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Homelessness in BC

Tue, 2018-02-20 02:57

In anticipation of tomorrow’s provincial budget in British Columbia (BC), I’ve written a blog post about the state of homelessness in that province.

Points raised in the blog post include the following:

-Public operating spending by BC’s provincial government has decreased over the past 20 years.

-Even after controlling for inflation, average rent levels across the province increased by 24% between 1990 and 2016.

-Over the past several decades, various reforms to BC’s social assistance system have made it harder to qualify for benefits and have resulted in lower benefit levels to those who are eligible.

-A lack of affordable housing is making it very challenging for front-line practitioners to practice the ‘housing first’ approach (i.e., providing a homeless person with immediate access to affordable housing).

-BC’s new NDP government has undertaken important initiatives that may have the effect of reducing homelessness.

The full blog post can be found at this link.

Categories: News for progressives

Panel discussion at federal NDP policy convention

Sun, 2018-02-18 21:47

Yesterday I spoke on a panel discussion on economic inequality, along with Andrew Jackson and Armine Yalnizyan. We were guests at the federal NDP’s policy convention in Ottawa. The panel was moderated by Guy Caron.

Topics covered included the minimum wage, basic income, affordable housing, the future of jobs, gender budgeting, poverty among seniors, Canadian fiscal policy in historical perspective, and Canadian fiscal policy in comparison with other OECD countries.

The discussion was 30 minutes long. You can watch it here.

Categories: News for progressives

Toward a Better World

Fri, 2018-02-09 22:46

That is the well chosen title of a marvelous new book by Gerry Helleiner,  sub-titled Memoirs of a Life in International and Development Economics. Helleiner, from his home base at the University of Toronto, tells us in this most readable book, in his own modest way, the stories, notably from Africa, of how he devoted his life as an economist to that end. His rewards include his membership in the Order of Canada.

Helleiner describes himself as a progressive economist and is so judged by scholars. He has a strong commitment to social justice, to aiding the cause of poor countries, particularly the smaller of them, and the poorest within those poor countries.

His advise has been frequently sought by those involved in economic development in what we now call the Global South.  His students have pursued successful careers in developing countries and with NGOs in the developed countries, and he is justly proud of that.

There is an abundance of quotable quotes. “Economics is not where everyone goes for inspiration or excitement. But I must say that my life as a teaching and practicing economist has been deeply fulfilling and at times wildly exciting.” Surely a great recommendation for being a progressive economist.,

For Helleiner economics is not a dismal science. “I believe the record of the past half century [with particular reference of Africa] which, in truth, does make some despair, can instead inspire hope for the kind of dramatic positive change that is possible.” This is a powerful message to progressive economists of hope in hard times.

On an issue that should be dear to the heart of progressive economists, Helleiner appeals for graduate studies in economics to be more heterodox, and less theory-driven . He describes how his own department at Toronto fell victim to these North American tendencies and how this  has adversely affected the program in  economic development. (So too was my own field of economic history.)

Ultimately, of course, economics which preaches the virtue of markets must itself respond to their evident failures. Helleiner’s passionate pleas should hasten that day.

Categories: News for progressives

The Clarkson Story up until Now and the Uncertain Future of The WTO

Thu, 2018-01-11 05:51

Stephen Clarkson

The following is a contribution in the blog series on the exceptional contribution of Stephen Clarkson to Canada.  Stephen Clarkson died in 2016. The substantial work he undertook on Canada and international trade is particularly relevant today as negotiations on NAFTA and other trade agreements occur.


Stephen Clarkson receiving the Order of Canada


Daniel Drache

Daniel Drache was a long-time colleague and friend of Stephen.  He is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at York University and former Director of the Robarts Centre for Canadian Studies. His work focuses on understanding the changing character of the globalisation narrative in its economic, social and cultural dimensions. He has worked extensively on the WTO’s failed Doha Round with particular focus on TRIPS and public health, food security and nutrition, and poverty eradication. 

The Clarkson Story up until Now and the Uncertain Future of the WTO

Daniel Drache

The Clarkson Gaze

The story so far is about the events roiling the global economy and Stephen’s unique gaze in the way in which he interpreted them. His inexhaustible appetite for research on North America, globalization, political parties, political leaders and, above all, the power dynamics between Uncle Sam and stick figure Johnny Canuck gave him an over-sized palette.[1] He was focused on big ideas, instinctively drawn to the most important: the continuing relevance of sovereignty and state power at a time of interdependence.

In a way that makes history full of surprises, the story until now is that many governments also share a growing scepticism about the effectiveness of the WTO dispute resolution mechanism, a topic which loomed large in Clarkson’s writing and research. In 2014, only seven new cases were filed, a paltry number in a trillion dollar plus commercial world. For the two previous decades, there were 450 cases, the majority were North South and North North. The US, Canada, and the EU were the most litigious, as well as Brazil and India have become  “trade warriors” in defence of their core interests. Most other Global South countries had neither the legal culture nor the money to roll the dice in the WTO trade dispute lottery-like system.

In 1994, when the system was brand new, the number of cases averaged about 40 per year, and, since then, with more than 100 new members the trade gendarme of the world barely averages a baker’s dozen. Where have all disputes gone?

Clarkson was aware that WTO rules are very confrontational and thought-provoking in this regard. The WTO permits states to use protectionist policies not always, but frequentlNumerous experts and scholars believed that globalization had made the world borderless, where people, ideas and commodities all moved across the world with few constraints. Conventional wisdom argued that the once mighty Westphalian state was so porous that it could no longer defend national values and goals.[2] Many scholars embraced the notion that, in an age of global cultural and economic flows, borders were dysfunctional barriers in need of further dismantling. Stephen did not.

Instead his work was a curious hybrid of seeing the world through the eyes of an increasingly bleak dystopia about Canada’s chances of surviving the python-like embrace of market-driven integration. On better days, he became a hard-nosed sceptic about these mega-trade deals when Canada’s policy élites were stumbling over each other to ink new ones, first with Uncle Sam, Mexico and then a whole host of other countries including the EU, China, India, Korea and Israel, to name but the most important. He was arguably the best Canadian researcher at documenting and de-constructing this neo-liberal universe, thereby exposing Canada’s chronic dependent relationship on the US with less and less policy-space to manoeuvre with each passing decade.[3] In his own words,

“With NAFTA and an emboldened WTO, Canadian programs suddenly found themselves subject to invasive WTO commercial norms and export centric policies that marginalized any need for industrial strategies to diversify and build stronger Canadian industries as a buffer zone against the excesses of resource dependency.”

