Ambassador Bridge crossing the American border in Windsor, Ontario.
Ambassador Bridge crossing the American border in Windsor, Ontario. Credit: N. Bridge / Unsplash

Free trade, we hardly knew ye. What was it about, that thing that dominated our economy and often our politics, for 35 years? Ah yes, guaranteed access to the U.S. market. No more uncertainty or lockouts. Yet there was still softwood lumber, dairy products, pipelines…

Now it’s cars, the core of any Canada that does more than pull stuff from the ground and ship it elsewhere to process. Joe Biden says he’ll exclude electric vehicles made here from his huge rebate to U.S. buyers. That’d leave us with gas-guzzlers that are dying out. Our integration would become disintegration.

For years, it seemed Chrystia Freeland spent more time in D.C. than Ontario, fighting to save free trade. Then glorious victory, then more being kicked around, and now the auto industry! Freeland is threatening retaliatory tariffs. She’s become the lord of trade war, which is kind of exhilarating. But what happened to guaranteed access?

It was never free or about trade. We had trade before, and we’ll have it after. It was about the U.S. securing dominance in its sphere of influence, before focusing on its looming trade conflicts with Europe and China.

What’s the alternative — our own auto industry? In fact, that once existed. Sweden, with a quarter the people, has Volvo and for a long time had Saab. Plus Ikea. Finland — superb, nay sublime — with five million souls, has NOKIA, though it hasn’t been easy. Our equivalent would be sad, self-destructing Nortel, or pathetic Bombardier, two pillars of our national lack of self-esteem.

What lessons has Africa drawn from COVID vaccines? Self-sufficiency next time round please — as reported by CBC’S Matt Galloway. Not just manufacturing capacity, which South Africa has, but the freedom to distribute products as it determines, versus shipping them all back to Europe. There are other models.

•Requiem for a copy editor. It’s a small mystery, but institutions like newspapers, schools, universities — places that embody moral values, or claim to — are often sustained in the nobler regions of their identity by somewhat downstream employees, rather than leaders, executives and stars.

Larry Orenstein, (pictured), who died Sunday from long-standing heart problems, was my copy editor at the Globe for 12 of my 20 years there. He didn’t hanker for promotion or awards. So he embodied integrity and lent the place cred. Those farther up the chain tend to be twitchy. Editors worry about publishers, who fret about owners, who fear shareholders. Journalists worry about their careers and the pecking order.

Not your copy editor. The best combine high acuity and skill with limited ambition. Larry was known in the newsroom as Stein; it was like calling him The Great One. I knew him as Larry, but then we shared heart problems.

He had two red lines: giving away the plot, and sensitive Jewish matters, including Israel, on which I often wrote critically. One day he called and said: “I don’t know what you’re doing to me. I’m sitting here reading this thing and I keep nodding.” I never felt happier about a reaction.

If there’s a pop culture analogue, picture crusty-but-lovable Lou Grant in the sitcom “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” not the overearnest series that followed.

When the Globe fired me, I wrote a brief and (I maintain) nonbitter goodbye to readers. It fell to Larry to call and say the Globe doesn’t do farewell columns. We yelled at each other, for the first time. My son, then 12, for whom Larry was a presence since birth, mostly via phone calls as I picked him up from daycare, said after we slammed down our phones — a pre-Internet pleasure — it was clear we’d only fought because we liked each other so much.

It was exactly like Joanne Dru’s character in Red River. She breaks up the fist fight between grisly rancher John Wayne and stepson Montgomery Clift, saying they’re only fighting because, “Anyone with half a mind can see you two love each other.”

This column was originally published in the Toronto Star.

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Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.