Canada after NAFTA

Maybe it’s the West coast air, but I have found myself wanting to buy local. I buy BC fruit and veg, BC wine and beer, I avoid corporate restaurants and business as much as possible. Part of this is because in Greece we weren’t inundated with McDonalds and Starbucks, I barely recognized a single logo, it was amazing. Part of it is because NAFTA is driving me nuts, I’m less “buy Canadian” and more “buy anything but American.”

The NAFTA renegotiation has entered its fourth round of talks. And they aren’t going well. I’m no longer certain that is a bad thing though. The more I read about the negotiations, the history, and effects of NAFTA the more I think it might not be such a bad thing if NAFTA were to die an ignominious death. With the demands from the Trump administration I wonder if the negative impact from an agreement would outweigh the positive.

The US has finally started to act like a superpower, by that I mean a belligerent bully who knows that it can use force to get its way. Previously the US baffled political theory by occasionally working on building consensus. Demands and obstinacy was often reserved for rivals and enemies, apparently now allies are valid targets. Even if Canada and Mexico can remove some of  the “poison pills” of the US demands the new NAFTA will not be great for us. Because NAFTA was a compromise between three countries it has been an easy target for President Trump, because everyone had to give a little.

I keep reading about the bad effects of NAFTA for Canada, the loss of sales for vineyards and breweries, the weakening of regulations regarding the environment and worker protection (thanks to Article XI), wage suppression, US subsidized farming harmed other agriculture industries, and depending how far down the rabbit hole you go there are more. And the only real pro has been increased trade. Now I’m not naive about this, Canada relies on trade its the bedrock of our economy, but…

When ever the Canadian government defends NAFTA it’s about the auto industry, the one that we bailed out and was supposed to keep jobs in Canada. Also the one that as soon as Harper sold the government held shares of (at a significantly reduced price, thank you Harper) pulled jobs out of Canada. The auto industry isn’t doing any favours for Canada, and if President Trump has his way they will significantly be more US focused.

I keep saying Canada here but lets be honest, I mean Ontario. In BC it’s hard to see any benefit from NAFTA, hell I can expand that to the West in general probably, hell I can probably also include the Maritimes and Newfoundland in there as well, hell I could probably also include Quebec.

BC’s industries, forestry (not included in NAFTA), dairy products (protected by the government, but a new revised NAFTA would like less protection), wineries, breweries, and distilleries (nearly impossible to sell to the US because of prohibition era laws, but NAFTA fantastically opened up Canada to US companies, hurting ours). The US is the top purchaser of BC goods (by goods I don’t mean we make anything, no we send raw resources and buy finished goods, because mercantilism yeah!).

Hey how about we make things from our resources?  Let’s invest in innovation and promote creation. Let’s refine our own oil, we could ship it out east where it can create jobs in the Maritimes and boost their economy and there won’t be any of the risk of earthquakes, avalanches, shoals that there are in BC, oh wait…

As for NAFTA being tariff free? Just look at Bombardier. 300% (I’ll just let that number speak for itself). If we are already getting tariffed on our goods because we are subsidizing industries, the same way the US is, the hell with it lets subsidized more.

This whole free trade deal has gone bitter let it die, and lets look at it again in ten years under a new administration, hopefully at that time Canada can bring more weight to the table. Since NAFTA was signed Canada has negotiated many free trade agreements , perhaps its time we start using them.

 

PS. After posting this, the US demanded that Canada open up over 30% of the dairy market, 10 times the amount that was begrudgingly agreed to in the TPP. I’ve seen this before, it happened to Jamaica when they needed an IMF loan. It absolutely destroyed local industry. It’s clear that the US has started to view Canada as a tributary.

Referendums

Maybe it’s the Canadian in me but referendums get me excited. Two hopeful nation-states have voted, two have voted yes, and both are considered illegal.

When I hear about the legality of an independence referendum I can’t help but roll my eyes. Iraqi and Spanish politicians have decried the results of the referendums because their constitutions do not allow for secession. Off the top of my head I can’t think of a single constitution that does allow for the breakup of a country, that’s the whole indivisible thing. Nobody want’s to write into the DNA of a state a self destruct button, that would be foolish. Facetiousness aside, it is an intriguing issue.

Kurdistan

The Kurds without a doubt (and all politics aside) should have a state. They are a nation with a defined self, a region with borders, and are the authoritative military power within these borders. Unfortunately for them, all the chips are laid against them. Kirkuk has vast oil wealth that Iraq depends on, and the Kurds are spread over four countries, two of which are quite powerful, and they have no great power backer.

That last one is the real kicker. Greece needed Great Britain, France, and Russia to intervene militarily to ensure its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Kurdistan has Canada, reluctantly and fading fast.

In the mire of the Middle East Canada attached itself to the Kurds to defeat Daesh, not at a glance a bad thing. Canada has a small army, but our special forces are quietly renowned and we sent the Peshmerga our special forces. On training mission to be sure (Another phrase that has me rolling my eyes). Canadian forces are doing hands on training, as in side by side on the front lines. I was continually surprised no one called this out, until somehow one of our “trainers” broke a sniper record and there was a collective “oh.” That is all beside the point now. Canada is responsible for creating a highly trained and effective militia among a people that have a long standing desire for independence.

