When I recently wrote in this blog about my love of dollar stores, I did not expect to spark a vitriolic debate. The entry hit a nerve, though, and the comments poured in. Readers were quick to make a connection between dollar stores and low-cost Chinese manufacturing.
"There [are]Canadians who can't find work because our jobs have gone to those slave-like labour countries," fumed one irate commenter. "I'm glad your kids like their cheap toys made by a kid [who]doesn't make enough to even buy one."
I don't have any relationship with dollar stores other than as a consumer, but I feel obligated to point out that they sell Canadian-made goods too.
Dollarama, Canada's largest dollar store chain, sources 48 per cent of its products from North American vendors. As I discovered reading through Dollarama's recently filed prospectus, the company purchases a lot of products from Canadian manufacturers, including household and cleaning supplies, groceries, confectionery, and greeting cards.
Perhaps it's also worth noting that Dollarama employs more than 12,500 Canadians across the country.
But enough about dollar stores. This is really a debate about globalization.
Over the past 30 years, China has risen as a manufacturing powerhouse, becoming the world's number one exporter of goods in 2009. In fact, China is on track to displace Canada this year as the largest supplier of imports to the U.S.
No wonder Canadians are getting their hackles up.
Still, for those who equate buying non-Canadian with an act of treason, I defy them to purchase a local banana or orange.
Bananas account for 10 per cent of produce sales in Canadian supermarkets and they come from Central and South America. Most of our oranges are grown in California. If you prefer mandarins and clementines, you can thank Japan for those.
Perhaps there are families who live quite happily on the "100-kilometre-diet". I believe I'm still among the majority of Canadian mothers who prefer to feed their children a more varied menu than potatoes, kale and cabbage during the winter months.
One friend of mine, a mother of three, complains that "even in the summer all the strawberries are from the U.S. and in early fall the apples are from Chile. Nothing is ever local."
Given the globalization of our economy, I don't know that it's possible anymore to subsist entirely on homegrown goods.
Who among us doesn't have a wardrobe of clothing manufactured in an emerging market such as Malaysia or Indonesia?
Many of my friends would like to buy Canadian clothes for their families, but find the options limited. "It's actually impossible to find Canadian or North American products," says one.
One American family tried living without products made in China for a year and found the experience so harrowing they wrote a book about it.
"This experiment absolutely turns a daily life upside down," mother and business writer Sara Bongiorni recalled in an interview following the launch of A Year Without 'Made In China'.
"It was everything from, you know, mundane ordinary errands like running to the store for new tennis shoes for one of the kids or buying birthday candles [that]became days or sometimes weeks-long sagas that didn't necessarily have a satisfactory resolution in the end."
As ubiquitous as non-seasonal produce and cheap tennis shoes now are, we may not have them around much longer.
If you believe former CIBC World Markets economist Jeff Rubin, the price of energy has been the most important factor in fuelling globalization and our high-consumption lifestyles. In his book, Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller, Mr. Rubin argues that growing world oil demand, combined with oil supplies that are harder to extract, will lead to triple-digit oil prices and the demise of global trade as we know it.
"We won't be able to source food and manufactured goods from China when it costs so much to ship goods across oceans," he explained earlier this year.
Don't forget that Canada, with oil reserves second only to Saudi Arabia, has helped fuel our predicament. Demand for our gas, petroleum and coal has helped build our economy into one of the largest in the world. We can thank global trade for the generally high standard of living we enjoy.
Mr. Rubin envisions a not-so-distant future in which economies are local, not global, and we produce everything from fruit to steel close to home. Manufacturing jobs will come back to our cities, but so will higher prices.
For families such as my own, that would mean life will become more expensive. There will be less choice at the supermarkets and malls. It will be a world with nary a dollar store in sight. It means no more bananas and oranges and a whole lot more potatoes, kale and cabbage.
My friends and I are proud to buy Canadian and do so when we can. But when our household budgets are stretched, as they often are, we spend where we can get the most value for our hard-earned dollars.
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