January, 2017

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Are we Ready for Change?

Saturday, January 28th, 2017

Peace Arch (Courtesy of The Province)

The lines to enter the United States never seem to get shorter.

Canadians queue up patiently along the highways at the border to be vetted for entry into The States for their milk, cheese, gas and a few bits and bobs they can find in Bellingham. A Canadian invasion is gentle and always ends in the dairy section. 

Life is imperceptibly different on either side of “The Line” to the cheap-gas commuter. Just don’t speed, because the cops are ruthless down there.  

We watch CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC and tut-tut at the polarization that has evolved over time and take note that the Land of the Free isn’t so free anymore.  

The War on Drugs is tearing communities apart while the drugs themselves continue to ravage across big and small towns and cities; gun violence is at an all-time high.  

Day trippers from Langley and Surrey might not see the differences but head on down the I-5 a thousand miles and then inland a few thousand miles more and it will be ever-more apparent. 

The Black Lives Matter movement exists because seemingly, there are places down there where black lives don’t matter at all.  

For those who line up to cross into the United States at the Peace Arch crossing just a handful of metres from the salt water of the Pacific Ocean, they pass beside a white stone shed-like structure that straddles the border itself. It is, “The Peace Arch”. 

Dedicated in 1921 by the first sitting President of the United States ever to visit Canada Warren Harding revealed the inscriptions etched into the inside walls of the arch: 

May these gates never be closed” 

The iron gates mounted below the inscription are bolted open- as if to say that they never can nor ever shall be closed.  

Other inscriptions on the monument read, “Born of a Common Mother“, and “Dwelling Together in Harmony“. 

The former alluded to the United Kingdom as the primary source of our first immigrants and values while the latter was best described by Prime Minister Trudeau-the-Senior as a ‘mouse and an elephant’ living together, where the mouse has to always be wary of the elephant lest it be trampled. 

These three inscriptions best sum up the quixotic relationship we have with our continental brethren to the South. 

With the election of Donald Trump, things have changed. The United States banned certain Muslim non-residents. The USA has unilaterally withdrawn from global initiatives it was spearheading just two weeks ago. It is building walls to its (other) closest neighbour instead of leading the charge to tear them down- as Reagan did in 1989 in Berlin. 

The United States is retrenching itself, collapsing under the weight of its own corruption, delusional paranoia, and civil strife. 

Figuratively, those gates at the Peace Arch are inching closed. Yesterday it was to Muslims. We shall see what tomorrow brings but the newfound trajectory doesn’t look good for others yet to be a target of Donald Trump. 

The United States has changed. But really, has the rest of the world? Must it? 

Canada cannot afford to retrench the way the US has. Strategically we learned a long time ago our place in global affairs both politically and in trade: we are a Middle Power and a trading nation.

We must get along with others, playing the role of broker to ensure the balance of power remains balanced while trading to ensure our exports continue fuel our economy. It’s why we are as active as we are at the UN and why we sign all these free-trade deals despite parochial or populist views that they are detrimental to our well-being. 

As the United States goes through the painful contortions of a country so terribly out of balance we cannot help but start to notice that it is not the same ‚ÄúPeaceful light on the hill” it once was.  

It’s time we recognized there is opportunity in all this unrest. Business- especially international business- abhors uncertainty.  

Just as the banks and others are being courted by Paris and Frankfurt from London as a response to Brexit, so we should be letting businesses and NGOs in the United States that do global work that Canada is a great place to move their operations.  

After all, why should global trade stop just because the United States is having an existential meltdown?

As more and more unilateral immigration restrictions and punitive tariffs are enacted by Washington, and as violence escalates (and I believe all three of these will happen) then we need to be ready to respond to protect the global economy and the values we cherish and benefit by. 

The physical location of the United Nations may be up for grabs no less as a siege mentality seeps into every nook and cranny of the American psyche. Even those Americans with a global outlook will have to turn inward to counter the rising xenophobia as it rears ever more prominently in civil society there.  

Never mind that the “American Dream” is more attainable here in Canada. Some of the workers involved with business and NGOs in the United States will be moving for their emotional, if not physical safety.  

Eventually some of those same organizations these people worked for will have to move as well, so why not here? 

These physical, people-employing companies and NGOs will bring outside money and philanthropy with them- not to mention the jobs their fleeing workers left behind- the same jobs they will be looking for when they get here.  

Might this get the attention and thus the ire of Donald Trump? Probably. But by being steadfastly pluralist in our politics, liberal on human rights, free-minded on trade, while preservationist with the environment, and above all multilateralist in our approach, we can sell these Canadian traits to all our other trading partners looking to keep the trading door open with North America. After all, they still value these traits despite the biggest player now closing itself off from the world.

At the same time, we can reach out to Americans who still want to trade with the rest of the world. They can move here to take advantage of our excellent trading relationships we have fostered and no doubt will work hard to protect. We could be the new light on the hill.  

The United States is a big market, for sure. But 350 million people is still a fraction of the 6.75 billion people not in the United States to trade with. 

We must look past our convenient proximity of the United States to economies and societies that still desire trade and good global relations. For example, Latin and South America’s 500 million or so, including Mexico so squarely in Donald Trump’s sights, would be a great start.

The global genie is out of the bottle and won’t be put back in. By choice now, the United States doesn’t want to play at this level anyway so Donald Trump’s wrath upon us would be diminished considerably. 

Even with massive change that has happened in the past where whole empires collapse and new ones form. The same happens in wartime between non-combatants: trade and emigration continue unabated. 

But to reap the benefit in all this uncertainty, we must set out a strategy to let everyone know that the centre of gravity in international commerce and relations is shifting.  

Being at the nexus of the new Technology Revolution but importantly being the non-American centre in the Silicon Valley, Seattle, Vancouver axis is a good launching point. 

Being very international in our makeup and outlook, equidistant from Europe and Asia with some of the best international airline connections in North America already and a temperate climate to boot, we are perfectly suited to become the next modern Geneva or Venice.

I see a day where the lines past the Peace Arch will be longer heading North.  

Those lines will be filled with U-Haul vans and families looking to fulfill their dreams to live in peace and prosperity.  

We can react with our usual complaints of fast growth and housing shortages. Or else we can proactively strategize; ready ourselves and yes, encourage Americans and others discouraged by the retrenchment of the once great United States to come here and share their prosperity here with us.