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Op-Ed – Ottawa Citizen – Premiers should resist the power of the vocal few

Martha’s Op-Ed in the Ottawa Citizen, based on her longer piece in the November issue of Inside Policy, the magazine of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Martha Hall Findlay: Premiers should resist the power of the vocal few

Ontario Premier and Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, right, is shown how to use a piece of machinery by employee Christopher Rembacz, as she tours Cyclone MFG Inc., a company which manufactures parts for the aviation industry, during a campaign stop in Mississauga, Ont., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.
Ontario Premier and Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne, right, is shown how to use a piece of machinery by employee Christopher Rembacz, as she tours Cyclone MFG Inc., a company which manufactures parts for the aviation industry, during a campaign stop in Mississauga, Ont., on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.Chris Young / CP 

The benefits of open trade between countries are well established. The same applies to trade between our Canadian provinces and territories, yet while certain premiers are showing leadership in moving toward more open inter-provincial trade, others show signs of regressing into greater protectionism. Even as we work toward concluding free trade deals internationally, we’re still stumbling at home.

Politicians by their nature respond to what is being said in the public realm – and we as a society have allowed our public discourse to become too dominated by special interest groups – the vocal few.

While the economic theories supporting free trade versus protectionism are widely accepted, there are no special interest groups of economists loudly espousing them.

We need to change the public discourse to make doing so more politically palatable. We also need to remind our political leaders that theirs is a responsibility to the betterment of the whole.

For example: Ontario should be able, indeed, encouraged by Ontario taxpayers, to hire the company that can build the best new hospital or highway at the best price, regardless of where the company itself comes from – and put the money saved toward other useful purposes that benefit the community.

Yet Ontario requires companies to have “local knowledge” in order to win contracts for long-term infrastructure projects. Premier Kathleen Wynne, now with a majority mandate, has an opportunity to set her own path – to join other provincial leaders, particularly those in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, in opening up inter-provincial trade. Unfortunately, to this point, indications are that she would instead add to the restrictions.

Free traders are often painted by special interest groups as being unconcerned for the welfare of locals. Not true. Tariffs, quotas, non-tariff barriers in the form of more subtle requirements (such as “local knowledge”) in effect take resources away from the wider population to give extra to the much smaller number of owners and workers in the favoured industry.

Robin Hood must be shaking his head, as this redistribution of wealth goes the wrong way. Protectionism takes from society as a whole, including those least able to afford it, and gives to a few. No one begrudges anyone a livelihood, yet study after study has shown that the cost to taxpayers of protecting or subsidizing jobs is always a multiple – sometimes a very large multiple – of the wages of the workers thus protected or subsidized. And Ontario “protection” will only encourage other provinces to “protect” their own, preventing those same Ontario companies from expanding.

So how do we get from understanding good policy on opening up interprovincial trade to politicians deciding to do so?

Nationalistic language of “We should do this for the country as a whole” will not work, nor some vague sense of patriotic selflessness. Ontario will not open up construction opportunities to non-Ontario enterprises simply because of some feel-good idea about Canada as a whole. Ontario should do so because it is in the best economic interests of Ontarians.

The language of “protection”, of “saving jobs”, of “encouraging local” sounds good. It pulls at our heartstrings. But even though the larger population suffers from protectionist policies, the effect is more diffuse and impossible to fit into easy, heartstring-pulling sound bites. The concept of greater prosperity for the whole is harder to articulate in simple terms, but we must speak out.

Taxpayers, consumers, voters, all should be actively, loudly calling on their governments to source the best infrastructure, goods and services at the best prices, regardless of the source – particularly when public purses are increasingly under pressure.

And we should encourage the leadership of several premiers in this regard. We need them to step up even more, and to call for those still hesitating to come off the sidelines.

Martha Hall Findlay, a former Liberal member of Parliament, is an executive fellow at the School of Public Policy of the University of Calgary and Chair of the Advisory Council of The Partnership for Resource Trade (www.powerofcanada.ca). This op-ed is based on a longer piece in the November issue of Inside Policy, the magazine of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Blog, Government and Democracy, The Economy, What's New

Resist the power of the vocal few

Read the November 2014 Issue of Inside Policy here.

