“This too shall pass,” says the old adage, reflecting since ancient times on the changing nature of human existence.
I offer it up here as an expression of hope in the deeply troubled times of crisis ahead.
We’re heading toward such a moment, here in Canada, as we celebrate the 151st anniversary of this good and worthy country.
We’ve had our problems and challenges, the consequences of which we are still trying to work through in a spirit of reconciliation, with indigenous, First Nation people especially, as we seek to build a diverse and inclusive country, a better model for the future survival of a troubled world. We can show that millions of people from many different cultures can live together in peace and freedom as one respectful, mutually beneficial community.
That is the new, hopeful vision, the spirit of Canada that is admired around the world. There’s a reason why, when Canadians travel abroad, eyes light up when the answer “Canada” is given to the question, “where are you from?”
Canada’s future has been in peril before, when the rise of the Quebec sovereignty movement led to separatist referendums, including one in 1995 that was far too close for comfort.
Now, the future of Canada is being threatened, possibly even to a greater extent, by our once and now-former best friend and ally, the United States.
In retrospect it may be possible to see how the seeds of the present crisis-in-the-making were sown many years ago, as the economic and military power of our more populous southern neighbour grew far out of proportion to Canada’s. Meanwhile, Canada became increasingly more connected and dependent on the U.S. economically. The first Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the U.S. in 1989 took that process a giant step further.
So long as our two countries remained respectful, sovereign friends and allies, mutually benefitting from each other’s enterprise and resources, Canada’s obvious economic vulnerability was not a problem.
But that all changed on November 8, 2016, with the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, and its Commander-in-Chief, in charge of a military many times more powerful than Canada’s.
It took about 18 months for the consequences on Canada of that fateful election to start becoming known. Certainly, during the election campaign and after, Trump said ominously often enough the North America Free Trade Agreement (now including Mexico) was a “horrible deal” for the U.S. as he repeatedly threatened to unilaterally cancel it. The truth is it’s a good deal for the U.S., worth an estimated nine million jobs. Until recently I, like most Canadians, routinely bought “Product of the U.S.A.” food items especially. Meanwhile, Canada sends most of its exports there. For example, 90 percent of our oil goes south.
It’s also true Canada, as well as the U.S., has lost manufacturing jobs, as large corporations transferred operations to Mexico to take advantage of much lower wages. That is not, as Trump would have the American people believe, part of a diabolical plot by Mexico to take advantage of the U.S. under NAFTA. Corporate profits and shareholder dividends were increased. That’s what Trump never says. It is grossly unfair of him to say the U.S. has been victimized by Canada under NAFTA. In fact, it’s a lie, the “big lie” told over and over again to his base supporters who believe everything he says as if it’s gospel.
Since his election, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and a bevy of other Canadian officials invested a lot of time on a fact-based charm offensive designed to win over the new president and the U.S. to the idea of a reasonable renewal and updating of NAFTA. Then on June 1 this year, with the NAFTA talks still ongoing, the U.S. hit Canada and Mexico, and the European Union, with tariffs on exports of steel and aluminum, 25 and 10 percent respectively. Trump cited “national security” as the reason, thus circumventing the still-operative free trade deal. (U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has since admitted that was a trumped-up fallacy.)
Trump has also initiated a Department of Commerce investigation to determine the national security effects of imports of automobiles and automotive parts under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, the same legislative move used to impose steel and aluminum tariffs. The results of that investigation could lead to the U.S. imposition of tariffs of up to 25 percent on automotive exports from Canada.
This past week industry representatives gave MPs, members of House of Commons International Trade Committee their harsh predictions about the impacts such a tariff could have on the industry, and the Canadian economy.
“A 25 per cent tariff on parts and cars would cause what we like to call ‘carmageddon’,” Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association, told a House of Commons committee on Tuesday.
“The industry operates on single-digit margins and it would grind to an immediate halt with a 25 per cent increase in price,” he said, according to the Financial Post.
“In our view, the effects of the 2008-2009 economic situation would pale in comparison to what our members and the Canadian economy would face if we end up with a 25 per cent tariff on our cars,” warned John White, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association.
Meanwhile, the whole world now knows Trudeau has become a favorite target of Trump’s spite since the Prime Minister said, at the close of the G-7 Summit, Canada “will not be pushed around.”
Trump later said Canadians would pay big money for Trudeau’s “mistake.”
I took that as a deeply offensive personal threat, and so I’m sure did many other Canadians.
Apparently, Trump is determined to bring Canada to its economic knees.
Where will it lead? I shudder to think. I’m afraid it could to lead to the end of Canada. In the Trumpian world anything is possible.
Canadians should make the most of the opportunity to rally round the flag this Canada Day in defence of, and in a show of support for, our good country.
A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in June, 2018