“Take a knee” in protest (as some athletes are showing us) or bend a knee in supplication? This is the stark choice Canada faces as the NAFTA negotiations enter the final stretch.
To continue to negotiate NAFTA with the Americans in the present climate, places us squarely in the ranks of supplicants allowing our once beloved neighbor to the south to dictate the terms of a treaty, not negotiate one with us. To push the “pause button” and leave the room now, preserves our dignity as a nation. No less than that may now be at stake.
Is there is a spirited debate going on in official Ottawa about the risk of waiting (to possibly be humiliated) or walking tall? We are not negotiating the development of a Jersey Shore casino. We are negotiating over our economic future. However, how we negotiate and what we are prepared to endure is about who we are. We don’t have much time to figure that out. Pride among peoples has led to unfortunate consequences; but no less so acquiescence misunderstood as weakness.
There is a strong argument that it would be irresponsible to walk out and risk NAFTA. The responsible and less risky course is certainly to stay at the table and hope for the best. And that would be so very Canadian of us. Far more irresponsible, however, may be to squander our sovereignty participating in a sham, waiting on the whims of a foreign leader.
The U.S. president may be wrong when he equates the U.S. national interest only with its economic interest. But he is certainly incorrect when he assumes that economic interest is the only thing that drives other countries, not also pride, or history, or dignity.
What drives us? Do our economic needs trump (forgive me) our pride, our dignity and our sovereignty? That is a question that should be in urgent debate within the top ranks of the Government of Canada and among Canadians.
We stand up or we yield. Policy maker or policy taker? There is a choice. To wait for President Trump to pull the plug, as he keeps threatening that he may or may not do, allows him to ultimately humiliate Canada when he walks as he will. A bully needs a target. If that is Canada, others will have us in their sights next.
We know how this movie ends: with no deal or the President pulling out, even if a deal is at hand or agreed to. The United States is no longer a dependable trading partner and Canada needs to act accordingly. The president may cancel NAFTA today or tomorrow or next week. He may do that just because he can or because he really believes this is a good negotiating tactic, or because he neither understands the implications for his own country, or simply doesn’t care. He may be bedeviled by other challenges and playing tough with Canada has been so easy. It should not be.
We leave the talks now and push “pause” and we assert our sovereignty. We would be doing so: “with regret” and in the belief that NAFTA can be improved and knowing that we have been engaged in a good faith effort to do that. Canada should return to the negotiating table when the U.S. administration is ready to negotiate a new deal that can be a win/win for all and not just for them. And that should be our last word on the subject for quite a while.
The clue to what is going on may be found in an animated musical from 1999. President Trump may have watched too many reruns of South Park’s deliciously named film, Bigger, Longer and Uncut. He is certainly humming a song from that film whose refrain is:
“Blame Canada. Blame Canada.
Seems that everything has gone wrong since they came along.
Blame Canada. Blame Canada.
It’s not even a real country anyway.
Blame Canada before someone thinks of blaming us.”
It is time to leave the room. This will lay the matter and the consequences squarely at the president’s feet. The president won’t be able to use the threat of abrogation as a tactic or a ploy. He will have to cancel NAFTA or not (and it’s not clear if he can in fact do so without Congress).
He won’t be able to “blame Canada.” It will be his actions that will open up a schism between the White House and Congress and the governors, which will in time be turned to our benefit. NAFTA will continue well beyond the six-month notice period as it’s abrogation by the president (if that happens) and his authority to do so, is challenged in Congress and the courts.
Let plucky Canada be the disrupter now. Leave the table and this can be a defining moment in our history. The price of doing otherwise has become too high. You can’t blame Canada.