Inside Policy November 2014 Magazine Cover While the benefits of open trade are well established, it’s easy for the vocal minority groups who benefit from protectionism to drown out the best  interests of the majority. Martha Hall Findlay calls on politicians to resist the calls of special interests and act for the benefit of the whole.

Martha Hall Findlay

 

 “It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy… If a foreign  country can supply us with a commodity cheaper than we ourselves can make it, better to buy it of them with some part of the produce of our own  industry, employed in a way in which we have some advantage.” – Adam Smith, 1776

Adam Smith’s summary of the benefit of trade between countries applies to our Canadian provinces and territories, too. And after well more than 200  years it bears repeating now, as while certain provincial premiers are showing leadership in moving toward more open inter-provincial trade, others show  signs of regressing into greater protectionism. Even as we work toward concluding free trade deals internationally, we’re still stumbling at home.

Why is this so difficult? It’s easy to point to political leadership (or the lack thereof), but political leadership is often easier said than done. Politicians by  their nature respond to what is being said in the public realm — and we as a society have allowed our public discourse to become too dominated by  special interest groups.

The reality is that it is difficult for politicians (and their advisers) not to succumb to the pressure of the vocal few. While the economic theories supporting free trade versus protectionism are widely accepted, there are no special interest groups of economists loudly espousing them – and when politicians are striving for re-election, practice doesn’t always keep up with theory.

We need to remind our political leaders that theirs is a responsibility to the betterment of the whole; at the same time, we need to work at changing the public discourse to make doing so more politically palatable.

A simple example: If a construction company in Manitoba (or France, for that matter) has specific design and construction expertise that allows it to build a new hospital more cost-effectively than the Ontario alternatives, then Ontario should be able – indeed, encouraged – to hire the company that can do the job best at the best price, regardless of where it comes from. The taxpayers of Ontario should be able to get the best new hospital for their money – and put the money they save to other useful purposes that benefit the community.

Yet Ontario requires companies to have “local knowledge” in order to win contracts for long-term infrastructure projects. The concept was introduced by Dalton McGuinty just before he stepped down. His successor, Premier Kathleen Wynne, now with a majority mandate, has an opportunity to set her own path — to join other provincial leaders, particularly those in BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan, in opening up inter-provincial trade, including access to this kind of work. Unfortunately, at time of writing, indications were that she would instead add to the restrictions.

Proponents of open trade are often painted by special interest groups as being unconcerned for the welfare of locals. This is not true. Tariffs, quotas, non-tariff barriers in the form of more subtle requirements (such as “local knowledge”) have the effect of taking resources away from the wider population in order to give extra to the much smaller number of owners and workers in the favoured industry – in Ontario’s case a small number of established construction companies and the unions with which they have close ties.

This redistribution of wealth goes the wrong way. Protectionism takes from society as a whole, including those least able to afford it, and gives to a few. And although no one begrudges anyone a livelihood, the apparent benefit to the relatively few working in these enterprises is less than it may appear. Ontario “protection” will only encourage other provinces to “protect” their own – effectively restricting those Ontario companies (and their employees) from expanding. And study after study has shown that that the cost to taxpayers of protecting or subsidizing jobs is always a multiple – sometimes a very large multiple – of the wages of the workers thus protected or subsidized.

Not only does it not make economic sense, it harms the larger community – yet politicians still succumb. Alan Blinder, Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton and author of “Hard Heads, Soft Hearts”[1] put it nicely: “Trade protection secures concentrated and highly visible gains for a small minority by imposing diffuse and almost invisible costs on a vast and unknowing majority. That makes protectionism at once economically graceless and politically fetching.”

So how do we get from good policy on opening up interprovincial trade to good political decisions that would open up inter provincial trade?

Some are using nationalistic language of “We should do this for the country as a whole,” but a vague sense of patriotic selflessness simply won’t succeed. Ontario will not (and arguably should not) open up construction opportunities to non-Ontario enterprises simply because of some feel-good idea that Canadians should be more “Canadian” and spread the wealth around. We need to be loud and clear: the Ontario government should do so because it is in the best economic interests of Ontarians.