He raged against the Liberal state machine that was always eager to go with the continental flow of power and resources, and he believed that the big red machine of the Liberal Party could be stopped although it was likely not to happen. So, he was a unique figure who had at the very least two voices: a critical observer of the trade governance system and, in moments of lucidity and despair, an advocate of more radical institutional surgery, namely, to sink the investor state dispute settlement provision (ISDS) and, along with it, much of the system of trade governance.

There is much we can learn from the Clarkson gaze about the tightly-written future and the unpredictable wild swings of global dynamics from global economic integration. With hard Brexit, the election of Trump, the cancellation of the TPP and now the unilateral re-opening of NAFTA, we’ve entered a different and dangerous age with less stability than ever. US President Trump has become Canada’s worst nightmare, attacking Canadian dairy and lumber practices, and demanding fundamental change to the NAFTA agreement. All these projects gave Clarkson a vast canvas and focused his attention on the incompatibility between the requirements of these trade agreements and the anxieties that citizen experience about job loss, threats to the environment, and growing inequality. He also worried that the rise of powerful ‘nixers’ in Washington and the corrosive forces of structural adjustment had irreversibly transformed the landscape of international relations from everything that went before.[4]

These tropes are still very much with us today to fix, shrink or sink trade governance.[5] We need to think a lot about fear and anxiety, not only because of the ‘mad king’ Donald in Washington, but because the pillars of trade multilateralism are no longer coherent, even though they continue to be a force to be reckoned with. We will look at two big picture ideas of his. First, what Stephen identified occurring around us is the emergence of a highly flammable situation. When institutions fail to adapt to novel conditions, frequently like these times contagious, dangerous state policies migrate towards the center right and hard right neo-populist end of the spectrum. Secondly, analytically and intellectually he was absorbed by the deteriorating dynamics of the nixer-fixer crisis-fraught binary many states and social movements adopted in the search for options. This geopolitical positioning inevitably led them and him to radically different solutions about the uncertain future of trade governance.

Paralysis, Fear, and Decay

The growing paralysis triggered by polarized conjunctural politics as well as structural stagnation has its convoluted roots in the architecture and agenda of the WTO, which was oversold to governments as a guarantor and regulator of the world trading system.[6] It promised a level playing-field for all and a development accelerator for the Global South plus new market-access and increased competitiveness for industries on both sides of the global divide.

In the Clarkson view of the world, he saw something dramatically askew. The institutional wheels had fallen off these clichéd policies because trade deals had become an omnibus multipronged policy. In the process export-centric mega-deals went far beyond their original mandate. Instead, they became invasive investor-centric agreements that ubiquitously challenged the state’s competence to regulate effectively in the public interest. The predictable result was that governments are facing a backlash and push-back from social movements, non-scripted actors, and highly informed non-governmental organizations.[7]

In a primary sense Clarkson understood that that trade agreements were marketed to largely indifferent and often passive publics because there were no credible alternatives to the widely-subscribed belief that “There is no Alternative” (TINA). Doom and fatalism were the red lines of political discourse that could not be crossed. However, since 2008, (and often before the global financial crisis in the ‘Battle for Seattle’), a Niagara of campaigns, street demonstrations and social media mobilization energized publics, particularly in the EU where, in Germany, Belgium and France, grassroots social movements mobilized hundreds of thousands of protesters against the proposed Canada-EU free-trade agreement (CETA).

Still Clarkson’s dark pessimism about the unstoppable momentum of third-generation trade deals found itself on the right side of history. The future of many trade and investment deals are in limbo because European public opinion is increasingly suspicious and hostile to trade and investment deals. In 2017, the explosive decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on the EU’s exclusive competence to enter into trade treaties without the approval of national legislatures was dealt a death blow. The Court found that the EU would have to submit ISDS agreements to all 30 national and subnational parties for individual approval.[8] Even critical observers could not have predicted such an outcome. The EU had hoped that the Court would give it exclusive jurisdiction without having to submit a trade treaty for national ratification. Brussel’s expectation was to be able to approve these trade and investment routinely. It did not want a re-occurrence of the Walloons casting a veto that held up the entire CETA ratification process, as it had done in 2016. The CJEU ruled against the EU. In shared jurisdictions with an ISDS provision, individual Member States will be required to give their assent.

One part of the Court’s decision re-inforced the national authority of Member States, but another extended the principle of transnationality. The ECJ gave the EU a green light to take the ISDS clause out of trade and investment treaties and move it into the institutional hands of an International Investment Court which is still to be established.

Stephen would have savoured and probably savaged this landmark decision because the Court not only shrunk the legal authority of the EU’s unilateral power, but it also removed labour, the environment, intellectual property rights, and public procurement as shared competencies that had previously been awarded in an earlier legal judgment. Had these shared competencies remained, it would have made signing new investment deals almost impossible and extremely arduous to negotiate, let alone ratify.

It is not surprising that the CJEU required Brussels to submit ISDS provisions to national governments. India has already imposed legislative restrictions on access to ISDS, Ecuador has withdrawn from 16 of its investment treaties, and South Africa has begun the process of terminating its investment treaties. In 2012, it passed new legislation that gives exclusivity to domestic remedies. Brazil has never signed into law investment-treaty provisions for privatized arbitration.[9]

All these countries are encouraging alternative dispute resolution outlined in “cooperation and investment facilitation” kinds of agreements. All this “nixing and fixing” of state activity would not have been possible without social media and popular mobilization against governments being sued by powerful corporate interests.

Now, the Court of Justice of the European Union has come out against such clauses unless they are submitted to national ratification procedures. Indeed, in the words of Steven Toope, “the world order is shifting”. The WTO will not be “great again” because its relative position in terms of its hard legal power and the political consensus that once made it unchallengeable has dimmed, if not, decayed. What is different is that, with the fragmentation of the global economy, it is also the time – to the surprise of many experts – to negotiate new rules, as we have just seen. For Clarkson he understood that there is no possibility of a new ‘grand social bargain’ to support new rights for citizens and labour but, at the margins, popular forces seem to have gained the capacity to mobilize despite neoliberalism and the politics of austerity.

