February 15, 2013 – MLI Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley says it is time for Canada to close its free-trade deals in his latest column for Postmedia. The column is published in the Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Gazette, Edmonton Journal, Saskatoon’s StarPhoenix, Regina’s Leader-Post, Windsor Star, The Province, and Canada.com. Read it below.
MLI’s Crowley also appeared on The Rutherford Show, Alberta’s #1 radio show, to discuss his op-ed on Wednesday, February 20, 2013 at 11:35 am ET. Tune in then to hear more on the topic.
Canada needs to close its free-trade deals
By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, February 15, 2013
The serious countries are the ones who don’t just start things, dream big and have high ambitions. The serious countries are the ones who actually get things done.
In other words, it’s the closers who matter, and that’s just as true of countries as it is of baseball and sales.
Canada has had a great tradition of closers on projects of national significance. Sir John A. Macdonald brought us a transcontinental railway in the face of huge opposition from those who thought the project too big for Canada. When in 1873 Sir John A. went down to defeat over a railway construction scandal, his Liberal successor, Alexander Mackenzie, thought we could get by just fine with barges and sledges in the wilderness.
Louis St-Laurent got the Canada-U.S. St. Lawrence Seaway done by threatening to go it alone, forcing a reluctant U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower’s hand.
Brian Mulroney got a free-trade deal with the U.S. signed, sealed and delivered, a feat that had eluded successive governments since the Americans abrogated the first free-trade agreement in the middle of the 19th century.
But we can never rest on our laurels, riding on the courage and vision of those who went before, because every great project, every great decision, is only a step in history. Conditions change and new challenges must be confronted and bested. We can never be content with merely protecting what we’ve got; we have to move ourselves, our institutions, our habits and our ambitions in step with a whirl of time, circumstance and opportunity that we do not control but to which we can and must respond.
We have lost many opportunities in recent years through not being able to close. At a time when employers are crying out for skilled workers, we have one of the best records anywhere at getting people into post-secondary education but one of the worst in getting them through their program and giving them a qualification. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline, that could have unlocked economic opportunity in the North and throughout the country, was studied and obstructed to death, the opportunity now passed. Other major pipeline proposals, to move Alberta’s oil to markets in Asia and the U.S., hang perilously in the balance. The road and other infrastructure needed to modernize our cities is too often held hostage to special-interest groups. We cannot close these deals despite the demonstrable benefits they would confer on Canada.
One such opportunity that awaits a gifted closer is the free trade deal with the 500 million consumers of the European Union. Despite the fact that Canada is a trading nation, and that better access to foreign markets is one of the most powerful ways of raising our own standard of living, we have not concluded a trade agreement with a major economy since NAFTA in 1994. That’s 20 years.
It hasn’t been for lack of trying. If you visit the website of Foreign Affairs, you’ll see the list of countries with whom we are seeking to negotiate free trade deals. It includes India and Japan and the trans-Pacific Partnership, that might open the doors to China and other growing Asian economies.
But most of those negotiations are embryonic at best. The only one we got close to signing, with South Korea, has basically been defeated by opposition from the Canadian auto industry. Instead we have been signing deals with worthy countries like Jordan, Peru and Costa Rica, countries with whom our trade is valuable but microscopic.
What holds us back? The benefits of open markets, lower tariffs and regulatory co-operation all lie in the future. You cannot easily put a face to the winners. For those who lose protection under free trade, however, the pain is real, immediate and quantifiable. Specific people find their job threatened. And even though it is easy to demonstrate that far more wealth is created for Canadians overall by free trade, those who lose protectionist privileges have more reason to organize and oppose trade liberalization than the beneficiaries have to support it.
Thus municipalities complain that they won’t be able to favour local suppliers, provinces say they will have to pay more for prescription drugs and dairy farmers whine that Canadians might prefer European cheeses to the local stuff.
All that could have some grain of truth in it and it would still be a great stride for Canadians overall to have better access to one of the world’s richest markets. But opponents are motivated, well-financed and vocal, while the beneficiaries, because they lie in the future, cannot speak today. It thus requires closers of great vision and fortitude to bring such deals home.
Canada’s up one, it’s bottom of the ninth with bases loaded. We’re about to find out if we have a closer on the mound.
Brian Lee Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.macdonaldlaurier.ca.
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