We must move the public discourse away from the easier-to-promote language of protection for a few, to the harder-to-articulate-simply but hugely important language of greater prosperity for the whole. The language of “protection”, of “saving jobs”, of “encouraging local” all sounds good. It pulls at our heartstrings. Small groups can concentrate their messages and effectively create a wider perception of harm. On the other hand, the larger population suffers from protectionist policies, but the effect is more diffuse and impossible to fit into easy, heartstring-pulling sound bites. Individuals are often not aware of the negative consequences of protectionism –even those who do have no focused way to articulate their concern.

Taxpayers, consumers, voters – all should be actively, loudly calling on their governments to source the best infrastructure and the best services at the best prices, regardless of the source – particularly when public purses are increasingly under pressure.

We should be heartened by the leadership – not just at the provincial or territorial level, but truly national leadership — being shown by several premiers in this regard. Absent action on the part of the federal government to use its constitutional powers to move this forward, we need these provincial and territorial leaders to step up even more, and for those still hesitating, to come off the sidelines. After all, politicians are entrusted with a responsibility to do what’s best for the whole, not just a few, and we must hold them accountable for fulfilling that responsibility.

Martha Hall Findlay, a former Member of Parliament, is an Executive Fellow at the School of Public Policy of the University of Calgary and Chair of the Advisory Council of The Partnership for Resource Trade (www.powerofcanada.ca).

* * * * *

[1] Alan S. Blinder, Hard Heads, Soft Hearts – Tough-Minded Economics for a Just Society (Cambridge, Massachusetts : Perseus Books, 1987)

 

 

Blog, Government and Democracy, What's New

D-Day, Canada, and Canada Day

(Also published in the Huffington Post)
All my life, I thought I was a proud, and grateful, Canadian.  There is, after all, so much to be proud of. We live in a wonderful country.

There is also much to be grateful for, because we didn’t get to where we are by accident. We owe a great debt to the generations of people who worked hard, who sacrificed, who suffered through hard times, who in so many ways worked to improve on the world around them. We are lucky for the generations of politicians and other decision-makers who, over the course of our history, have made, most of the time, good decisions.

Our history has been far from perfect. Our aboriginal populations as well as successive waves of newcomers from different parts of the world have at times suffered discrimination and abuse. Some still do. We have not, in Canada, been immune to the ability of humans to be awful to each other.

But most Canadians have not known, let alone shared, the incredible suffering of so many around the world under totalitarian, oppressive, sometimes murderous regimes.

So it was that in June of this year I became even more proud of being Canadian, and even more grateful – this time to a particular group of Canadians: those who, in WWII, helped liberate Europe from levels of oppression and man’s inhumanity to man that we here can’t even imagine.

My father, Hugh B. Hall, landed on D-Day, 70 years ago — June 6, 1944. He was a member of the Signal Corps, part of the Stormont, Dundas, Glengarry Highlanders (the “Glens”). He was awarded the Military Cross for, with his men, working for days without rest and under constant fire to ensure functioning communication lines in those critical days after the beach landings in Normandy. He and many other Canadians went on to help liberate Holland, and the war in Europe finally ended less than a year
later.

But the suffering of so many innocent civilians, for so long, was immense.  The losses among the liberating forces were huge.

Our Dad was a Lieutenant, and at only 22, was responsible for writing letters to the families of those of his men who were killed in action and who would never return home. Many of them were even younger than he was. It is said that they grew up fast in those awful days of fighting – but “they” were the lucky ones. So many young men were killed — denied ever being able to grow up at all.

Three of my siblings and I went to France to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. We were there for our Dad, but also to honour all of the other soldiers — and the millions of civilians — who suffered through those times.

On June 6, we walked Juno Beach. We tried to imagine from the few photos and limited film footage what it must have been like, landing that day. We went inland and visited places where battles had been fought, including what became know as “Hell’s Corner” at Villons-les-Buissons, where Dad and his platoon were stuck for days on end under heavy fire.

