The good old Globe and Mail can always be counted on to get it wrong when it matters. Not, I hasten to add, the news reporters. They may not always get it — the news, that is — but wrong is not their problem.
No, I have in mind the daily anonymous letters called editorials which are published for reasons that bear revisiting.
Editorials were supposed to reflect the views of the newspaper as an institution, a part of the community. Being objective and factual will do for bringing the news, but newspapers wanted more — a point of view — so space, and some resources, have been devoted to bringing us column inches which few read and, in the case of the Globe, rarely provoke so much as a letter to the editor, now that Eugene Forsey is no long with us.
In reality, editorials, especially on bread and butter issues, reflect the desire of the editorial board to please advertisers. If in the process, they mislead the readers, it is but a small concession to the greater good of the institution: making money.
How the Globe finds people to write the same mistaken opinion over and over again for years on end is a mystery easily solved. In order to understand the world it helps to be able to make connections between events that are seemingly independent. Scientific research is based on this premise: through careful observation and deep reflection, links can be found between events that explain their occurrence.
It is simple really: in order to write editorials for the Globe, you have to be mentally incapable of making links, or drawing connections. What is prized instead is single-mindedness. Absolute certainty, and undoubted ignorance help as well. Needed research skills are limited to looking up past writings on the same subject, on the same page. Style is that appropriate to rewrite.
I was reminded of all this last week when the Globe published an editorial praising the success of free trade. After all, Canadian exports to the U.S. are up, what more proof is needed? Anyone who disagrees, a labour leader such as Buzz Hargrove, for instance, is surely also a member of the flat earth society, the Globe editorialist intoned.
Well, its true, free trade was supposed to make the Canadian economy stronger, better able to compete in the world, and we were all to be wealthier, with more money for social programs.Which is a better measure of stronger and wealthier? The ability to buy more, or the devaluation of your currency? The U.S. economy grew and so therefore did imports from Canada.That is the connection: upward in the U.S. means more from Canada.
Damningly for free trade believers, regions without free trade agreements with the U.S. saw their share of the U.S. market increase, while Canada, the free trade partner, actually lost ground in the U.S. compared to other exporters.
The manufacturing part of the Canadian economy went into recession shortly after free trade came into effect in 1989. The rest of it followed suit. The 1990s were the worst decade since the 1930s, the great depression years. So much for the economic benefits to Canadians
In order to get Canada moving again we had a sale. We dropped the value of our currency by about 20 per cent. That put Canadian assets on display at bargain prices. Operations as Canadian as the Montreal Canadiens, or Petro-Canada are now U.S. owned.
Our cheaper dollar devalued Canadian earnings. Measured in U.S. dollars our standard of living plummeted. Canadian manufactured exports were cheaper; they were on sale as well.For those foreigners who bought Canadian oil and gas properties there was a bonanza that for some reason the Globe editorial page has not explained to its readers.
It worked this way. Use your strong currency to buy Canadian assets, and get a 20 per cent discount. Sell your Canadian gas and oil in the U.S. at world prices payable in U.S. dollars. Pay your local costs of exploration and production in cheap Canadian dollars, and expatriate the difference home to the U.S.
The connection the Globe could not make was that the more Canadian exports to the U.S. go up, the more money is taken out of Canada in the form of profits remitted to foreign owners. Let’s be clear: the U.S. gets the oil, and the gas, and the profit from the sale. Canadians get a dollar that bought them as little as 61 cents U.S.
We can console ourselves with the knowledge we are doing our part to contribute to global warming.And, under free trade, we waived the sovereign right to tax exports or regulate the volume of exports. Now, faced with the bonanza, the obvious thing to do would be to increase taxes on the earnings of the companies, and on the extraction of the resources.
So, did we do that? No, actually, we cut corporate taxes, and we pay companies to take resources out of the ground, by giving them a tax break the Americans invented, called a depletion allowance.I guess the Globe is annoyed that flat earthers like Hargrove fail to appreciate that, with free trade, we got to sell off irreplaceable reserves of appreciating commodities, no longer under national control, so that future profits from oil and gas production in Canada will accrue to the U.S., and without putting real money into the public purse, as happens in Norway, for instance.
Is it not it a great thing what has happened to our social spending as a result of new found wealth from free trade? Of course we cut it by about $25 billion a year in 1995, and at that time abolished the federal commitment to alleviate poverty by ending the Canada Assistance Plan, and we did cut off about one-third of the unemployed from the money they were entitled to, and students now pay way more for tuition; but do not forget, health care is so popular people are lining up for it.
Free trade was going to allow Canadian companies to use the U.S. market like a trampoline to jump into other markets world wide. We would diminish our reliance on the U.S. market thanks to free trade. As the deal jacked up our productivity performance, the world would be beating a path to Canada’s door.
The fact that our export markets outside the U.S. shrank, while dependence on the U.S. grew, and that our government invented the first ministers trade missions in the hope that Canadian business, having failed to invest in Canada, would do so abroad, and, maybe, bring the profits home, was not part of the optimistic scenario laid out in Globe editorial after editorial, year after year.
Canada was to be more independent of the U.S., now that all those annoying trade disputes were shunted off into a smooth running dispute settlement mechanism outside politics. No need to curry favour any more because of fear of U.S. economic retaliation.
We can therefore anticipate that the missile shield will be laughed out of Cabinet, if they have time to discuss anything other than softwood lumber, cattle exports, pork, steel, border security, and other cross border business, so badly botched under free trade rules, that even Alan Gotlieb, a free trade believer, has admitted we need another way of dealing with American protectionism.
If free trade was such a success, save us all from any more and please, do let us know what constitutes failure.
And, while the editors mull over the issues of the day, may I add a modest suggestion. Le devoir has signed editorials. Perhaps the Globe could emulate it.Who knows, by suppressing the anonymous letters format, the Globe editorial writers might use their new found independent identities to contribute independent thought to the community. And why not? Le devoir does.