As our country prepares to celebrate its 175th birthday this year, let us give thanks to Donald Trump for making Canada great again.
As Canadians, we don't often credit former U.S. presidents for our own nation-building. But it was Mr. Trump, who came to power during our country's sesquicentennial in 2017, who finally forced us to undertake a top-to-bottom restructuring of our economy and put Canada first.
Sometimes it just takes a nudge – or in Mr. Trump's case, a threatening tweet – to get you to do what you should have been doing all along.
Mr. Trump had not yet even been inaugurated when, in early 2017, he fired this shot read around the world: "General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers tax-free across the border. Make in U.S.A or pay big border tax!"
Boy, did that concentrate minds in Oshawa, and Ottawa. As did Mr. Trump's move, on his first day in office, to slap an across-the-board 10-per-cent tariff on imported goods. That was just before he withdrew his country from the "disastrous" North American free-trade agreement.
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Ottawa moved swiftly to adapt to the new reality. In his 2018 budget, Finance Minister Bill Morneau introduced the First-Canada-Premier Plan, better known as the New National Policy or NNP, with a focus on import substitution over exports. It was a raging success, sparking a wave of domestic innovation that led to such national favourites as maple-syrup-sweetened Coke.
For too long prior to Mr. Trump's election, economic policy makers here had promoted continentalism over Canadianism. We'd tied our fortunes to trade with the United States and Mexico – and even to Europe and Asia – not realizing we were pawns in a global corporate agenda aimed at lifting Mexican, Romanian and Chinese workers out of poverty.
Sure, we got plenty of cheap stuff (not to mention some delicious California wines) out of the bargain. Never had we been able to clothe or feed ourselves so well for so little, or distract ourselves with such affordable electronic gadgets.
Still, that was no consolation for what we lost in factory jobs and domestic self-sufficiency. Autarchy turned out to be so much more conducive to the formation of our national identity.
Under free trade, we simply imported what we could not produce efficiently here and exploited our comparative advantage to export goods and services in which we had a competitive edge. Economists insisted this boosted incomes and purchasing power across the board, even if some workers in uncompetitive industries lost their jobs to imports or had to be replaced by robots.
Under the NNP, that was no longer a problem. Prohibitive import tariffs made robots too expensive, leading to a hiring surge at McLaughlin Motors, the new name for GM Oshawa. The latter was cut loose by its U.S. parent, nationalized by Ottawa and rechristened in a nostalgic nod to the factory's 19th century roots as the McLaughlin Carriage Co. It continued to churn out Buick Regals and Chevy Impalas under licence from GM, only with all-Canadian parts. Without robots, productivity declined and prices rose. But at least Unifor's leaders, who echoed Mr. Trump in calling NAFTA a disaster, could no longer complain.
Of course, only the rich could actually afford to buy new cars. Old Regals from the early Trump era outnumbered newer models on Canadian roads. Tourists joked it made Toronto look like Havana. To which the locals responded: "Have you been to Ohio? They only drive old Cruzes."
Luckily, Canada had domestic oil to keep our internal combustion engines running. The new TransCanada Resource Railway, built as part of the national infrastructure plan Ottawa undertook in the absence of export-led growth, moved Alberta crude across the country.
Alberta's grain farmers, meanwhile, somewhat made up for lost export markets after Britain, following its exit from the European Union, reintroduced its 19th-century Corn Laws. Under its "imperial preference" policy, Britain exempted former colonies from sky-high agricultural tariffs.
The NNP also prompted BlackBerry to get back into to the business of making handheld devices on domestic soil. Their apps still sucked, of course. But tariffs on imported iPhones and Galaxies were so high as to put them out of reach for most Canadians.
Not that they were missing much. The Trump-era was a mostly low-tech one and Moore's Law finally ran up against protectionism. Silicon Valley was forced to close shop in the early Trump years due to the U.S. ban on immigration. The entire valley was turned into a lettuce farm.
Expensive electronics turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Canada's newsprint sector experienced a renaissance as print became king again in media and publishing. Kapuskasing and Baie Comeau boomed. It was like the 20th century had never ended.
Looking back on it all today, in 2042, it's hard not to be grateful to Mr. Trump. Maybe we should put up a statue of him on Parliament Hill or something – made out of Canadian bronze.