WTO Marginalization in its Core Competence

Clarkson will be always remembered as a fierce critic of neoliberal embeddedness of the WTO. Perhaps the fact that Canadian governments had so unreservedly embraced its legal elite culture pushed Clarkson to embrace the rhetoric of the anti-globalization movement. Other developments have also cooled the ardour of many governments to put their faith in the efficacy of the crown jewels of the WTO dispute resolution system to protect them from the gale-like force of global competition. One of Clarkson’s persistent themes is that governments have turned away from this mechanism to seek relief for their battered industries from the consequences of structural adjustment triggered by open, highly de-regulated, economies. Increasingly, many countries have preferred to seek redress for trade grievances before national tribunals rather than bring cases to the world trade court of the WTO.

It is worth reminding ourselves that 80 per cent of the WTO membership has never used the dispute resolution panels because the majority of the WTO do not have the experience, the money, and the confidence in the system that is slow, unpredictable, and very costly, with no positive track record of handling, let alone, addressing within the terms of reference of its legal culture, the non-commercial aspects present in every trade dispute. These include food security, the need for state subsidies, the limitations of the principle of non-discrimination for industrial policy, the creation of fair labour standards, and the legal support for sustainable environmental practices – each a hot button issue of our times. Does not the narrowness of the WTO’s legal culture explain why so few Global South countries want to chance addressing more substantive issues through this trade body?

Put another way, there are very few WTO victories for “we the people”. One of the most iconic articles on the WTO’s legal straitjacket is by Joseph Weiler,[10] entitled The Rule of Lawyers and the Ethos of Diplomacy. In it, he warned against the rule of lawyers because the most optimal outcome in most interstate conflicts between governments is the need to find a trade compromise about conflict over a disputed subsidy, stockpiling for food security, incentives to develop local industry rather than an adversarial victory for the strongest state and profit-seeking multinationals.

Weiler predicted that legal principles masquerading as statecraft would eventually erode the underpinnings of its unbalanced legal culture. Weiler’s expectation about the growing illegitimacy of the WTO’s legal culture in the minds of many is dead accurate and has been one of the central factors in sustaining successful mobilization campaigns against third-generation trade and investment deals.

Growing State Scepticism towards the WTO

y when they experience the volatility of global markets endangering employment and entire industries.[11] The WTO gives states the green light to adopt protectionist policies under very restrictive conditions. Countries file complaints against predatory pricing, subsidy abusers and the nuclear “option-of-all-options”, safeguards for reasons of national security to protect the national interest when threatened by global conditions such as employment loss, import surges or the open-ended category, “unfair advantage” of some kind that governments can use to defend the imposition of tariffs or import duties before a national trade tribunal constituted to litigate such claims.

The Clarkson gaze is an excellent guide to what has happened in the last two decades with respect to countries turning their back on the WTO’s legal crown jewel. It is astonishing to realize that the number of anti-dumping petitions has exploded, totalling more than 4,300 compared with about 400 disputes filed with the WTO.[12] If we are looking for examples of de-stabilization, the contracting out of legal ordering to other authorities, surely, this is it. Countries are turning to their national tribunals and trade courts for short-term relief and can impose tariffs or countervailing duties n order to protect their industries under threat.

In the 1970s, voluntary export restraints were used successfully to protect US interests against Japanese auto imports. This strategy gave the US auto industry breathing space to modernize and upgrade. Of course, trade lawyers and economists rail against anti-dumping as going outside the WTO rules and its jurisdiction. What the experts are opposed to are competing national adjudication bodies which they claim are biased and unreliable. But there are many studies that show that, since these national tribunals largely follow the WTO rules of evidence, norms and practices, their win rate – the test for bias for the home team – are within standards of international practice. This parallel system operates – with all its strengths and weaknesses – quite efficiently to defend the “local” from powerful “global” interests.

It did not escape Clarkson’s attention that Washington has its own parallel and highly active dispute system accessible to all Americans industries as well as to groups including unions to demand an investigation into allegedly unfair competition.[13] It can impose tariffs, punishing duties and quotas on foreign imports for short-term, medium-term and long-term periods. A large part of the legislation is discretionary and arbitrary. It can give American industries breathing space and restrict foreign competition. Super 301 is an interim measure that cannot reverse the de-industrialization of American jobs and industries, but it can – and does – provide short-term relief to declining American industries and jobs that are at risk![14]

If we want better outcomes to address real dislocation, we require a body akin to the Court of Justice of the European Union or the European Court of Human Rights with a commitment to balance commercial market-based interests with sovereignty norms and practices that sets the standards for citizen-based rights and obligations. The European Court was set up to rule on individual or state application alleging violations of civil, political and human rights. Individuals can apply directly to it and it is delivered more than 10,000 judgments that require governments to change their laws and administrative practices. Is this the kind of Court needed to replace the creaky outmoded legal culture of the WTO?

The Privatized and Secretive Alternative: ISDS

Clarkson understood as well as anyone why trade governance is so dysfunctional at present. Anti-dumping provides an escape hatch against structural adjustment market forces imposed by the neo-liberal global economy. De-globalization paradoxically strengthens and extends neo-liberal norms and practices – often at the local level.  In the Clarkson lexicon it  represents a new and different phenomena in the globalization narrative – namely, the ability of global multinationals to challenge the regulatory sovereignty of nations in the public interest.

The investor state dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS) is highly problematical from a public policy point of view because of the very broad grounds that multinationals have to sue governments, including “fair and equitable treatment”, “expropriation of benefits”, “non-discrimination”, and “national treatment”. All these trade-related doctrines impose a heavy burden on governments to demonstrate that foreign multinationals receive “special consideration” in private courts, which is not available to nationally-domiciled companies.

State investor disputes are always about money and inevitably about environmental standards and review, health services, access to generic drugs, industrial policy, and labour standards. The rules favour investors, as they challenge the sovereignty and authority of democratically-elected governments to reduce their ability to legislate and defend the public interest.

