Global Economy Offers Canada's Best Bet

Canadian Speeches, May 2001 | Go to article overview
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Global Economy Offers Canada's Best Bet


Fear of loss of sovereignty is said to drive opposition to globalization. But isolated sovereignty leads to poverty and national impotence. The best chance to increase Canada's strength as a nation, the prosperity of all its people, and the influence it has in the world, is said to lie in a wholehearted embrace of the global economy. A four-point plant to strengthen genuine sovereignty by making Canada the world's most prosperous nation is offered. It features rewarding success, not failure; reducing public debt; improving government efficiency, with competition in providing public services; and reforming the tax system. Businesses are urged to stop seeking wealth-destroying subsidies. Speech to The Canadian Club of Toronto, April 2, 2001.

I am pleased to be with you here today, and especially pleased to be able to talk about a subject of great interest to me -- Canadian sovereignty in an integrating world economy.

My reasons for speaking to this issue today are two.

The organization which I have had the honour of heading since 1999 has a long and well-earned reputation for balanced, insightful analysis of the pressing economic issues of the day. Now you might thing that the status of Canada's sovereignty would not seem to be one of them. Surely health care or taxes or the slow down in the economy would loom as most urgent and much more relevant.

However, as any physician will tell you, sometimes the nagging dull ache deserves as much attention as the short sharp point. I believe Canada's sovereignty and globalization is one of those chronic issues that needs attention.

One reason is that there is a suspicion among many in this country that the pace of global economic change, Canada's openness to the world, is chipping away at what it means to be Canadian and the ability of Canada to control events. Canada's sovereignty, perhaps its very existence as a nation is believed by many to be at risk.

The other reason, to be honest, is very much news driven.

In just under three weeks the heads of democratically elected governments from North, Central and South America will meet in Quebec City. Gathering also will be Canadian citizens and groups, as well as visitors, for the purpose of objecting to the agenda of the official meeting.

If past such events are any guide, the messages of all parties will be washed away in the media storm. So I thought I'd get my oar in the water early.

Fears About Economic Integration and Sovereignty

The worries about international economic integration and the state of Canada's sovereignty seem to coalesce around the three issues:

* that international trade agreements and associated institutions -- NAFTA, the WTO and so on -- will undermine Canada's efforts to protect its environment, provide public services and regulate its economy as decided upon through its own democratic processes.

* that increased trade with less prosperous countries will itself create a "race to the bottom" in taxes, public services, social policies, environmental regulations and labour standards.

* that growing economic integration with the U.S. will lead to national policies -- especially in the areas I've mentioned above -- that mirror those in U.S and lose their distinctively Canadian character.

These are valid and legitimate concerns. We should be worried. After all, history has not granted the people of Canada, or of any country, the unequivocal "right" to act collectively at the level of public policy or cultural expression. Or for that matter even to exist at all.

Through the centuries nations have disappeared or been swallowed through war, mismanagement or simple bad luck. There are no guarantees.

But I do believe -- and the evidence to back me upis overwhelming -- that the best chance to increase Canada's strength as a nation, the prosperity of all its people and the influence it has in the world, lies in the wholehearted embrace of the global economy.

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