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)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Will China be Canada’s future?

Canada has a neighbor that now fears for its future, elects to its Congress men and women who would repeal the mixed economy of the 20th  century, forgets to recognize Canada as a foreign country, and a president (and Canada’s most popular politician) that blocks the Keystone Pipeline Project, the centerpiece of Canada’s Western growth engine.

These developments, naturally, nudge Canadians to think about their options. The ensuing discussion, unfortunately, has settled quickly on an old Canadian idea: Hey, let’s find another great market and sympathetic friend—on another continent.

Trade diversification is an old, incremental, and immensely popular idea. However, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, an empiricist and bedrock North American conservative, has chosen to lead the parade and has given that lovably concoction “diversification” a real face: China.

You don’t have to be a visionary as well as a Canadian politician to pick China. Everything said about that country reeks of strategic necessity. It’s a superpower on the way to becoming the world’s biggest economy . . . right?

Almost everyone you meet from there is driven by the commercial incentives that thrived in North America’s younger days. Their executives and entrepreneurs come in private jets, flanked by distinguished Canadian retainers, carrying billions in their pockets.

Harper’s pivot to China has been easy—up to now. Corporate services in Toronto, land-locked energy companies in Calgary, and Canadians who generally think it’s the height of sophistication to make plans for America’s collapse have all applauded Harper’s shift, at least conceptually.  

The problem is that the idea is looking to be realizable—perhaps too much so.

The Chinese Government is interested—and has the means—to become a powerful player in the development of Western Canada. However, in order for China to secure ownership of and reliable access to Western Canada’s immense energy and natural resources, Canadians must be prepared to set aside the very concerns that worried them about those pushy 20th  century Americans—and accommodate a few new ones.

Can you imagine the outrage if even a duly-elected American federal government purchased a $2B Alberta oil sands project without a Foreign Investment Review hearing? Well, the Government of China—a totalitarian superpower—just accomplished that and also is effectively bankrolling the planning of a Northern Gateway pipeline alternative to the Keystone project. This is finally stirring concern.

Terry Glavin’s article “Pipeline to Beijing” in the National Post vigorously surveys many of the issues.

My post of March 3rd last year also argued that ownership of Canadian resources by the government of a touchy superpower would involve infringements on future Canadian policy-making that would go dangerously beyond the normal accommodations that are made to attract private commercial investors.

Favoring a new superpower in the scramble to develop Western Canada entails a range of issues for liberals, economic nationalists, and conservatives—as well as environmentalists. Also, there is growing unease among those Canadians whose interests and hearts are emphatically aligned with the US.

Enhanced trade with China is a good thing. That objective, however, would be better secured if Harper stopped sounding like he’s willing to corrupt decision-making processes in Canada and strain his alliance with the US in order to get there. Indeed, he and President Obama would be well advised to jointly soothe concerns in both countries by getting a little more excited about advancing their shared economic interests. 

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