At many of these places, now innocently quiet in the sunshine and calm breeze, we found small plaques honouring lost soldiers. Underneath were simple wreaths placed by friends and relatives of the soldiers and — to our surprise – by locals from the various villages. This was, for us, the most emotional. On seeing Canadian flags, people came out of their houses to say – even after 70 years — “Thank you.” Some told stories of how difficult the Occupation had been, and of the French Resistance. Some told stories of how happy they had been, or their relatives now passed on, to see the Allied soldiers arrive. Some told stories of harbouring soldiers. An old woman showed us a pack of cards, now 70 years old, that a soldier had given her in thanks for the milk she’d given him. She had been only a child, and she didn’t know whether ‘her’ soldier had lived or died, but she had never forgotten him.

We Canadians must never forget him either, because he was just one of many who fought to ensure that Europe could return to freedom. By extension, that young soldier, our Dad, and the many others who gave so much of themselves – many, even their lives – helped ensure that Canada could be the wonderful country that we call home.

Happy Canada Day.

A Just Society, Government and Democracy, What's New

Hugh B. Hall, Joe Sullivan, Charles Dunk and World War II

This is a story about war, and certain Canadians who fought in World War II. Why? We’re half a year away from Remembrance Day. We’re a few months away from the anniversary of D-Day, or of any other significant military date in Canadian history. So why write something now about World War II?

Because this is a personal story, one to be told regardless of time. Recent events have prompted a whole series of emotions for me, my family and people close to us — regret, sorrow and sadness, in remembering sacrifices that Canadians made in World War II. Yet, some of those same recent events have created wonderful connections.

Let me explain…

My father, Hugh Baldwin Hall, landed on D-Day June 6, 1944.

He was all of 22 years old, a Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, commanding a platoon of Stormont Dundas Glengarry Highlanders – the “Glens”. After surviving the landing in Normandy, they lived in trenches, in horrible conditions and under almost constant fire, for 56 days straight. They were the first Allied soldiers to enter Caen July 9, and they went on to liberate Holland.

But those who survived did so only after watching too many of their friends and colleagues die trying.

My father passed away over 20 years ago. He didn’t talk much about the war. And the relationship that he had with his six children (of which I am one) was difficult.

Being presented with the Military Cross by Field Marshal Montgomery

Being presented with the Military Cross by Field Marshal Montgomery

After he returned from the war, he became a successful businessman, but he also became an alcoholic, had a troubled marriage, and for many reasons our relationship was strained — at best. One unfortunate consequence was that we, his children, never really learned about his war experiences. We didn’t ask — he didn’t tell. He had been awarded the Military Cross by Field Marshall Montgomery – there were vague stories about motorcycles full of bullet holes and signal lines kept open, but we never knew much about what had happened.

This is where a wonderful woman named Cathy Ruch comes in, and an extraordinary man by the name of Joe Sullivan. You see, Joe was in my dad’s platoon. They both landed on Juno beach that day. (Joe was in the boat that you can see in the most famous photo of the Canadian landing at Juno beach – Dad was in a different one.) But we would never have known, or made the connection, without Cathy.

Photo of Cathy, Betsy, Joe and Martha 13 March 2014

Cathy, Betsy, Joe and Martha – March 2014

It is such a cliché, but it really is a small world. Cathy’s grandfather Charles R. Dunk, also a member of the Glens, had also landed on D-Day. A few years ago, curious, she began research on her grandfather and what he had done in the War, though he had passed away some time before. That research connected her with Joe Sullivan and they struck up a friendship. Separately, I had published a blog that mentioned my Dad, which Cathy had seen. She made the connection and wrote to me about her work, and about Joe.

After multiple emails back and forth, one of my sisters and I finally met both Cathy and Joe in Peterborough, where Joe still lives.

Joe Sullivan is 93 (he admits with a grin). He walks with a spring in his step, is as sharp as a tack, is wonderfully articulate, and has a memory worth a dozen history books. Although we missed the opportunity to ask our own Dad about what happened, and what he went through, Joe Sullivan told us stories that helped us finally understand – at least what one can without having been there.

It was awful. War is awful. The stories of the shelling, the shooting, the rain, the mud, the carnage, the dead and the maimed… Many, many people died. Good people lost good friends. Sons, brothers, fathers, lovers. There was immeasurable suffering. But Joe also has stories of deep friendship and the kind of camaraderie you can only develop in times of common danger. Some of those friendships lasted only a brief time amid the fighting because of lives lost – others have lasted whole lifetimes. It’s amazing what happens when your lives depend on each other.

