on its debt. Based upon an exhaustive study by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute – Canada’s premier non-partisan think tank – this video explains the risk all Canadians face: that federal taxpayers will have to pick up the tab for profligate provincial governments. It also explains what we can do to fix the problem!

Click here to watch “Debtbusters: Who’re broke provinces going to call?”

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Brian Lee Crowley