One particularly awkward aspect of this is that our ally Turkey does not get along with the Kurds. Another is that it could create (continue?) a civil war in Iraq at a point when Daesh is weakening. This could be one of  those actions that in a decade we look back and go “oops.”

I think no matter what the international community says the Kurds will push forward with their independence. This could be their best chance at brokering independence. The region is stabilizing a bit, but not enough that the Peshmerga aren’t needed to fight. They have not unilaterally declared independence, instead they want to barter with Iraq. This would probably need to involve a sharing of the oil fields for Iraq to even remotely agree, but who knows what could make Iran or Turkey agree.

Everyone knows that the Kurds want independence. This referendum creates a bit of legitimacy and could be an appeal to Western populations who are not concerned with the geopolitics of the Middle East and simply see people who want to control their destiny.

Catalonia

Unlike the Kurds, Catalans at one point were independent. It’s been nine hundred odd years but still. I know relatively little about this movement except that it has a long history. I don’t even know if there is a strategic reason for Spain to have Catalonia. I think it is simply to stop Spain from losing bits and pieces. Aragon, Basque, Valencia, and Galicia are autonomous from the central government and Catalonia could set a precedent that Spain does not want.

The referendum here is more of a problem than the Kurdish one. For one, only about 40% of people voted, I don’t care that 90% percent of these voted for independence, 40% is too small a number to break up a country (Ahh my Canada is coming out, show me a clear majority).  This number without a doubt is affected by the negative actions of the Spanish police forces at polling stations.

While I understand not wanting your country to break up (we love you Quebec), it isn’t good for anyone to hold the territory of unwilling citizens, that is a path to violence and bitterness. I think the UK did it right with the Scottish referendum, set the date and let the campaigning begin. At least there is an understanding then. You can bet if the Catalan vote came back in the negative the government would want to stand by it.

Instead of forcing the state on people a government should convince people why it is good for them to be part of something greater. When the ballots are counted we know the will of the people and should stand by it.

Greece Part II

What really struck me in Greece and has lingered in my mind since then is nationalism in Greece. Museums, art galleries, archaeological digs enable a country to create their narrative and create a unified sense of self, this seemed to be entirely lacking on the Peloponnese.

Greece’s modern sense of nationhood is rooted in the Ancient world, as the founders of Western Democracy, political thought, and theatre, just listing a couple. And each city still seemed to view itself in terms of independent city-states. There is no unified narrative among Greece’s cultural institutions, Each city we visited: Athens, Acro-Corinth, Nafplio, Mystras, Nafpaktos, Delphi, showed why their own history was superiour to their neighbour. Reading plaques  on the history of the wars with Persia was what initially had me intrigued. Athens museums showcased that city as being the key to defeating the Persians and has little mention of allies. Acro-Corinth did the same thing, barely mentioning other city-states contribution to defending Greece. I saw this time and again on the trip.

On our trip we met up with a Greek professor and over coffee I asked her a little bit about how Greeks view themselves. Dr. E told me how in Athens few people actually identified themselves as Athenian. She explained how Greece had rapidly urbanised, but the connection to the home village was still strong. She herself had grown up in Athens, but saw herself as from her families ancestral home in the Peloponnese.

I wonder whether some of the modern disconnected narratives of Greece are rooted in the fact that city-states were independent actors. If a country is using that kind of myth as its base identity does it not invite fraction? When Greece revolted it was the first time an independent Greek state had existed for two thousand years (the Byzantine and Latin Empires were arguably not Greek but Frankish, Italian, and Roman). Oh to go back in time and find out whether Greeks in the 19th century viewed themselves as those ancient Greeks who gave us so much.

Part of my conundrum is that I am sitting in Canada, I am Canadian, and the idea of having a history that reaches back millennia  is befuddling. Our history as a state goes back 150 years, with settlement occurring somewhere in the last 400 years. Presently on Vancouver Island a fringe on the periphery of Canada was only considered for settlement in the mid 19th century. For most of Canada’s history our identity was as a part of the British Empire and this continued on after Confederation. The massive settlement of the Prairies at the start of the 20th century as well as the gold rushes in British Columbia took all the energy of the government, there was little concern with nationalism.

Often we attribute Canadian nationhood to the Great War and the Canadian Corps, baptism of fire and all that. But even then I wonder whether this is a modern myth that didn’t take root until the 20’s or 30’s. What makes us Canadian is hard to say but it is a growing concept.

Greece on the other might have too much to work with, or maybe being occupied by various kingdoms and people washed away unity, and like Canada is struggling to find a modern sense of self.

Greece

For most of last year Elsie and I joked about going to Greece for research. It remained a joke until she mentioned it to her professor who got agreed it would lend her thesis credence. So to Greece we went.

This wasn’t going to be a the long sojourn of the year previous where we hopped from country to country and city to city. No. We spent nearly three weeks going around the Peloponnese, to villages, castles, resorts, and archaeological sites.