According to the UNCTAD monitor, in 2016, there were 62 new ISDS cases filed, a record high. The 10 year average is a steady 45 filings a year – compared to the 12 complaints cases filed at the WTO. In the most recent 12 year period, there were more than 550 new cases worth hundreds of millions and millions of dollars in awards against governments without including the 50 billion USD award against Russia. Not surprisingly, the most frequent users are from the advanced block of countries. In the Dutch study of Arbitral Awards, multinational corporations are favoured by a ratio of two to one over states in the arbitral win-loss sweepstakes.[15]

These outcomes are critical standard-setters. Most decidedly, they have become a central feature promoting the growth in privatized commercial arbitration. It is safe to conclude that these out-of-public-sight in-camera arbitrations have outpaced and probably outperformed the WTO disputes resolution mechanism body as far as global capital is concerned. The explosive growth in privatized dispute resolution is itself evidence that  Clarkson’s research led him to the conclusion that free trade agreements are about expanding, protecting and prioritizing investment rights for global finance with its own global dispute resolution mechanism – both characteristically non-transparent and invasive of national sovereignty. Global trade politics reinforced Clarkson’s nationalism and made him a strong defender of Canadian sovereignty in a country whose national narrative is weakly and erratically nationalistic. This, too, is part of the story so far in Clarkson’s long view of trade politics.

The Fixers-Nixers Binary and Conundrum

What he understood at a deep level is that at one end of a very long spectrum of conflicting ideas were those who accepted the idea that the system can be reformed; hence, the term “the fixers”. A second group starts at the other end of the spectrum that the mandate of the WTO needs to get back to trade basics, the so-called “shrink it” alternative policy option. Finally, a lot of radical social movements accept as true that the WTO is too flawed to save, hence, they want “to sink it” and replace it with a different kind of global trade governance organization.

Of the three options, the first believes it is possible to find a way to put the WTO back together again like a Humpty-Dumpty character. Some kind of fixing could make its trade and organizational architecture less clumsy, more fleet of foot, transparent, accountable and functional. There are technical fixes such as scrapping its “all or nothing rule” that makes consensus among 160 governments with over 70 per cent from the Global South almost impossible. Before members agree on any new trade round with its dozens of committees, all members have to agree unanimously to it. Effectively, this gives the Global South and the BRIC countries a veto over so-called deal breaking proposals coming from the old coalition, composed of the US, the EU and Japan, a fact that did not escape Clarkson’s acute grasp of the power dynamics that kept the organization deadlocked. But institutional paralysis could not prevent fundamental changes to the global trade agenda and the most important was to expand the rights of global capital to hold governments to account.[16]

The Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren calls the highly contentious investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) the “clause everyone should oppose” , a position he heartily endorsed and that plays a large role in Clarkson’s concept of international political economy, precisely because it diminishes state sovereignty and it enhances multinational power to beat back the regulatory authority of government. Under the ISDS, corporations have sued the Mexican government for over 200 million USD and Canada for 157 million USD. At present, a U.S. company is suing Canada for another 250 million USD over a moratorium on fracking for natural gas, and another firm – suing for more than 100 million USD over the rejection of a mining permit after a Canadian environmental impact assessment proved the project to be detrimental – won its case.

So, removing the ISDS clause, a source of bitter and prolonged controversy, would be an obvious candidate to drop from trade agreements. The EU and recently Canada have gone on record to support the creation of an International Investment Court to address the growing number of investment conflicts that multinationals face. This, too, is a source of controversy, and it may take years before the Court is established and approved by all 27 parliaments.[17]

The Narrow Ledge of Trade Governance

The fact of the matter is that the WTO, since its establishment, is exclusively a producers’ organization for large multinationals and states, not for consumers, not “for the people”. This is why it has such a narrow focus and mandate, an institutional feature that Clarkson pushed to the center of his research analysis. What he documented was that, when commercial interests are found to conflict with environmental protection, access to generic drugs, labour standards, or industrial strategy, global commercial interests inevitably carry the day in the WTO’s court system with its highly constrained legal culture. Why, for instance, is “fair and equitable” treatment of a private investor given the status of a constitutional right when it only serves the needs of special interest groups? It is this threshold test, among others, that is so central to WTO legal culture that requires resetting. Without it how could the WTO have a fresh start with a different purpose and organizational architecture around aims such as egalitarianism, development and other socially progressive goals?

If the governance agenda for negotiating a new trade round is limited to only trade issues, the most contentious part of the agenda – intellectual property rights, investment rights, public procurement, access to generic drugs, food security and environmental sustainability require a different solution, one which does not come through the narrow lens of trade. In the Clarksonian gaze, complex policy issues have to be addressed through a different kind of governance body that is equipped to handle the goals and objectives of a broad-based jurisprudence and the right of individuals in all countries to seek redress and transparent arbitration.

It is not a good idea that we think of this new body as setting hard law legislative standards in many areas at the global level. Instead, what is needed is a legal culture of balanced adjudication and arbitration, a European-style court. This is the high standard to consider. The important corollary is that legal cultures are subject to many constraints and the most important is when global standards are low, no global organization can substitute itself for national decision-making bodies.

At present, in a way few predicted the WTO is in relative decline as a global governance body, marginalized by atrophy and growing irrelevance for many nations in the global South. For experts from the advanced industrial countries it is a mistake to think that international institutions are forever, the ‘eternal, unchanging guardians’ of the world order. The WTO is in a Braudelian “time bubble chamber” unable to adapt to the new set of circumstances after the 2008 financial crisis. Its institutional paralysis, if anything, has deepened in the post-Brexit, post Trump era.  The gravitational shift from trade-focused organization to an investment-centric institution has complicated the incredibly difficult task of building a new consensus.

Nor does the WTO have the resources to derail China’s well-advanced plans to create a parallel trade and investment global order with 100 or so countries. For the moment, only India and the United States are boycotting the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.(AIIB) To the surprise of few, bilateralism and regionalism are rapidly becoming the twin pillars of the new international order, largely, and surprisingly sponsored by China , through its $2 trillion global infrastructural initiative. And whatever strong doubts you may have about the efficacy of Beijing’s leadership, Chinese multilateralism is patiently waiting in the wings with its alternative institutions. For the moment we have entered a long transition period.

A Sartrian Dilemma: A World without Dominant Agency

In his last writings Stephen understood instinctively that in a multipolar world we cannot speak of a hegemonic order any longer because the world is so fragmented and fissured. Instead, it is more like a Sartrian moment, Huis clos: L’enfer, c’est les autres. But as Clarkson might have asked who exactly are the others?

