Size Matters

Two days ago a trilateral task force released their vision for North America. Their recommendations were sweeping. Common external tariffs, biometric identifiers, an integrated customs union, shared intelligence information, NORAD expansion – it’s a laundry list that profoundly reshapes Canadians’ view of North America.

The response was immediate – and expected. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians denounced it as an “unprecedented surrender of Canadian sovereignty”. Anne McLellan, deputy-prime minister to a minority government and ever mindful of the Liberal’s desire to remain in power, doused cold water on the statement and its recommendations. Finally, coming at a juncture where the public has suffered the indignities of repeated and unjustifiable US trade irritants, its response was predictable.

“No”
“Why?”
“Don’t trust the Americans…”

This vision is stillborn. Dead on arrival. And truth is – it doesn’t deserve to be.

Look at the world. The old paradigm of rich Western countries generating most of the world’s wealth and with the most diplomatic power is fading. Birth rates are falling and there’s a dynamism that’s missing. In its place countries like China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia are making their presence felt. With their human capital, burgeoning middle-classes, low wages and foreign investment it’s only a matter of time before they eclipse us. They are the New World, we – the Old.

This issue is particularly important for Canadians. As one of the G8 countries we’ve been at the top of the heap for the past 50-odd years and our unanswered question going forward is “What is our future role?” I think that if we want to exert any sort of influence – if our opinion is be anything more than a whisper in the wind – size matters. After all, what is 30 million compared to 300 million, or even 1.2 or 1.6 billion?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

If we don’t change – either by pushing for greater economic integration or by pursuing an aggressive immigration policy, we will lose our place in the heap.

Size gives us clout. By banding together in a North American – or even more radical – a North/South American free trade union, Canada adds weight to its opinions. I prefer the latter since the addition of larger left-leaning countries like Brazil provides a required and welcome counterweight to US influence.

It makes us more attractive from an economic perspective. Products are released in the US, Japan and EU first. Canada is often among those second tier countries considered by global corporations – enough disposable income to contribute to the bottom line, but small enough that customization is a tossup. Size makes us harder to ignore.

When Canadians think of large populations, I’ve noticed a pervasive negative attitude. Words like “squalor”, “overcrowding”, “pollution” and “traffic” are frequent references. It doesn’t have to be that way. Some of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe are large cities with high densities – places that don’t invoke the same negative connotations. I believe thatif we want to move from being a mere branch plant/commodity based economy, population matters. A lot.

Besides, if we don’t push now while we’re still the world stage the future will be much more bleak. In the case of economic integration we’ll be negotiatingin a world where India and China command more economic interest in Congress. And the odds of us clinching a deal that satisfies our concerns will be even bleaker.

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