The definition of nation needs updating

I didn’t give much thought about whether Canada was a nation or not until I read Andrew Coyne’s article in Canada’s History magazine (June/July 2017). He argues that we are not.

George-Étienne Cartier. Image: Encyclopedia Britannica

The fathers of confederation believed they were creating a nation. George-Étienne Cartier, a key player in bringing Quebec into confederation, referred to Canada as “political nationality. . . with which neither the national origin nor the religion of any individual would interfere . . . In our federation we should have Catholic and Protestant, English, French, Irish and Scotch and each by his efforts and his success would increase the prosperity and glory of the Confederacy.”

That goal of a bilingual nation began to unravel early. Quebec gave equal powers to French and English in parliament but Ontario didn’t. Then Ontario premier Oliver Mowat said that each province was sovereign in its own sphere and Canada was a “compact.” When the first of the Western province, Manitoba, join confederation in 1870, Cartier’s dream of a bilingual nation was alive. Just 20 years later, Manitoba declared English to be the only official language.

The addition of more Western provinces only fuelled Western alienation, not nation-building.

Quebec had no trouble identifying itself as a nation and viewed the rest of Canada as “les autres.” Prime Minister Harper passed a resolution that “the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.”

If Canada is “duex nations,” as former Prime Minister Lester Pearson imagined, then who are the members of the other nation? Am I a member of the Rest of Canada nation -a kind of leftover?  The concept of an “English Nation” seems a bit silly.

And what about Canada’s 600 hundred First Nations? Where do they fit in this scheme? When First Nations seek nation-to-nation negotiations, with whom do they imagine they will be negotiating – some hybrid state of French and English Nations?

If Canada isn’t a nation, then surely it became a country 150 years ago. Nope, says, historian Ed Whitcomb. If a country is a land where its sovereignty and independence is recognized by other countries, then Canada didn’t become a country until it obtained independence from Britain until 1931.

Well then, Canada was founded 150 years ago, right? No, before it was a, ah, not-nation-county, Canada was a province. Quebec and Ontario combined in 1791 to form the United Province of Canada.

Prime Minister Trudeau doesn’t think we are a nation either. “Canada is the world’s first post-national state.” Canadians are global citizens.

Coyne, Whitcomb, and Trudeau make some good points but I still think Canada is a nation. It’s the definition of “nation” that is too restricting. Canada is a mosaic: a nation of nations. We are defined as a caring nation; exemplified by our universal health care system. We have elevated compromise to a virtue through our diversity of cultures, religions, and languages. We are a nation defined by our expansive North and by winter. “Mon pays, ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver.” Canada is a thought-experiment; a bold idea which captures the world’s imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

TPP rises from the ashes

Rumours of the death of the TPP are greatly exaggerated. After President Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, I congratulated him: “Thank you, Mr. Trump, for killing the TPP.”

 image: WMAL radio

I now realize that Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP was not an indicator of leadership, but a sign of retreat from the international community. It’s just another indication of the degree of U.S. marginalization. Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is yet another indicator that we must carry on without him.

Where the original TPP had a number of flaws, the new TPP can be negotiated to Canada’s advantage. Canada was disadvantaged in the first round because we were latecomers: we had to accept what had already been negotiated.

Canada is a trading nation and as such, we depend on fair trade agreements. As politicians like to do, I’ll list my five conditions for acceptance of the new TPP -dubbed TPP11 after the number of countries left to pick up the pieces.

Investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) should not be part of TPP11. This allows companies to seek damages from governments when local regulations interfere with profit-making.

When disputes arise, as they are bound to do, they should be settled in a transparent manner by judges, similar to the International Court, not in private between arbitrators as is now done with NAFTA.

Environmental standards should not be part of TPP11. Environmental damage is seen by industry as a cost of doing business -a price which indigenous peoples and future generations will pay. Environmental standards need to be negotiated by separate accords like the Paris Agreement.

Intellectual property and should be excluded as well. Artists and small software companies need protection, but too often concern for intellectual property masks large corporate interests such as Disney.

Exclude health regulations as well. They are an excuse for Big Pharma to extend the patent life of drugs that could be made cheaper with generics.

TPP11 will be a meeting of middle powers now that the U.S. is out, and China and Europe were never in. Canada can then negotiate from a position of strength when it comes to superpowers. Trump favours individual bilateral deals because he imagines an advantage over smaller countries. But if those smaller countries can form a block where there is an alternative to the bully-tactics of Trump.