Isn’t it more precise to say that it is ourselves and our dystopian fatigue who are responsible for the new age of high anxiety in some important way? This is the dilemma of our time which preoccupied Stephen Clarkson in his research and teaching. In an era of authoritarianism versus democracy, we need to rethink and re-engage with a global order that bears very little relationship with the precise rules and governance practices of global multilateralism. In his dystopian gaze,  Clarkson’s large, expansive  and rich narrative left little room for doubt that for him at least, there is no  single scripted or unscripted actor waiting to rescue a deeply troubled global order, today, tomorrow or anytime soon.

[1]    Among his many works are: Uncle Sam and Us: Globalization, Neoconservatism and the Canadian State, 2002, Trudeau and our Times (with Christina McCall),1990 and 1994, The Big Red Machine: How the Liberal Party Dominates Canadian Politics, 2005, Canada and the Reagan Challenge: Crisis in the Canadian-American Relationship, 1985, Does North America Exist?: Governing the Continent after NAFTA and 9/11, 2008, A Perilous Imbalance: The Globalization of Canadian Law and Governance (with Stepan Wood), 2010, Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct US Power (with Matto Mildenberger), 2011.

[2]    Kenichi Ohmae, A Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked Economy, HarperCollins 1994; Daniel Drache, Borders Matter: Homeland Security and the Search for North America, Toronto: Fernwood, 2004.

[3]    Clarkson, Uncle Sam and Us, note 1 above.

[4]    Stephen J. Toope, “In a Darkening World, It’s Time Canada Moved beyond Fear”, The Globe and Mail, 24 May 2016.

[5]    Daniel Drache, “The Canada European Free Trade Agreement: Ought we to be Worried?”, Transnational Law Institute, King’s College, London, 2016.

[6]    Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, New York: Norton, 2011

[7]    Paul Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, 2013

[8]    International Economic Law Blog, Anthea Roberts, A Turning of the Tide Against ISDS? 19 May 2017. Accessed ; Arthur Beasley, “EU Singapore ruling charts possible Brexit path”, The Financial Times, 16 May 2017.

[9]    Roberts, op.cit.

[10]   Joseph H.H. Weiler, accessible at

[11]   See WTO articles, Agreement on Implementation of Article VI of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade 1994 (Anti-Dumping Agreement) and Article XIII. Article 12.

[12]   Daniel Drache & Yin Jiyuan, “A Comparative Analysis Of Unfair Trading Suits By China, India, Canada, The United States And The European Union, 1995 to 2011,” in Daniel Drache and Lesley A. Jacobs eds. International Economic Law and Global Governance Crises and Resilience, Vancouver: UBC Press, forthcoming 2018.

[13]   I.M. Destler, American  Trade Politics, 4th ed. New York:PIIE, 2005.

[14]   Toope, note 5 above.

[15]   Dutch study of ISDS Awards, accessible at

[16]   Ed Broadbent,” Let’s make human rights central to a new NAFTA”, Globe and Mail, May 5, 2017, accessible at, Dani Rodrik, note 6 above, Rorden Wilkinson, What’s Wrong with the WTO and How to Fix it, London, Polity, 2014.

[17]   Anthea Roberts, IELP, 19 May 2017.

Categories: News for progressives

Smooth Sailing Ahead For the Global and Canadian Economy?

Thu, 2017-12-21 02:26

The consensus forecast of just about everybody – the IMF, the OECD, the Bank of Canada, the Canadian banks – is that Canada will share in a global recovery from the stagnation which followed the financial crisis of a decade ago. All of the major economies – the US, the EU, China, Japan – are growing; business investment is finally on the upswing from depressed levels; world trade is on the rise again; and fiscal austerity has more or less run its course. Central bankers, we are told, can be counted on to only gradually increase ultra low interest rates even as growth returns to near normal levels and employment recovers.

The world economy is forecast to grow about 3.7% in 2018, and Canada is forecast to grow at a respectable 2.5%, a bit below the rate in 2017.

This relatively optimistic outlook may well be true for next year. Many economic indicators are indeed very positive. But there are grounds to think that structural obstacles to a global recovery remain formidable. Indeed this view is registered by the financial markets in continued very low long term interest rates, which are based on an expectation of slow growth and low inflation over the next decade.

As widely noted, the recent upturn has been felt almost everywhere only very weakly in terms of wage growth, which is in turn by far the major determinant of household demand. Wages are generally lagging behind even weak labour productivity growth despite a significant fall in unemployment rates in the United States, Canada and even the European Union. In Canada, household spending growth has remained dependent upon increased debt rather than rising wages, even as the job market has seemingly tightened.

While the consensus forecast assumes that wages will gradually pick up, it is unclear what mechanism will reconnect wages to productivity growth in the absence of major structural changes such as the revival of a shrinking labour movement or hikes to minimum wages. The rise of insecure work seems to be limiting wage increases even at low levels of unemployment.

High and rising economic inequality is also a structural drag on growth. The continuing tilt of income growth to the most affluent means that a relatively high proportion of income gains will be saved rather than spent. The excess of financial savings over real investment is another reason why long term interest rates remain low.

High levels of household debt in many countries, again very much including Canada, also weigh against consumption and thus final demand growth. The pace of borrowing is likely to slow as interest rates creep up, making spending even more dependent upon wage growth.

Again as widely noted, following a very slow recovery, business investment remains sub par despite expectations of growth, and a large share of buoyant corporate profits is still being hoarded as cash or paid out to shareholders rather than re-invested. Part of the reason seems to be that growth has become more tilted towards the “new” high tech/digital economy where costly physical capital requirements are low compared to the “old”economy where expansion was based on major investments in new machinery and equipment rather than in intangible and relatively cheap intellectual and human capital.

Productivity growth remains low. For all of the talk of the emergence of a highly dynamic digital economy and the threat to jobs from artificial intelligence and the robots, growth in output per hour has been generally low, not least in the United States, and even more so in Canada. Pessimists point to the still small weight of the digital economy in the overall economy, which tends to low productivity growth due to the increasing weight of labour intensive services which cannot easily be automated.

