Canada must return to being a grown-up nation, now and post-COVID-19

We must jettison this government’s insane energy policy and ensure national self-sufficiency

by Conrad Black

Canada needs to become more secure by becoming more self-sufficient. In a new series, the Post examines how a country made wealthy by globalization and trade can also protect itself against pandemics and other unknown future shocks to ensure some of our immense resources and economic power are reserved for our own security.

On Tuesday the National Post published an editorial asserting that Canada should become less dependent on foreign trade and the importation into this country of much that is vital, and which becomes more scarce in times of crisis such as the present public-health emergency. The editors have invited me to comment on this, and I agree entirely with the piece they published. As readers would know, I have called in stentorian terms for a more self-reliant and constructively nationalistic foreign policy all my politically conscient life.

I said in 1959 (when I was 14) that it was a catastrophic error for John Diefenbaker to cancel the Avro Arrow and shut down almost all of our sophisticated aviation industry. I accept that we could not have found enough buyers to make the Arrow itself a profitable export-earner. But we had a platform, including a first-class jet engine manufacturer, to use to become a co-manufacturer with British, French, or even Swedish aircraft manufacturers. Canada could have become a significant participant in the immense arms industry, and have had a good deal more control over our national security and been a serious participant in commercial airplane manufacturing and the great range of sophisticated and technologically advanced related businesses. Instead, we folded like a three-dollar suitcase, bought an American nuclear anti-aircraft missile, and Mr. Diefenbaker succumbed to the persuasion of pacifists and proposed not to fit the nuclear warheads we had promised to deploy under our NATO and NORAD agreements. We were left with an anti-aircraft system based on warheads filled with sand, until Lester Pearson was elected prime minister in 1963, and fitted the nuclear warheads with the requirement of joint U.S.-Canadian agreement before detonation.

I have called in stentorian terms for a more self-reliant and constructively nationalistic foreign policy all my politically conscient life

Mr. Diefenbaker was too impractical and Mr. Pearson too diplomatic and deferential or too unworldly to advance Canada’s status opposite the United States, and neither knew anything about Quebec, which in the 11 years that they governed, 1957-1968, went from the autonomist civility of Maurice Duplessis to the emergence of a formidable separatist threat under René Lévesque. Walter Gordon presented a budget in 1963 designed to expand Canadian ownership of its industry, and apart from an excessive surcharge on any sale of control of a corporation to foreign interests, it was a sensible and innovative plan, and Mr. Pearson abandoned Mr. Gordon in the controversy that followed. Shortly after, he informed France and the U.K. that Canada would not sell them uranium for military purposes. That did not matter to the U.K. as it had already accumulated a stockpile and had a nuclear arsenal. But it enraged the French president, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who was just developing nuclear weapons. He procured the uranium elsewhere and repaid Pearson by coming to Quebec in 1967 and publicly advising the province to secede from Canada. This does not happen to countries that are taken seriously.

For many years, the government of Canada was mostly in the hands of the Liberals (66 of the 88 years from 1896 to 1984), and the country’s policy was, after 1963, to govern to the left of the United States and either concede jurisdiction to Quebec (Pearson), or deluge Quebec with money to buy its federalist adherence (Pierre Trudeau). Brian Mulroney realized that the only way for Canada to be influential in the world was to be seen as an influence on the United States, and he achieved that, with President Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, and was reviled in this country as an American lackey as a result of it, an outrageous, indeed a scandalous, charge. With free trade, he built Canadian self-confidence, as it ceased to be a branch-plant country, competed well, and added another cubit to its stature. Jean Chrétien returned to Trudeau’s policy of needlessly antagonizing the United States as his preferred form of national self-assertion, and Stephen Harper was friendly with American administrations but aloof from them, and sensibly took his distance from the corrupt and anti-Western United Nations and its agencies (the World Health Organization has been deeply complicit in the coronavirus crimes of China) and aligned Canada justly and presciently with Israel in the Middle East — a just and a winning ticket, as well.

The Avro Arrow makes its debut to the world as it is pulled out of the hanger to be viewed by Avro employees and invited guests, in an undated photo from the 1950s. John Major/Postmedia News

Justin Trudeau’s government has declared the end of nationalism, announced the intimacy of all “peoplekind” under the aegis of the primal scream milch-cow of the United Nations, expanded on the Harper policy of allowing our military to wither into a diminutive police and coastal force ambulating about in antique conveyances on land, sea and air, and making placatory noises to anyone who will listen, while focusing obsessively on native, gender and climate issues, none of which has any relevance to the cause of making Canada one of the world’s greatest and most respected states, as it should and can be.

It has been a long trail: Champlain, the founder of Canada, saw the potential for a great French state in the northern part of North America in the 17th century. Carleton had the same vision, but knew it had to be protected by the British against the Americans, at least until it was stronger, and welcomed the Empire loyalists who fled the American revolution and founded the jurisdiction that is now Ontario in the 18th century. Baldwin, LaFontaine, Macdonald and Cartier obtained independence from Britain without discouraging it as the new country’s protector (an achievement that required immense skill); Macdonald extended the country to the Pacific with a railway that was one of the wonders of the world, and promoted industry behind reasonable tariffs in the 19th century.

In the 20th century, Laurier, to maintain Canada proportionately with the U.S., aggressively sought immigration, in some years as much as six or seven per cent of the population. Under Mackenzie King, Canada became the most important ally of the Anglo-Americans, except for the Soviet Union (an unreliable ally, to say the least).

Justin Trudeau’s government has declared the end of nationalism

Though Canada’s position and resources and its primary descent from such distinguished nations as Britain and France are enviable, it has never been like falling off a log to make a viable national state out of a 200-mile-wide ribbon along the 3,000-mile border with the U.S., with a population addicted to American popular culture. But the Americans want to emulate our immigration system, which has given us a population that will get to 40 million in a few years, and we are achieving a scale and critical mass that will enable us, if we seize the opportunity, to project Canadian values of liberality and civility into the world, if we act like a self-confident and strong, but never abrasive, nation. The late Jim Coutts and I were the only people I knew who wanted to buy control of Chrysler Corporation when Lee Iacocca started to revive it 40 years ago. Of course we should rebuild Canadian manufacturing, especially as that is what the U.S. is doing. And we should buy an influential position in a major auto-manufacturer, even if we join with the Swedes or South Koreans (who didn’t make one car 40 years ago). We should build all the pipelines that have been projected, and assert the eminent domain of the national interest against native protesters and the government of Quebec, as necessary, to dispense with foreign oil imports and reduce fuel and gasoline costs for Canadians, including Quebecers.

When Huawei became one of the world’s greatest high-tech companies, reportedly by stealing the patented technologies of Nortel, we did nothing. It is as if we had learned nothing since we generously shut down most of our aviation industry in 1959. It is time for Canada to return to being a grown-up nation, to jettison this government’s insane energy policy, and certainly to ensure that we have and can produce what we need in medicine and medical equipment and supplies. As every serious statesman in the world since Richelieu has known, countries have durable interests; the constancy of friends fluctuates.

First published in the National Post


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