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)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The China card and Canada’s frayed affair with America

Stephen Harper must have kicked something when he learned that Barack Obama had decided to delay the Keystone XL pipeline project. It’s been some time since he won anything significant for his political base in Alberta, and this $7 billion project would have greatly enhanced Alberta’s long-term economic credibility.

Yes. Harper too has made politically expedient decisions to secure his own majority—for instance, arbitrarily blocking the foreign sale of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan. Nevertheless, as prime minister, Harper has taken, without reservation, numerous real political risks to bolster Obama’s foreign policy—on Afghanistan, border management and security, Israel, Libya, and, most recently, Iran.

Harper, however, left it to others to vent in public.

The Minister of Natural Resources, Joe Oliver, characterized the Keystone delay as a “wake up call” and then started dreaming about China.

“. . . Diversifying away from the US, particularly in energy, is right at the centre of our thinking. . . .It is a major fundamental strategic objective for Canada.”

As a rhetorical gesture, the statement works.

It sounds big and elevates the strategic importance of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project, an even more environmentally controversial system of pipelines across British Columbia and oil tankers down its exquisite west coast. Indeed, one retired Canadian strategist warned that Canadians not get too excited. “You can’t change geography,” Colin Robertson acknowledged. The US “is still the biggest market in the world.”

As a true description of what holds the strategic attention of the Harper Cabinet, however, Oliver’s statement is distressing.

Trade diversification is a natural outcome of globalization—the Americans, the Europeans, and the Asians are widening their markets even faster than Canada. But it doesn’t measure up as a comprehensive economic, ethical, or geopolitical strategy for Canada. Trade expansion builds on a strong economic base; it doesn’t substitute for one.

Canada’s geographic location isn’t regrettable; it’s a blessing.

Making Canada richer by being less North American is a lazy, vain idea. As a whole, Canada will only continue to prosper globally by improving its performance in North America and, yes, by helping the US remain a successful great power.

Two hundred oil tankers a year sailing off to China will not create for Canada a better trading partner than it has now or a more respectful American neighbor. The US is not on its knees to secure vast additional supplies of unconventional Canadian oil. A slice of China’s energy market will not make China any less ruthless as a superpower or the loss of North American markets less painful.

The 100 largest US cities alone are economically bigger than China; they are growing as markets and they already practice business, commercial law, and politics like Canadians. At the same time, Canada’s share of their imports is shrinking drastically.

“The numbers are devastating. Between 2001 and 2010, Canada’s share of U.S. imports has fallen to 9.1 per cent from 25.1 per cent in furniture, to 5.4 per cent from 10.1 per cent in electrical equipment, to 4.8 per cent from 10.3 per cent in beverages and tobacco products, to 2.2 per cent from 6.8 per cent in textiles, to 17 per cent from 30.3 per cent in printing, to 10.3 per cent to 18.1 per cent in fabricated metal, and to 19.9 per cent from 31.1 per cent in plastics and rubber.”

Canada isn’t failing as a communicator, it’s failing as an innovator—a competitive producer of goods and services that can create high paying jobs in its own wonderfully liveable cities.

Canada’s Maclean’s Magazine well represented a new confident Canadian nationalism with the headline “I thought we were friends. Obama’s backpedalling on the Keystone pipeline is just the latest slap in the face of Canadians. We do have other friends, you know.”

Is lovable Canada looking elsewhere for love?

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