By Michael Lashley
Why do I say that Canadians need to understand the realities of the U.S.? I say this because our failure to understand and to re-engineer our relationship with the States is our great, enduring weakness, second only to our failure to invest in our enormous development potential.
I make that statement because there are none so blind as those who do not take the trouble to see. Yes, there are indeed those who do not want to see. But too many of us simply do not want to take the time and effort to see. Too many of us are content to settle for the cards we are dealt, instead of developing the creativity and skill to play our hand of cards as effectively as possible.
Sometimes, we also settle for one or two options, rather than looking for the variety of rich combinations that our hand of cards can and does offer.
The issue I raise here is relevance. The relevance of the realities of the U.S. for Canadians is not limited to that country’s size, its might or to the fact it is right next door. We need to understand those and so many of the other numerous American realities in terms of their relevance to our interests, in terms of how we can work those realities and how we can work around those realities in pursuit of our better interests.
The most significant of those realities, from our perspective, is that the performance of the American economy has been fluctuating up and down for the last decade or two, with the biggest downward swing occurring in 2008-09.
Given that our own economy is so intimately tied to and dependent on the American economy, we catch a cold every time they sneeze. A large part of our private business sector is owned and controlled by American corporations and the U.S. is by far our major trading partner. In the context of that dominance and of the close integration of our economy with our NAFTA partners the U.S. and Mexico, the decisions taken by American business interests have contributed significantly to the decline of our business operations.
The closure, downsizing and relocation to the U.S. and Mexico of much of Ontario’s manufacturing sector (our auto-manufacturing is heavily dependent on General Motors), of large retail stores (e.g., Target), and of key segments of our mining industry are prime examples of this phenomenon which has cost our province billions of dollars annually in lost revenue and thousands of job losses.
Similarly, the large increase in the Americans’ home-grown production of oil and natural gas in recent years has boosted their country’s self-sufficiency in energy and reduced the strategic economic value of our energy exports to them. We need to add that new American reality to the other urgent reasons for preparing a national energy plan for all our provinces and federal territories.
Our ultimate objective has to be a green economy in which more and more renewable energy is phased in over time. These objectives will also aid development of our own nationally coordinated environmental standards for our energy industry to be governed by a compatible set of controls on carbon emission, and on other forms of pollution.
Furthermore, some aspects of those environmental policies will have to be coordinated with our American neighbours, for the simple reason that nature and the laws of gravity do not recognize the borders that separate the two countries.
It is fortunate that a lot of consultation and cooperation already exists in the environmental and standards-related aspects of the production, trade and transport of goods (especially of inflammable products such as oil). There are also important joint initiatives in place in other related fields, like those required to more effectively protect fisheries stocks and water quality in the Great Lakes and the waterways shared by both countries.
There is one other American reality that deserves special attention: their obsession with security and extensive use of technological capacity to pursue security-related issues frequently clash with our sovereign right to manage our security and protect privacy rights of our citizens and residents. We rely on our federal government to ensure voluntary cooperation between the two countries is not overtaken by invasive practices.
Let us remember that our most basic responsibility is to pursue our own path to maximizing our country’s potential for greater success and a higher standard of living for all Canadians.