Thursday, June 06, 2013

The Myth of Free Trade

There is no such thing as free trade.  Real free trade would be the free flow of goods within and across borders with restrictions that only deal with health and safety. 

Instead what we get is what is known as managed trade where countries negotiate what goods can cross their borders.  In other words, countries negotiate deals that codify protectionism and then trumpet to those who have to live with the consequences that they achieved a great deal.

Although free trade proponents will claim that free trade agreements are good for the economies of the signing countries the empirical evidence to back that up is rather lacking.  However, the evidence that such deals can do harm to sectors of an economy or even the whole economy of a signatory is more compelling.  We only need to look at the hollowing out of the industrial capacity of North America to see that at work.

This line of thought came up because I read earlier this week that the Harper government has ordered its negotiators for the Canada-EU free trade talks to have a deal this month.  These talks have been stumbling along for months without a conclusion being close but now Mr. Harper would like to a deal in three weeks.

The reason for this, according to several commentators that I have read, is Mr. Harper is desperate to find something to change the channel on the Senate Expense Scandal.

If this is true I cannot think of anything more at odds with the interests of Canadians.  You have to wonder just what parts of the Canadian economy Canadian negotiators are selling out in order to provide Mr. Harper a way out of the mess created by his Senate appointees. 

Free Trade deals are usually not worth the paper they are written on but this next one presented by our government, I am certain with great fanfare, will require a greater than usual level of scrutiny than other deals of this nature.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Conservative Scandals

For political junkies like myself it has been fun to watch the scandals unfolding in Toronto and Ottawa in the past few weeks.

The Ford scandal has been surreal.  Who would have ever thought that a politician in Canada would get involved in a drug scandal?

The Senate scandal is much more mundane.  That just involves ordinary money and really not that much of it either.  It is true that when they get around to investigating the expense claims of Senator Wallin the amounts will be more substantial but considering I can fly Air Canada to Orlando for around $400 return but it will cost me almost $900 return to fly to Halifax her expense claims could very well be plausible.

Although I have tried I cannot get really worked up over these scandals.  I find them interesting case studies in political crisis management but on a more personal level my reaction has been "Meh".

The Ford scandal does not concern me because it is occurring in Toronto.  It does not effect me here in Ottawa.  I know some Torontonians like to think their city is the centre of the world but.... This is something the people of Toronto will have to figure out on their own.

The Senate scandal does not concern me that much either because the kind of behavior that caused it is part of the human condition.  People have been using their positions for personal gain ever since we, as a species, began to form civilizations.  This kind of behavior cuts across partisan lines.  It is a function of having power.

Of course, that does not mean that the partisan in me is not enjoying watching Stephen Harper and his government twisting in the wind over this.

So will these scandals have any political impacts?

In Toronto who knows.  This is the same city where a sizable number of its citizens have been supporting a hockey team despite nearly half-a-century of futility.  There is no telling how the people of Toronto will finally react to the Ford scandal.

As for the Senate scandal it can be stated that it is absolutely having an impact on the Conservatives.  Despite their relative insignificance in the grand scheme of things these kinds of scandals are the ones that convince non-partisan voters, who supported the governing party in the last election or two, to rethink that support.  These are the types of scandals that begin convincing those voters that it is time to change the government.  Combine that with the fact the Conservatives have been in power for seven years, usually a time when voter fatigue with governments begin to solidify, and you have a recipe for electoral disaster for the Conservatives.

Not that it is guaranteed that they are doomed.  There is nothing to prevent these non-partisan voters from deciding in two years to stick with the Conservatives.  There are too many variables to consider.  However, Conservatives do have to be concerned about the scandal.  It has the potential to become a tipping point and if that happens the Conservatives will likely lose the next election.