The lack of global economic co-ordination also undermines the potential for sustained growth. The basic economic strategy of most countries, certainly including Canada, is to increase global market share through higher business investment combined with a competitive cost structure. Global competition and labour cost arbitrage by global corporations weighs against wage and income growth, fettering the growth of the overall global market. This structural problem may be exacerbated by openly protectionist trade policies if Trump prevails against liberal trade deals such as NAFTA and the WTO. Part of the solution is to co-ordinate expansionary fiscal policies and also to promote labour rights and standards across the global economy.

Added to the structural barriers to growth is the potential for systemic financial problems to once again undermine stability. A decade long run of very low interest rates has inflated numerous asset bubbles. Many countries, including Canada, have highly inflated housing markets which are vulnerable to a correction which would have a big negative impact on household wealth and spending. Equity markets are widely considered to be significantly over-valued, as are high risk corporate securities, creating risks for the financial system should prices fall. Many corporations have taken on excessive debt to pay out dividends to shareholders.

In sum, there are reasons to believe that the prospects for a sustained recovery of the global economy are not quite as robust as the new consensus would have us believe.

Categories: News for progressives

Extreme Wealth Inequality Persists

Mon, 2017-12-11 00:15

There was little or no media coverage of the release of data on the distribution of the wealth of Canadians in 2016 last week, perhaps because there has been little or no change since the last Survey of Financial Security in 2012.

The top 20% of Canadians own 67.3% of all net worth (assets of all kinds minus liabilities), almost exactly the same as in 2012.

The bottom 20% have no net worth, and the bottom 40% collectively own just 2.3% of all net worth.

The top 20% also own 74.6% of all financial assets (stocks, bonds, bank deposits etc) held outside of RRSPs and registered pension plans, while the bottom 40% collectively own just 3.5% of such assets. Financial assets outside of pensions total $1.4 trillion.

Unfortunately, the new data does not detail the breakdown within the top 20%. Even within this group, wealth is highly concentrated in the hands of the top 10% and top 1%.

Clearly, taxable income from financial assets (interest, dividends, capital gains, stock options) flows overwhelmingly to a relatively small number of people. If the federal government was serious about progressive tax reform, they would be reducing the preferential treatment of such income in the personal income tax system. Over to you, Minister Morneau.

Categories: News for progressives

Canada’s newly-unveiled National Housing Strategy

Fri, 2017-12-01 23:20

Over at the website of the Calgary Homeless Foundation, I’ve  written a blog post about the Trudeau government’s recently-unveiled National Housing Strategy.

Points raised in the post include the following:

-One of the Strategy’s stated objectives is to reduce chronic homelessness in Canada by 50% over 10 years.

-The Trudeau government claims that this is Canada’s “first ever” national housing strategy. That claim may not be accurate.

-The Trudeau government appears to be overstating the likely impact of the Strategy. Specifically, they claim this will result in four times as many new builds (annually) going forward as were built annually between 2005 and 2015. Yet, the evidence does not appear to support that claim.

The link to the full blog post is here.

Categories: News for progressives

Ten considerations for the next Alberta budget

Wed, 2017-11-29 20:47

On November 17, the working group of the Alberta Alternative Budget (AAB) sponsored a one-day workshop at the University of Alberta. The event’s main purpose was to discuss recent developments in Alberta public policy, as well as expectations for the upcoming Alberta budget. Twenty speakers presented in total.

In light of what was discussed at the event, here are 10 considerations for the upcoming provincial budget:

  1. Governments often face pressure to privatize important public services—yet, privatization sometimes comes with its own costs. According to my long-time social policy mentor Allan Moscovitch, privatization “refers to the movement from public to private service delivery.” Governments of all stripes typically want to reduce the short-term cost of delivering important services. However, privatizing important public services can result in higher costs of services, reduced quality of services, and a deterioration in working conditions. For example, during her presentation, Hitomi Suzuta noted that public long-term care facilities (operated by Alberta Health Services) provide approximately four hours of direct care per senior in a typical day, while for-profit facilities in the long-term care sector provide just three hours of direct care per day (for more on this, see this recent report by David Campanella).

  1. Provincial funding needs to account for demographic changes. In his presentation, Jonathan Teghtmeyer noted that, since 2009-10, the number of students attending K-12 schools in one of Alberta’s public, separate or francophone school boards has increased by 18% (as a result of both high birth rates and high rates of in-migration to Alberta). During this same period, approximately 3,000 new teachers were hired—but according to Jonathan’s research, Alberta would have needed 6,000 new teachers in order to maintain the previous teacher-student ratios.


  1. Inflation erodes the value of funding, and new funding levels need to reflect this. During our workshop, John Kolkman noted that, since the election of the NDP government of Rachel Notley in 2015, there’ve been no increases to social assistance benefit levels.[1] Yet, during this time, there’s been roughly 4% inflation—that means that the value of annual benefits received by Alberta’s social assistance recipients has decreased by this same amount. Considering that a ‘single employable’ adult on social assistance in Alberta (without dependents) receives approximately $8,000 a year to live on, such an erosion in annual income can make life challenging. (For a recent overview of inflation in Alberta, see this November 2017 piece. And for an overview of social assistance in Alberta, see this blog post.)


  1. When it comes to annual spending by Alberta’s provincial government, there’s potential for cost savings. In the K-12 education sector, the Alberta government gives $263 million annually to private schools—yet, not everyone considers this to be money well spent. Speaking at our workshop, Barb Silva noted: “Many Albertans have no idea that private schools in their province receive public funding.” And in the homelessness sector, it’s well known that targeted spending on affordable housing can reduce public spending in other sectors, most notably the health and justice sectors.


  1. In order for crucial public services to be financed in Alberta, there’s a need for tax reform. During his presentation, Nathan Jackson (an Edmonton-based economist) noted that Alberta is the only Canadian province without a provincial sales tax; he also suggested that Alberta introduce one (along with a rebate for low-income households). This, he argued, could help stabilize provincial revenue. A 5% provincial sales tax (with rebates for low-income households) could result in more than $4 billion in additional annual revenue for the province.


  1. Gender matters. In her presentation, Angele Alook stated that in communities where there’s a lot of resource extraction, there are high rates of violence against women. She also noted that, in those communities, most of the high earning jobs in those sectors go to men. Perhaps not surprisingly, Alberta has the highest gender income gap of any Canadian province. It should also be noted that Alberta has yet to introduce pay equity legislation.