We learned more about our Dad’s wartime experience from Joe Sullivan than we had learned from Dad. We regret not asking more when we had the chance.

Three of my siblings and I will be visiting Normandy this coming June to participate in the 70th anniversary commemoration of D-Day. We do so out of respect for our father, for what he did, for what so many people sacrificed. We hope Dad will be watching and understands. And we hope that Joe and Cathy will join us.

We also hope that Canadians will always remember the sacrifices that too may men and women have made; we hope that, in remembering, we have learned from these awful experiences, and that we all work to prevent such damage from ever happening again.

A Just Society, Government and Democracy, What's New

Charter of Quebec Values – The Quebec Government Has It All Wrong

Charter of Quebec Values – The Quebec Government Has It All Wrong

The Quebec government under Premier Pauline Marois has announced that it plans to implement a new “Charter of Quebec Values”. But even for the many of us like the idea of secular governments, and the ”separation of church and state”, Quebec’s proposal is all wrong.

The Charter would ban all government employees — teachers, nurses, professors, all other civil servants (except, notably, the politicians themselves)– from wearing anything of any size that shows what religion the person follows. Sikh turbans, Jewish kippas, “large” crosses, Muslim hijab (including head scarves that still expose the full face, not just full burqas or the eye-slit-only niqab) won’t be allowed. Small rings or earrings with, for example, a cross, the Star of David or the Muslim crescent would be acceptable, as long as they are not “ostentatious”.

But there is an important distinction: the Christian religions — those practised by the French and English who “came first”, who initially colonized what is now Quebec — do not require as part of their practice the wearing of a cross (of any size). However, the wearing of a head scarf, a turban or a kippa are seen as fundamental parts of their respective religions – notably those practised by many newer immigrants. “Offering” the idea of small rings or earrings is a red herring, as this simply isn’t common practice. This Charter would force many of the newer immigrants to choose between personal religious beliefs and their livelihood.

As such, there are legitimate cries of discrimination.  And of hypocrisy – the Quebec government is insisting that it will keep the huge cross with a crucified Jesus Christ that oversees the legislative chamber – a far greater symbol of the TIES BETWEEN church and state than any government employee’s clothing.

There are concerns about security and personal identification with face-hiding burqas and niqabs that I sympathize with. More importantly, I’m a feminist, and those of us who want full equality and independence for women struggle with the sight of women wearing them. Many say that they do so of their own volition, but it arises out of a culture that treats women differently, often very unequally, and that suggests that men’s sexual urges are the fault of the women who ‘expose’ themselves, not the fault of the men’s inability to control those urges. I object to any situation where women must do things or behave in ways that prevent them access to full equality and independence. But I have no issue with whatever religion anyone wants to practise or even profess.

But this is NOT the thrust of the Charter of Quebec Values – if the problem were women covering themselves, based on views of equality for women, or for reasons of identification and security, then Quebec could suggest a much more limited ban on full face coverings in public places, or even more limited, for those wishing to use public services. France, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, and even countries with large Muslim populations such as Turkey, Tunisia and Syria have done so, to greater or lesser extents. In most cases these are NOT bans on all religious symbols (French public schools being an exception), but rather focussed on women’s rights and issues of security (identification).

The aim of the Charter of Quebec Values is, ostensibly, to create a secular public environment, to reinforce the separation of church and state – or more precisely, the separation of state from church, synagogue, mosque, etc. Separating the operations of government from religion is a good thing. Government should be run by and for people regardless of their personal religious beliefs. It doesn’t mean that politicians and government workers can’t HAVE personal religious beliefs – it means that the operation of government and the laws that are developed and applied to society as a whole must not be religiously-based.

This is where Ms. Marois and her government have it backwards. The people working in government – teachers, civil servants, professors, nurses, for example – are not “the state”. They are there to implement the state’s mandates. As long as the state’s mandates, the laws that it creates, and the services that it offers are themselves free of religious discrimination or religious intimidation, the individuals who implement them should not have to hide their personal beliefs.

If you have any questions or comments on this, or any other issue, please write to me at info@marthahallfindlay.ca, or to PO Box 69522, 5845 Yonge St., Willowdale, ON, M2M 4K3.

All best,

Martha Hall Findlay