Monday, August 22, 2005

NAFTA, Dieppe, Canada and the World

It's hard to think of a more mainstream organ of the press than the Globe and Mail. Seriously. This paper - nearly a quarter century older than our country - is the bastion of sober, conservative thought in Canada.

So I was surprised to see the headline on Saturday: "Betrayed Over Free Trade." The gist of the article is that a) The US has reneged on it's word, expressed in both the 1988 FTA and the 1993 NAFTA, and B) Canada should seriously consider leaving NAFTA. Who are the radicals who are advocating this course? The exact same fucking morons who negotiated free trade in the first place.

Ahem. Pardon me.

I think our American cousins would be surprised by how visceral the reaction to the softwood lumber dispute has been up here. Canada has historically been slapped around by it's colonial masters - whether it was the French, the British, and now the US, we've never been taken seriously. Some poor, deluded souls (who unfortunately ran the government at the time) believed that Canada could protect itself by tieing the US Goliath down with international law. To have this illusion shattered by the arrogance of the Bush administration's position on softwood lumber is to bring back all the old resentments of larger powers.

Interestingly, the anniversary of the Dieppe raid has just passed. For those who don't know, Dieppe was an aborted attack in 1942 on German positions in France where Canadians (and I believe some Australians) were used essentially as cannon fodder to make the point to the Soviets that it wasn't time for a second front against the Nazis yet. Though estimates vary, somewhere in the range of 1,000 Canadians were killed and 3,000 captured in a piece of theatre designed to placate larger powers. There's really no question that Canadian lives were being thrown away - Louis Mountbatten, head of the operation, is reported to have said "Who knows, it might even work!" So Canadians take imperial arrogance very seriously, and very personally.

But back to NAFTA. The Globe article in question interviews a number of the Tories who thought they could play the role of Llilliputians to Gulliver - tie down the Americans with law, and guarantee Canadian access to the US market. Of course, this was an idiotic idea. The US government is never, ever, going to choose Canadian interests over it's own. We even, in a fit of madness, offered the Americans what amounts to an unconditional surrender - guaranteed access to Canadian energy, in perpetuity and regardless of any Canadian energy shortages.

To be clear - we gave that away, it wasn't a demand by the Americans. And in exchange, Canada has received pretty much nothing except the occasional kick in the nuts.

But there's something that should be said. As bad as the Bush government's position on trade has been, we're kidding ourselves if we think the Clinton/Gore/Kerry administrations would have been any better. Former foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy seems to want to believe that there is something particularly noxious about the Bush administration, but the fact of the matter is that so long as we put our faith in NAFTA, we're putting our economic lives in the hands of the US Congress. A deeper cesspool for rational thought has yet to be thought of by the minds of man.

So was Canada "betrayed" on Free Trade? Yes. But not by the American government - it's just doing what it does, and what anyone with a brain could have predicted. No, Canada was betrayed by our own government, who idiotically believed they could control the elephant. Specifically, Canada was sold out by the exact people who are now complaining that the US isn't playing nice.

Waaaaaah. I want my bottle. God, the Canadian people actually voted for these morons? Talk about getting the government you deserve...

But where do we go now? Well, the softwood lumber dispute is moving on to the WTO, which will without question rule in our favour, again. This will allow Canada to impose retaliatory tariffs against the US. But it should be asked: If our only option for serious negotiations is to go to the WTO, what does Canada have to gain from NAFTA anymore?

The Canadian punditocracy mocked David Orchard when he said we had to get out of NAFTA. They refused to listen to him when he said FTA was a bad idea that was going to hurt Canada. They called him "anti-globalization" when he said that Canada should rely on the WTO, not the goodwill of the US congress. Now, the Tories who recommended Free Trade are essentially in agreement with Orchard.

The good news is that Canada has more options today then we did 20 years ago. The US no longer needs to be our overwhelming trade partner (though geography tends to mean they'll always be the largest single partner.) China, India, Europe, even Africa offer Canadians a number of growing markets to trade in. If we really want to work seriously on de-emphasizing trade with the US, that means working tirelessly to forge new links across both oceans. It also means rebuilding the east-west relationships of this country, rather than the north-south ones we've let grow since Free Trade. Given that this would be good for Canada anyway, it's hard to see why we wouldn't do it.

Just don't elect the Conservatives again.

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