  1. Alberta not only needs more jobs…it needs more ‘good jobs.’ It’s important to discuss the quality and cost of public services delivered. But it’s also important to remember that the workers who deliver those services often need to raise families and maintain healthy lifestyles themselves. Wages need to be in line with Alberta’s high cost of living, and job security matters. In his presentation, Christopher Smith discussed wages in Alberta’s early childhood education sector. He noted that the average worker in this sector receives an hourly wage somewhere in the $16-$23-per-hour range. (Of course, the Notley government’s move to increase the minimum wage by nearly 50% over four years is consistent with a move toward higher-quality jobs.)


  1. Not every community in the province has the same needs. For example, Medicine Hat’s municipal government is in an exceptionally sound fiscal position. On a per capita basis, its annual revenue is more than six times the average for a Canadian municipality. Medicine Hat’s municipal government owns several public utility companies (something that’s quite unusual for a Canadian municipality). It owns both an oil exploration company and a gas exploration company. And it owns more than 4,000 gas wells. All of this is very good for the city’s bottom line, allowing it to have the lowest property taxes in the country and the lowest utility costs in the province (and all of which contribute to Medicine Hat having a relatively low cost of living). This also makes it relatively easy for Medicine Hat’s municipal government to donate land for the purposes of subsidized housing—typically, the donated land covers one-third of the capital cost of new subsidized housing. (The dynamic whereby some governments having more resources than others at the same level is sometimes referred to as a horizontal fiscal imbalance.) Perhaps not surprisingly, Medicine Hat has very little homelessness relative to other municipalities; by contrast, there are more people experiencing homelessness in Calgary than there are in the rest of Alberta combined (a point made by my colleague Victoria Ballance during her presentation).[2]


  1. Good public policy needs to be well-funded, but regulation matters too. In his presentation, Christopher Smith noted that, when it comes to child care, Alberta has regulated spaces for just one in three children aged 0 to 5. In her presentation on long-term care, Hitomi Suzuta recommended that the Alberta government introduce regulations for supportive living facilities stipulating minimum staffing requirements. And in his presentation, Ian Hussey noted that the Notley government has announced the ‘phase out’ of coal-powered electricity production (by 2030) and that this will come with compensation for the plant owners, as well as a $40 million transition fund for coal sector workers.[3]


  1. Even in the context of discussions about Alberta’s provincial budget, the role of federal government remains crucial. Social spending in Canada often relies on federal leadership and cost-sharing with other orders of government. For example, during her presentation, Victoria Ballance noted that Alberta, along with all other provinces and territories, receives funding on an annual basis from Canada’s federal government to operate existing social housing units (mostly for low-income tenants). This funding does not simply cover the mortgages; it also helps with the ongoing operating costs—that is, the difference between the rent received from tenants and what it actually costs the housing provider to keep the units in a decent state of repair. Funding agreements, which typically last between 35 and 50 years, have already started to sunset and are scheduled to end altogether in 2039. Fortunately, on November 22, Canada’s federal government unveiled its much-anticipated National Housing Strategy which, among other things, announced a 10-year plan to preserve the affordability of those units (the plan requires provincial and territorial cost-sharing). This federal plan was excellent news for social housing providers across Canada!


In Sum. As the Notley government prepares to release another provincial budget, Albertans need to be mindful of the many layers of analysis required to properly assess the document. With that in mind, our November 17 workshop helped shed light some of the wrinkles involved in a provincial budget. My hope is that this November workshop, held on the eve of the Parkland Institute’s annual conference, becomes an annual event.



I wish to thank the following individuals for assistance in preparing this blog post: Laurie Adkin, Angele Alook, Sandra Azocar, Victoria Ballance, Carolyn Blasetti, Dave Campanella, Ian Hussey, John Kolkman, Lindsay Lenny, Mel McMillan, Rick Mueller, Nathan Jackson, John Kolkman, Michael Parker, Jenn Prosser, Barb Silva, Christopher Smith, Garry Sran, Hitomi Suzuta, Jonathan Teghtmeyer and Trevor Zimmerman. Any errors are mine.


[1] Specifically, he noted that since 2012 benefit levels for Alberta’s ‘big three’ income support programs haven’t increased (representing a 10% loss in their real value during this time). He was referring to Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped, Income Support, and the Alberta Seniors Benefit program. He also noted that income thresholds to qualify for child care subsidies were last increased in 2012.

[2] For more on how homelessness differs across Alberta communities, see this web link.

[3] The funding will ‘top up’ Employment Insurance benefits to 75% of a worker’s previous earnings. It will also provide some post-secondary education assistance and training. Approximately 2,000 workers will be affected.

Categories: News for progressives

Gimme shelter: is Core Housing Need a useful measure?

Tue, 2017-11-28 00:40

For a new CCPA blog post on housing (un)affordability, I dove into the latest Census data for Metro Vancouver. I used two series on shelter cost and shelter-to-income ratio, and found that 32% of households were paying more than 30% of income on shelter (all households, owners and renters) and 16% of households more than 50% of income on shelter. The latter number is pretty alarming: one in six households in Vancouver paying more than half their income just to keep a roof over their heads; that’s 150,430 households!

Then I noticed that “core housing need” (CHN) in Metro Vancouver was 17.6%, a figure that is way lower. I have always understood CHN as three dimensions: affordability, measured as households paying more than 30% of income; adequacy, whether the housing is in need of repair; and suitability, if you have enough rooms for everyone.

So, my thinking went, CHN should be all of the un-affordability I discovered, and then some to reflect the other two dimensions. How then could CHN be so much lower than the share of households with shelter-to-income ratio above 30%? My instinct was to go back and check my sources and my math, hoping I had not made a major error somewhere. But that was all solid. So I did a deeper dive on CHN to figure this out.

First, some households paying more than 30% of income on housing but are just taken out. Those who are paying more than 100% of income are pulled out. This would be folks who have a relative paying their bills, for example, but also people who are using debt or other income not captured in their total (perhaps capital gains or inheritances).

