Are they liars, fools, or just foolish?

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John Ibbitson, the sharp eyed columnist for The Globe and Mail, noticed that successive finance ministers have been way off the mark in predicting the budgetary situation. Former Minister John Manley wrote a letter to protest. Ibbitson had called him a liar. That was false. Honest mistakes happen. If the economy had not grown so fast, the budgetary surplus would not have been so large.

So, Manley believed what the Finance department people told him. He is not a liar, just foolish. That may explain why he has taken on a new job, for the oh-so-prestigious and influential Council on Foreign Relations. Based in New York, this organization constitutes living proof for the certainty of basic conspiracy theory: how the American establishment runs the U.S. and dominates the world.

As the Americans prepare to choose the next great leader of the free world, the Council task forces work out what the winner gets to do. The Council has decided to look into what the Nafta trio should be doing, so they needed a Canadian and a Mexican to do walk-on parts and when the report is written, some show and tell.

What the U.S. has in mind is unlikely to be anything so simple as how to make a new dish featuring maple syrup and salsa. No. Nafta gets more unpopular in the U.S. as good manufacturing jobs go missing. Border security is a hot topic because immigration from Mexico is bigger and less legal than ever. Nafta was supposed to stop that from happening. But, Mexico took the biggest hit from Nafta. Its new paupers go North in the hope for a better future.

And Canada in all this? Our establishment is continentalist to the core. The Governor of the Bank of Canada, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, all the business guys — and John Manley. They would have been upset if they had not been included, so the Americans brought them along.

Oh yes. We do have energy resources. As economist Marjorie Cohen has explained, the Americans are arguing that in order to trade with the U.S., Canada has to adopt the same domestic regulatory regimes for, say, electricity as does the U.S. Not even Nafta, the extension of the bilateral trade deal Pierre Trudeau called the “monstrous swindle,” requires Canada to go that far.

And then, there is defence, aka, big bucks. That would not interest Canadian business would it? National security is the great non-tariff barrier to trade, and can be used to justify almost any economic policy, including we have found out, torture in an Iraq prison, and slavery in Guantanamo Bay holding camps for suspected “terrorists.” Canada has its own links to U.S. defence. Our industrial policy is mostly about U.S. national security. We want more U.S. defence spending, even if it is the biggest misallocation of resources in the history of humanity.

If what the U.S. Council on foreign Relations wanted for its committee was someone to play the fool, how come they picked John Manley? Was it good intelligence based on secret consultations with CIA operatives, or basic research using publicly available sources? Or was it just blind luck?

In his Globe piece John Ibbitson explained that the Finance department knows the Canadian population is aging, and the needs for public services growing, while the work force is shrinking. Thus, it wants to pay down the debt now, before the real strain on public finance arrives. In other words, the Finance Department cleverly resorts to deception to advance the common good.

Setting aside for the moment whether Finance knows enough to be able to determine what is in the common interest, and what is not, without paying attention to public debate, consulting the minister, or referring its measures to cabinet, and having them approved by parliament, lets stay with deception for a moment.

The great guru of the American right, philosopher Leo Strauss taught that deception was necessary because only a minority had the intellectual qualities necessary to understand the affairs of state. The rest of us were better off not knowing what was really going on.Manley should have understood that when he was called a liar, it was really praise for being a statesman. By protesting he got downgraded to foolish, and now can even be taken for a fool.

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