Posts Tagged ‘Free Trade’

An autopsy or a resuscitation?

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

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.


Copyright 2020 © Peter Lowry

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CETA: The devil is in the details.

Monday, October 24th, 2016

Tried the other day to reread the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) and finally gave up in disgust. Maybe this deal between Canada and the European Union is just too comprehensive for this non-trade expert to comprehend. And when you find the mainly French-speaking Wallonia area of Belgium is the last hold-out on the deal, you know the deal will happen sooner than later.

It is not that we are sceptical of free trade, but we intensely dislike the idea of industry tribunals ruling over our elected government and allowing willful industry associations to hamstring our exports. It smacks too much of Italian fascism. And besides, anything that elicits the ready acceptance by both Conservative and Liberal politicians is cause for concern.

You can expect the Walloons will be bought off their high horse. It seems routine in Belgium that the different language groups are less than civil to each other. We once made the mistake of hiring a French-speaking taxi driver in Brussels to take us to a friend’s place in a Flemish enclave. The driver listened to our version of Canadian French, thought of the fat fare and agreed but got hopelessly lost. It took our bad French to get us out of trouble and to get directions for our driver.

There seem to be different versions of this trade agreement because you will hear on one side that it can mean as much as C$2 billion to Canada from this new agreement. That is not such a big deal when you consider that Canada already exports more than C$52 billion per year to Europe and Europe sends us about $62 billion. The import duties on both sides are already not all that significant.

But it is the exchange of professionals between Canada and Europe that will also be a factor. Accepting the qualifications of accountants, engineers and other professionals opens stronger bonds between the member countries of the EU and this country.

At least with this European trade agreement, Canadians have access to the details. We were often of the impression that the average citizen in any of the countries needed an unbiased plain language version of the deals.

American Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has been providing his own comic book version of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Few Canadians know or would trust him, but, in some ways, it is too bad his suggestion of tearing up the agreement will not happen. Canada needs a better deal than the existing one with the U.S.


Copyright 2016 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to