Labour Says Big U.S. Hug Is Big Business's Bad Idea

Article excerpt

Proposals to further integrate the Canadian economy with the United States is not a big idea, says the Canadian Labour Congress. It is a bad idea. It is seen as promoted by big business to gain freer access to the U.S. market at the cost of an independent Canada with a different social model and different foreign policies. Prepared text of speech to the 72 annual Couchiching Couchiching Conference, Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs conference, Geneva Park, Ontario, August 8, 2003.

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The "deep integration" or NAFTA-plus agenda--the so-called "big idea"--is gathering force.

It is being very actively promoted by the same folks who brought us "free trade." Tom D'Aquino and the Canadian Council of Chief Executives are busy lobbying government on both sides of the border. The C.D. Howe Institute and other business-friendly think tanks are releasing study after study. Even Brian Mulroney has been resurrected from the politically dead, promoting a new Canada-U.S. deal in both Washington and Ottawa.

The deep integration agenda is being taken very seriously by the federal government. A recent House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report called for active exploration of a NAFTA-plus arrangement. Canadian-U.S. relations are at the very top of the agenda of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. And Paul Martin has indicated that rebuilding Canadian-U.S. relations will be one of his top priorities as the next prime minister, even though he has provided few details of where he wants to take us.

What do the "deep-integration" crowd want?

Above all, they want the "holy grail" of Canada--U.S. trade relations, secure access to the U.S. market.

As with the FTA, the starting point of the new agenda is defensive.

There is actually very little interest in the big idea in Washington. The big idea is supposed to capture their interest. It is a proposal designed to be so enticing that they can't turn it down.

The big idea is defensive in a second sense.

Already complicated border procedures because of rules of origin and regulatory differences have been compounded by much tighter U.S. security since September 11.

And the FTA and NAFTA have clearly not really created a "single market." The United States still manages trade in its own interests when it wants to--as with softwood lumber and wheat, and now beef.

To get enhanced and more secure access to the U.S. market, the deep-integration crowd have put forward the "big idea." What we are supposed to get is exemption from U.S. countervail and antidumping laws, and far fewer border controls. What they are prepared to offer up in return is what they think the United States wants from Canada--much higher levels of "co-operation" in non-economic areas like defence, security, and immigration, plus enhanced access to Canadian energy.

Dee.S. accp integration is not just an economic agenda. It is really about falling into line with the United States, from a position of weakness. In fact, the main argument is that we really have no choice because we have become so dependent on the United States. And of course, our economy is indeed heavily dependent on exports, some 90% of which now go to the United States.

Some in Canada--the Canadian Alliance, the National Post--enthusiastically support deep integration because they love the George W. Bush vision of the world. Others, the more pragmatic and less ideological crowd which tends to dominate the public service and the Liberal Party, think we have little choice.

It is interesting to note that Sylvia Ostry--former head of the economics department at the OECD and certainly no raving leftist--recently argued that we have become too economically dependent upon the United States for our own good, and too dependent to retain sovereignty in foreign and defence policy. She noted that U. …