Sunday, February 07, 2010

On giveaways

Speaking of Canada's international pariah status under the Cons, it's far too predictable that anybody who's worked to be excluded from the international community will end up making serious mistakes in trying to fit in. Which brings us to the Cons' announcement that they're prepared to trade away provincial and municipal freedom of action permanently in exchange for partial access to eleven days' worth of the U.S.' dying stimulus program.

There's been no lack of commentary on the topic already, and most of it has pointed out the similarity of this deal to the one that paid the U.S. a billion dollars to punish Canadian softwood lumber producers. But let's look in a bit more detail at some of the mistakes that were repeated between the two negotiations.

First and most glaringly, there's the Cons' continued pattern of working against allies rather than in their interests. In the case of the softwood lumber dispute, the Cons excluded friendly parties on both sides of the border from negotiations while allowing the U.S. lumber lobby to have constant influence, then spent most of their time after striking the deal trying to force Canadian industry to go along with it. Likewise this time, the Cons seem to have done far more work getting the provinces to sign away their ability to procure locally than figuring out whether there's any benefit in trading that sovereignty away.

Similarly, in both cases the Cons appear to have decided first that some kind of deal absolutely had to be struck, then gone into negotiations seeking only to make whatever concessions were necessary in order to be able to walk out holding a signature from the other side. The result is a photo op based on waving a piece of paper around - and dealing with the consequences of what that piece of paper says later if at all.

Which leads nicely into the final obvious similarity, being that neither agreement actually seems to have resolved anything with any finality. In the case of the softwood lumber agreement, it took less than a year after formal approval of the agreement for the Cons to start looking for ways to concede even more, or even begging for U.S. approval to carry out exactly the measures the U.S. demanded in the first deal.

But this factor may be even worse for the latest set of negotiations. As many of the commentators on Buy American have noted already, the deal would never have been necessary if the U.S. had adhered to the terms of previous agreements, meaning that we're once again simply throwing more and more on the table in hopes that the U.S. will live up to promises that it's actively breaking. And this set of negotiations goes even further in that the Cons are explicitly relying on the outcome only as a "precedent" for future U.S. procurement, rather than even trying to secure wording that might bind more than 11 days worth of purchases.

For those looking for whatever silver lining can be found, it's worth noting that the Cons have miraculously only done this twice on high-profile issues during their time in office, rather than setting up monthly sessions to grant greater and greater concessions to the country Stephen Harper wishes Canada would become. But based on what we know to happen when Harper sits down at the negotiating table, there should be every incentive to remove the Cons from any position to pick up the pace.

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