The TTP11 would give Canada access to markets not previously available, says Hugh Stephens of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. It will jump-start bilateral talks that were going nowhere, like those between Japan and Canada. With Japan in the TTP11, negotiations can proceed. And trade agreements under the umbrella of TPP11 can take place with other countries where Canada has no bilateral agreements such as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Vietnam and Malaysia.

And in countries where Canada does have bilateral agreements, such as Mexico, Chile and Peru, the TTP11 can tie up loose ends.

Whereas Canada was a follower in the original TTP, we can be a leader in fair trade under TTP11. With the U.S. retreating into a fog of befuddlement, Canada needs to step up on the world stage.

 

 

Canada is a young country. Or I’m old.

Canada is 150 years old this year. Since I’m one-half that age, Canada must be a young country. Or I’m old. It must be the former.

canada-150-horizontal-colour

We had humble beginnings, Canada and I. I was born in Jasper Place, now part of Edmonton but in 1941 it was a rudimentary town. We had no water or sewer. The bucket in the indoor toilet had to be emptied regularly to the outhouse in the back. The honey wagon would clean it out once in a while. Water was delivered by a truck to a cistern in the basement. A hand-operated pump supplied water to the kitchen. Milk was delivered by a horse-drawn cart.

Canada was born with only four provinces at confederation. Like Jasper Place, it lay outside the huge territory it would eventually encompass.

Canada was rebranded as much as it was born in 1876. John Ralston Saul, author of A Fair Nation, argues that Canada had already been a federation for 250 years before that. We are a Métis nation, comprised of indigenous people, English and French. Before 1876 our federation comprised mostly of indigenous people, numbering one-half million.

By 1947 we moved to a suburb of Edmonton called Bonnie Doon, Scottish for “pleasant, rolling countryside.” We lived only one block away from Saint-Jean College where Catholic priests taught students who were about to enter the clergy. Now it’s the only francophone University west of Manitoba, a campus of the University of Alberta. The college allowed neighbourhood kids to use their outdoor rink when they weren’t playing hockey. That’s where I learned to skate.

The broken hockey sticks made fine bows as long as they had a straight grain. We carved them with a draw knife and used them to hunt rabbits with bows and arrows in the nearby Mill Creek. The rabbits didn’t have much to worry about because of the thick bush and our poor aim. I wore horsehide moccasins in the winter which warm even on the coldest days. We would often spend entire winter days sledding on the hills in the ravine.

By the time Canada was officially born, our indigenous people had been decimated by disease which they had no resistance to, and by conflict with their European guests.

However, the 250 years of gestation of Canada left its imprint on the fledgling nation. Canada is not just a collection of its people; it is a product of our collective consciousness. John Belshaw, former Thompson Rivers University professor, puts it this way:

“Scholars draw a distinction between historical consciousness and collective memory. The former is something on which we reflect but often forget. History as a discipline consists of facts – – objective and recitable. Collective memory, on the other hand, is an ongoing process that builds a shared and more nuanced understanding of the past, (Walrus magazine).”

While not exactly a Baby Boomer, I identified with the Hippy Movement. I smoked my first joint in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, the birthplace of the counterculture movement. I naively believed John Lennon when he implored the world to “give peace a chance.”

We have done OK, Canada and I, but we’re still young and have a lot to learn. Happy sesquicentennial, Canada!

Canada’s new economic reality

 

As Canada emerges from the Dark Decade, we need to get back on track with a modern economy.

The Harper government’s plan to make Canada an “energy superpower” was a disaster for a number of reasons. The plan reversed our progress as an industrial nation; it insured that Canadians would become the highest per capita emitters of CO2; it failed to anticipate the vagaries commodity markets.

lumberjack

As long as we are hewers of wood and drawers of oil, we are just a colony of economic powerhouses. Mel Watkins identified this failed strategy as the “staples trap” in 1963.

“The tendency for the country to tilt its economic resources and policies in support of one particularly in-demand staple or another that, inevitably, leaves the economy struggling when the staple falls out of favour (David Parkinson, Globe and Mail, July 2, 2016).”

Watkins, now 84, looks back on the Dark Decade: “We bet the farm on oil prices staying high and rising, but that hasn’t happened and, it would seem, is unlikely to in any near future. We need to go back to the 1970s when there was genuine debate in Canada about industrial policy transcending staples.”

Back then, after World War II, Canada had shifted its workforce from agriculture to factories. By 1999, the high-value sectors of automotive, aerospace, transportation, electronics and consumer goods employed 60 per cent of the workforce. At the same time, the resource-sectors of agriculture, energy mining and forestry together only employed one-quarter.

