What surprises Stephen Harper?

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported the other day that Prime Minister Harper was surprised by the strong “protectionist discourse” coming from the United States. This was probably not as surprising to his business audience who had gathered to listen to him at a meeting of the Canadian American Business Council in Ottawa. Mr. Harper told his audience that he and other right-wing Canadians consider protectionist feelings in Canada to be “virtually non-existent.”

While he considers those who opposed the free trade arrangement of the Mulroney government in 1987 to be proved wrong, there are still many who would disagree with that assessment. What we argued for at the time was for “fair trade” and we have lived with less than that for a quarter century.

There is a virtual wall of Buy America policies at the state and municipal level in the United States that precludes Canadian products or services from being allowed to compete and no federal laws seem to matter. And then when you can export to south of the border, the American border crossing will tie you up for days to try to prevent your successful completion of contracts.

And yet, Stephen Harper is surprised at American protectionism! He does not appear aware that Americans were never really interested in free trade. They were interested in Canadian oil and other resources. They were mildly interested in the Canadian market—because it was handy and seemed much like their own.

But if the Americans gave a damn about free trade, they would have done a lot of things very different. For example, they would have resolved the soft-wood lumber business in a few weeks instead of being dragged into litigation to put an end to the problem after years of wrangling. The State of Michigan would have put an end to the foot-dragging about a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor. This is the major artery for trade between the two countries and the Americans treated the obstinacy of the bridge owner as a joke.  As it is, Canada will pay for the new bridge itself—until the Americans figure out what Canada will make in tolls, and demand a share.

The Prime Minister reiterated his claim that “Canada’s most important relationship remained the one with the United States.” The only problem is it makes Canadians feel like the least attractive of the many relationships in the world leader’s harem.

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Copyright 2012 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

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