An autopsy or a resuscitation?

An interesting question was raised in the Toronto Star the other day. There was an opinion piece by Bob Hepburn proposing a national commission on the reconstruction of the Canadian economy. This suggestion was based on some thinking by Greg Sorbara, a former Ontario treasurer, and Michael Mendelson, former Ontario deputy minister of the provincial cabinet office. It is the kind of suggestion that these types of thought leaders often develop over a decent bottle of single malt scotch.

But before you say a royal commission is a good answer, you should review Canada’s experience with royal commissions and the people running them.

The proposal reminds me of the Macdonald royal commission on the economic union and development prospects for Canada that was set up by Pierre Trudeau before he left office in the 1980s. Don Macdonald (Pierre Trudeau’s former finance minister, whom many of us referred to as ‘Thumper’) gave his report to Brian Mulroney’s conservatives. I really think Thumper had the report rewritten for Mulroney based on the demand of the Business Council on National Issues that Canada enter into a free trade agreement with the United States.

Canada has to be a trading nation but this particular drive was badly timed. It was when our country needed to be better aware of its own needs before entering those negotiations. Luckily, we were able to grandfather the Auto Pact into the free trade agreement arrived at between Mulroney’s conservatives and the George H. Bush administration.

The truth was that the North American pact and the later three-country addendum was more of a business-to-business deal than anything that recognized the needs of the 477 million people involved. And the recent reprise with Justin Trudeau’s liberals, Donald Trump’s republicans and president Andrés Obrador’s Mexicans at the table, was not much better.

What the business leaders seem to want is to be able to pick the most accommodating of jurisdictions with the weakest of labour and human rights laws for their processing and manufacturing operations. Luckily, Canada is not yet run by the Fraser Institute.

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