What seduced Canada back into the staples trap? In a word: globalization. We gleefully sent manufacturing jobs to low wage countries with low environmental standards. Exports of metal ores doubled since 2000. Energy exports increased by 55 per cent at the same time as auto exports fell by 11 per cent. Economist Jim Stanford sums it up:

“The global commodities boom shifted Capital and policy attention towards extractive industries. Canada’s economy has been moving down, rather than up, the economic value chain.”

We’ve these cycles before where expansion in one part of the world triggers a global commodities boom. This time it was the modernization of China that triggered the boom. In the past it was the reconstruction of Europe and Japan after the war, and before that it was the rise of the U.S. as an industrial power.

Parkinson looks to future: “For the oil and gas business, the long term prospects look even more grim. The growing global momentum for green energy looks poised to steadily erode demand for fossil fuels over the coming decades. We may one day look back on the oil-price collapse of 21014-15 as the beginning of the end for the industry.”

During the Dark Decade, Canada invested heavily, not only in political resolve to exploit the dirty tar sands, but in the human and financial capital needed to dig the stuff up. It will take time to shift gears but Canada must shed its colonial mentality. It’s happening. Enbridge has invested $1 billion in wind-energy. Alberta has budgeted $3.4 billion for renewable energy.

B.C.’s government still has grandiose dreams of a fossil-fuel economy with liquefied natural gas. While Premier Clark hasn’t yet admitted it, that plan is history.

Why carbon storage won’t save us

Politicians can be expected to act irrationally during election years. By that measure, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall is acting as expected.

SaskPower

A rational, albeit flawed, argument is that Saskatchewan can produce clean electricity from dirty coal by capturing the carbon and selling it. It’s the equivalent of selling your garbage.

Carbon capture holds promise to rescue Premier Wall from a problem of geography. Unlike B.C., Saskatchewan has few hydro dams and lots of coal. In promoting carbon capture, Wall attempts to position himself both as a climate defender and friend of Big Coal.

At first glance carbon capture seems magical. The technology works some of the time and Cenovus Energy of Calgary agreed to buy the carbon dioxide from Saskpower. The plan is for Cenovus to buy all of the CO2 produced by the Boundary Dam generating/capture site, a total of one Mega tonnes a year. Cenovus use some of the CO2 to pressurize old oil wells near Weyburn, forcing the remains up to the surface and some would be simply be stored in underground caverns.

Irrationality number one: CO2 would be captured, then used to recover more fossil fuels which would be burned to produce more CO2.

Then there’s Wall’s obstinate posturing in advance of the meeting of the premiers with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for talks on a national climate strategy on March 3. The feds hope to have a deal in place for a minimum carbon price that would allow provinces to use their own mechanisms to achieve the pricing. They aim to have a deal with a minimum of $15/tonne in six months.

Wall flatly rejects a broad-based carbon tax: “I’ve already made it clear … that if we’re re-elected, our government will not be pursuing any tax increases or new taxes, and neither would we support any new national taxes.”

Irrationality number two: The Saskatchewan premier doesn’t want a level playing field. He wants other provinces to pay for carbon pricing so his province would have a competitive advantage. Alberta has plans for a price of $30/tonne. “I don’t want a level playing field for our province. I want this to be the most competitive place that it possibly can be … and that does not include a new carbon tax, especially now, given the state of the economy.”

That leads to the third irrationality. My question is this: “If your carbon capture technology works so well, premier, why worry about pricing carbon that you won’t produce?” Carbon in the ground won’t cost producers anything.

The embarrassing answer is that the technology doesn’t work that well. When the plant is working properly, it captures 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide but, in fact, because of mechanical issues, the facility has only operates 45 per cent of the time. It works so poorly that Saskpower has to pay penalties to Cenovus for not supplying enough CO2 as specified in their contract.

The problem is not unique to Saskatchewan. There are only 15 such sites in the world. China has abandoned theirs. The costly, complicated technology is wishful thinking. Its chief product is political irrationality in election years.

 

 

Computer Code on the farm

Farmers have always found creative ways to keep farm machinery running. Now they have added computer programs to their tool box along with the haywire.

tractorcab

Manitoba farmer Matt Reimer has come up with a creative solution to an old problem. It used to be that while combining, a driver would sit in a tractor waiting to unload the combine. Not only was it a boring job –he spent most of his time reading a book– it was a waste of labour. So Reimer built a robotic tractor he created himself from open source components. Now he can remotely call the driverless tractor to pull up alongside the combine and unload the hopper. The driver can be gainfully employed with the many other tasks at harvest time.

Manufacturers of farm machinery are not always cooperative, as Saskatchewan farmer Chris Herrnbock found out when he tried to fix the computer programs that run his machinery. The maker of his farm machinery contends that, while Herrnbock may own his combine, he only has a licence for the operating program. John Deere claims they need to protect their intellectual property.

