‘You can’t change geography’: Taking the Canada-US Relationship to the Next Level

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Excerpts from Remarks on Trade Innovation and Prosperity Working Paper 14 of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity Toronto, September 22, 2010

We are blessed to be beside the US – the biggest market in the world and likely to remain so until at least 2025. I realize there are those, especially in this town, who lament our propinquity to the colossus to the South. To them, I respectfully repeat what a Polish diplomat said to me when I was posted to the UN. “Would you rather be us?”

I don’t subscribe to the declinist school on America. I lived in New York City during the late 70s when there were gas lines, graffiti covered the subway cars and, an epidemic of crime. The Big Apple was rotting and the country was in a malaise.  Jimmy Carter encouraged us all to wear cardigans to keep warm. Arab money was going to buy America. But a funny thing happened on the way to Madison Square Gardens. By 1984,  it was ‘morning again’ in Ronald Reagan’s America. Thanks to Rudy Giuliani, Bill Bratton and Comp-Stat, the Big Apple would get its shine back.

Then came Irangate and the 1987 market crash.  Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of Great Powers was a bestseller. This time, the Japanese were about to become ‘masters of the universe’.  Mitsubishi bought the Rockefeller Centre and Sony bought Columbia Pictures. I worked in the Exxon Building – the name came off the building as the oil giant retreated to Dallas.

But you know what? America came back and the nineties launched a decade of growth that we in Canada especially enjoyed thanks to the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement and its stepchild, NAFTA. There were certainly elements of ‘irrational exuberance’ – as I witnessed before the bubble burst in Silicon Valley. But when it did, the Valley climbed back by ‘boot-strapping’ and reinvention.

… Having spent most of my professional life living abroad and much of that in the United States, I agree with Alistair Cooke, who after 3000 broadcasts on the BBC between 1940-2000, concluded that “in America, the race is on between its decadence and its vitality, and it has lots of both.”