Elsie had decided the towns she wanted to go to and I planned how to get there. This sounds easy, but may have been some of the most difficult planning I have ever had to do. Unfortunately. the Greek government has ended train service on the Peloponnese; unfortunately, there are no online bus schedules; unfortunately, Greek bus stops and stations don’t appear on google maps (or any other map); unfortunately, Greek bus lines charge extortionate fees to call and don’t speak English. Fortunately, I am stubborn. With no little stress I managed to plan transit between small towns in Greece.

And with barely a week before we flew out I decided to learn Greek. I hate being illiterate, in the Germanic and Dutch countries I can muddle through because of the similarities with English, in Italy I got through with the similarities to French and English. But in Czechia and Turkey I was lost, it sucked. So I picked up some Greek. Learned their alphabet, the phonetics, and some sentence structure. I can stress enough how useful this was, it helped with travel, finding places, and general comfort.

Athens, oh what to say about Athens, it was hot (47 degrees), grimy, and busy. The largest city in Greece, but a city that no one admits to being from. (Eva explained to me that many Athenians identify more with the village their parents were from than Athens, a result of massive urbanisation). Despite this we actually enjoyed the city. The only time we felt we were in a tourist trap was when we were at the Parthenon, apparently the only site people go to in Athens. While most people seem to focus on the Parthenon the city has many other attractions, many ruins to explore, and fantastic museums (Benaki, archaeological, Byzantine, and the Parthenon museum). My personal favorite was the Byzantine-Christian museum, it gave a truer image of modern Greek national identity than any previous site, plus… it has air conditioning. Oh and we met up with Elsie’s professors and children, they showed us around the city and took us out for a nice dinner before we headed in different directions.

From Athens we went to Acro-Corinth. We explored the ancient ruins in the village and hiked up the mountain to the fortress. Yeah, that was insane, it was a five kilometer trek which doesn’t sound bad, but in the heat and glaring sun, the steep roads, and our general out-of-shapeness, it was insane. And once we got to the castle it continued to be uphill. Eventually we made it to the top of the tower, and oh man what a vista. DSC_6080

And here is what we climbed.DSC_6093.JPG

Quite invigorating

From Acro-Corinth we traveled to one of the reasons for the trip. Nafplio.

We met back up with Elsie’s professors at this point. We had frappe and chatted about the town, what to look for and the history of the Greek revolution. And then they were off to Monemvasia.

In Nafplio we got down to business, finding and documenting Ottoman ruins, and gaining  a sense of scope. We hiked up another mountain to a Venetian castle. There were a lot of stairs.dsc_6131.jpg

We climbed up, and up, and up. Then it started to downpour and thunder, so we climbed down, and down, and down.

There are actually three castles in Nafplio, so we went to the older Byzantine one and played archaeologist. We found layouts of old buildings, potter sherds, and a some mysteries. We came across a couple concrete circles and stood there debating what they were. I eventually realised they must have been gun emplacements from the second world war (this was later confirmed). Elsie wouldn’t let me go into the bunker. Probably a good decision.

The site was very open and so we wandered into places we probably shouldn’t have, but it was in the name of learning!DSC_6228.JPG

From Nafplio we Bused to Sparti and Mystras, but that will have to wait until next time.

The Spectre of Electoral Reform

As of 2017 the spectre of electoral reform hangs over Canada. Articles are pouring out of newspapers and sites debating why Trudeau has backpedaled from his promise of reform; I even have customers at the bar talking of reform. Trudeau has explained that there was no agreement among the parties at how to reform elections and that he was unwilling to have a divisive national referendum on the issue.

Federal politics aside, the BC Greens and NDP have also been clamoring for reform, specifically proportional representation (PR). There is likely to be a provincial referendum on the issue… again. This will be the third… or fourth, I’ve lost count, attempt. This is because previous governments wanted more than a majority, they wanted a decisive majority, above 60%. I’ll be intrigued to see how the NDP-Green government approaches a referendum, one that they desperately want to see in their favour.  If there is reform it is likely to be one of PR, simply because it is so simple.

It sounds great a party wins a certain percentage and they receive a certain percentage of seats in the legislature. This is favoured because it is seen as more democratic. There has been fear mongering that fringe parties then can take over government, but this is often able to be combated by having a minimum percentage to get seats, often 5%. In BC that would mean over 230,000 votes, no mean feat for a fringe. I used to believe that this was a better system but have changed my mind when I realised what FPTP accomplishes.

Canada and BC are massive land masses, with various regions and diverse needs. FPTP, because of its breakdown by geographic location allows for regional representation. A MP is responsible to a specific constituency and there needs, and can represent them in Ottawa or Victoria. PR does away with this responsible government by making an MP nothing more than a seat and number, responsible to no one but the party, they represent the party line and not the people of Canada. To me PR seems to isolate politicians from the public obscuring government.

I recognize the desire to have parliament more representative of voters intention, but doing away with geographic seats destroys another form of representation. And this is where I think Germany has done something amazing, they have the geographic seats, but also grant seats to parties to make the proportion of seats fit with the election results. This allows for the strength of both to shine through.

Unfortunately, I have heard no one talk about this type of electoral reform. Until they do I will stand against true PR because I think that the geographic seats of FPTP creates a more healthy system of politics.