Herrnbock understands that. He gets why Microsoft might want to protect their software by licensing the code that runs their computers. “If a computer crashes, your Word presentation might delayed,” he told CBC Radio’s Spark, “but when my half million dollar combine crashes, you lose $60,000 a day in grain not harvested.” That grain represents a year’s work lying in the field losing value.

Herrnbock has no intention of stealing John Deere’s programs, he just wants to have access to the analytics that would fix them. John Deere denies him even that.

“It’s hard for me to stomach,” says Herrnbock. Like farmers in the past who learned to make machinery work through their own ingenuity, he has learned to diagnose computer code; like when the digital monitoring system on his weed sprayer quit, he just “home-brewed” a replacement. Herrnbock doesn’t pretend to be a computer programmer any more than he claims to a licensed mechanic.

“I don’t want to reprogram the auto-steer guidance system; I don’t need access to the source code for that.” He just wants access to the computer analytics so he can keep his machinery running.

John Deere risks getting a black eye with farmers, Herrnbock warns. There are other makers of farm equipment that don’t deny access to computer code. AGCO Corp. makes a number of other brands of farm machinery including Massey Ferguson.

Last month, AGCO announced that they were opening access to their computer code:  “AgCommand Application Programming Interface now is open to approved third-party developers and service providers of farming applications, such as management dashboards and mobile apps. This new capability will enable AGCO customers to access their machine data through their other farm and fleet management tools.”

The U.S. Copyright office has recently ruled in favour of farmers to the dismay of equipment manufacturers such as John Deere, permitting “the authorized owner of the vehicle to allow the diagnosis, repair or lawful modification of a vehicle function.” No word yet on the impact for Canadian farmers.

Don’t call the TPP a free trade agreement

Canada is a trading nation. Trade agreements are good for Canada. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not one of those.

WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 23:  Demonstrators protest against the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement outside the Senate office buildings on Capitol Hill June 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed an important proceedural vote on the trade bill, which would grant President Barack Obama enhanced negotiating powers to complete a major Pacific trade accord, clearing the way for final passage as early as Wednesday.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With a few exceptions, Canada’s trade barriers are already low and the TPP will have little effect on trade. Professor Blayne Haggart from Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, says it’s all about increasing corporate power. Sections that are supposed to be incidental riders are the real essence:

“Instead, agreements such as the TPP are about implementing policies that have nothing to do with comparative advantage, policies that are often designed to lead to higher consumer costs and concentrated corporate power. Treated as marginal issues, these policies are ‘free-trade free-riders,’ coasting along on an unearned legitimacy.”

By “comparative advantage” he means trade between partners that benefits both. “Costs are lowered, production is maximized and people can buy imports at prices lower than would have prevailed had they produced everything themselves,” explains Haggart in the Globe and Mail.

The TPP is not a free trade agreement; it’s a consolidation of U.S. interests globally. The details have to be carefully dissected but here are a few things that we know.

One of the “free-trade free-riders” is intellectual property. The U.S. wants to extend the patent protection for drugs to prevent generic manufacturers from providing cheaper medicines. Groups such as Doctors Without Borders warn that greater drug-patent protection would “limit competition from generic drug manufacturers that reduce drug prices and improve access to treatment, and would accelerate already soaring medicine and vaccine prices.”

Another is extended copyright length. The TPP would extend the life of copyrights from 50 years to 70 years beyond the life of the author. This would benefit U.S. media companies and provide little benefit for artists or the public. Copyright holders are often corporate media giants like Disney.

If the negotiators of the TPP were honest, they would admit that this is not a “partnership,” it’s an imposition of U.S. interests on trading partners. One of the biggest U.S. exports is American culture, what they like to call the entertainment industry. Another is health care. These are the money-makers that the U.S. wants to protect.

One more free-trade free-rider is the infamous “investor-state dispute settlement.” It places corporations on the same level of states, allowing foreign firms to sue countries, not only for breach of contract but for public policies such as environmental protection and access to drinking water.

As I explained in my column of October 15, Canada is already on the receiving end of the most dispute claims under NAFTA. We can expect more under the TPP as corporations try to bring our public policies in line with their private interests.

Yet another provision would allow car manufacturers to hide operating codes that allow them to cheat on emission regulations the way Volkswagen did under the guise of intellectual property. These codes should be examined by regulators the way that slot machines are.

Just how bad the TPP is for Canada has yet to be determined. The 6,000 pages of the secretly negotiated agreement have only been recently released. One thing that should make us suspicious is when supporters call it a free trade agreement.