Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Canada’s strange brand: a nice place of no political consequence

These are great times for Canadian lifestyle magazines and lifestyle nationalists. As a political force in North America, however, Canada is going nowhere. Canadians can celebrate their successes with abandon but they can’t wake the neighbors.
Last week, Canada was named—for the second year in a row—the “Number 1 country brand in the world.” Canada isn’t first in any single category, unsurprisingly, but is first overall. The Toronto Star opined, “That long-standing Canadian image of being ‘nice’ certainly doesn’t hurt us.”
            Click on:
At the same time, last week, the $7 billion Keystone Canada-US oil pipeline project—Canada’s signature growth priority and the Canadian government’s highest-profile, “no-brainer” Washington lobby since the free-trade talks in the 80s—was suspended with impunity by President Obama. Some of the reasons were local (construction jobs, ranchers and ground water pollution concerns) and some were abstract (carbon emissions, energy independence). But, no American reason took second place to Canada—its regional interests, its significance to the continent’s energy and economic development, or its political goodwill.
A good part of Canada’s “nice” reputation may be that others have little idea—and no concern—for what Canadians might think of them.
According to FutureBrand, an international consulting agency, 3,400 international travelers rank Canada very highly. American politicians, however, do not rank Canada’s national interest ahead of swing votes in any one of America’s fifty states.
Furthermore, every day for the next year, Canada’s influence will shrink. And each day, Canadians who care more about the future than winning lifestyle prizes will feel less effective—being spectators in the world’s most important political drama, the approaching US presidential election.
A bit extreme?
Not if you’re prepared to think in radical terms about Canada’s feeble political status on this continent. However, the immediate Canadian responses to the Keystone decision will not enhance Canada’s influence.
The popular macho response is to threaten to diversify Canadian trade and alliances—to play the field with China. A good negotiator goes to the table with options, and with options like China, those feckless Americans will finally pay attention. This approach is being indulged by Stephen Harper and even promoted by well-regarded public intellectuals.
“The key lesson for Canada in the U.S. decision is that diversifying away from the country’s heavy reliance on the U.S. market is now an urgent priority, argued William Robson, president of C.D. Howe Institute, an economic think tank.
“We do want to make sure we aren’t hostage just to that one market because they don’t treat us as nicely as their self-interest suggests they should,” Mr. Robson said.”
This forty-year-old negotiating strategy has never gone beyond the tease stage.
Canada isn’t an energy superpower that can threaten the US or any new nice friend in the distant future. Canada, in fact, will have to work hard to keep its 12% share of the US petroleum market as new American supplies and technologies come to the fore. Furthermore, even if Canada was to become less a hostage of America’s energy market—whatever that means—the other three quarters of the Canadian economy and society will still depend on the US market and the ability of both countries to prosper and compete internationally.
Canada needs exactly the same thing America needs: a big idea—a vision, if you like—that can stand up to local politics and protectionism. Environmentalists, America Firsters, and Anti-Americans in Canada know full well that politics are about ideas and are not all local or petty just in election years.  
For environmentalists, “Tar Sands” is a powerful symbol. Promoting North American integration merely in terms of temporary construction jobs or, next time, with threats by Canada to turn away in favor of Asia are puny by comparison.  

No comments:

Post a Comment