Also exempted are students, and I found this on the CHN entry in the Census dictionary:

Non-family households with at least one maintainer aged 15 to 29 attending school are considered not to be in ‘core housing need’ regardless of their housing circumstances. Attending school is considered a transitional phase, and low incomes earned by student households are viewed as being a temporary condition.

This seems odd to me, saying you are too young to be in housing need, even if you are spending a large share of income on housing.

Next, there is this page with the new Census data on CHN, which states that after tallying the three dimensions of CHN I cite above, then:

The second stage established whether the household could be expected to have affordable access to suitable and adequate alternative housing by comparing the household’s total income to an income threshold based on local housing costs. Only those households who could not afford alternative housing would be considered in core housing need.

That’s a bit of a muddle. I also found this 2008 article discussing the concept, which notes:

Much work has been, and is being done, to examine those who spend 30 per cent or more of their household income to determine if they do so out of choice, through having the means and preference to spend more than the norm for housing, or out of necessity, because of their low incomes.

In other words, there are some households who pay more than 30% of income, but do so by choice, and if they wanted to they could move into cheaper digs and no longer pay more than 30% of income for housing. There’s some logic to this, I suppose, but in Vancouver the vacancy rate is below 1%, and that’s driving up rents. For ownership, home prices have surged such that few can afford to buy the house they live in –  if they did not already own it. Unless you have a super-high income, on the margin you are looking at more than 30% of income in Vancouver for shelter.

The second stage is a black box, and perhaps that black box needs fixing. Whereas the share of households paying more than 30% is easy to understand, the determination of “comparing the household’s total income to an income threshold based on local housing costs” is not transparent. Rents in Vancouver according to CMHC have not gone up much in recent years, but that is because they are only counting decades-old purpose-built rental , while not counting the secondary suites and condos that have become a substantial part of the rental stock more recently. It is among the latter where loopholes allowing landlords “renovictions” and “fixed term leases” undermine rent controls, and have fed the dizzying cost of renting on the margin.

So Core Housing Need is looking to me more like the Low Income Cut Off is for measuring poverty: it is not straightforward in terms of measurement; was instead created by Canadian statisticians a long time ago to provide a more nuanced statistic; but, may no longer be relevant or helpful given changes in housing markets. There may also be some measurement issues.

Finally, I note that Steve Pomeroy makes some comments about CHN, welfare incomes and the feds’ national housing strategy plans in this piece for the Caledon Institute. He concludes:

As this analysis has revealed, core need is an ineffective and distorted measure of outcomes. Indeed, the federal and provincial/territorial governments could invest hundreds of millions of dollars to reform welfare and create a national housing benefit only to find that the levels of core need have not declined, even though housing affordability problems for many households had been alleviated.

So there you go, if you were wondering what the difference is between shelter cost greater than 30% of income and core housing need.



Categories: News for progressives

When Will the Fiesta Start? Mexico-Canada Relations in a New North America

Sun, 2017-11-26 03:53

Stephen Clarkson

The following is a contribution in the blog series on the exceptional contribution of Stephen Clarkson to Canada.  Stephen Clarkson died in 2016. The substantial work he undertook on Canada’s relationship to Mexico is particularly relevant today as NAFTA negotiations occur.

Stephen Clarkson

Laura Macdonald is a Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Institute of Political Economy at Carleton University. Her research is focused on the role of non-governmental organizations in development, global civil society, citizenship struggles in Latin America, Canadian development assistance and the political impact of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Among her publications are the following books: The Politics of Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean (forthcoming); North American in Question: Regional Integration in an Era of Economic Turbulence (2012) Contentious Politics in North America, Palgrave Macmillan (2009); Post-Neoliberalism in the Americas: Beyond the Washington Consensus?  (2009); and Women, Democracy, and Globalization in North America: A Comparative Study (2006)

Laura Macdonald

When Will the Fiesta Start? Mexico-Canada Relations
in a New North America

Laura Macdonald

North America and The Solidarity Of The Weak

Stephen Clarkson’s career began as a student of Soviet politics and his dissertation concerned. The politics of his own country, Canada, and he was part of the group of left nationalists who founded the “new Canadian political economy,” he retained a strong interest in the world and moved beyond the sometimes parochial concerns of that approach and its sometimes single-minded focus on Canada’s relationship with the superpower to the south, the United States. The signing of NAFTA in 1994, which brought Mexico into a close relationship with both Canada and the United States, led to an important shift in his focus toward comparative regionalism. He also developed a deep appreciation and knowledge of Mexico and contributed important insights to Canada’s relationship with that other “periphery” as he termed both countries.

While always clear-eyed and somewhat skeptical about the possibilities for cooperation between Canada and Mexico, he remained hopeful about the possibility to “diffuse American preponderance through a solidarity of the weak.” (Clarkson 2004, n.p., my emphasis). In the current conjuncture, this possibility remains more important than ever. While early phases of the Trump presidency showed Canada and Mexico somewhat predictably retreating into their own corners to deal with his disruptive influence, more recently the two countries seem to be moving toward a closer alliance. What can Stephen’s thinking tell us about the possibilities of cooperation between the two weaker partners in the NAFTA alliance in the face of a Trump presidency, and can they collectively achieve some shared objectives in the face of the Trump onslaught?

In this paper I will first examine Clarkson’s thinking about the nature of the Canada-Mexico relationship within the broader North American region, how it changed over time, and then will examine what his thinking tells us about the possibilities and perils of partnership between the two peripheries and the future of North America. For all the talk we’ve had of “three amigos,” the disparities and asymmetries of the relationship have seriously undermined regional cooperation even before the arrival of Trump.

The Disproportionate Power of the Hegemon in the North American Region

Clarkson began his study of the Canada-US relationship as a young academic caught up in the public outrage against the war in Vietnam. This deep moral commitment led to the publication of An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada (1968). In it, along with fellow contributors to the volume, he argued passionately for an independent voice for Canada, advocating not independence for its own sake or an idealized notion of the Canadian nation, but in order to spur the country to promote a more egalitarian and just social order both abroad and at home. He did not view the Canadian past in a rosy, idealized fashion, referring approvingly to David Wolfe’s description of the Canadian case as “bastard Keynesianism,” and to Jane Jenson’s reference to “permeable Fordism,” “whose bargain between business and labour leaders excluded other social forces” (Clarkson 2001: 503).

He also objected to the doom and gloom he perceived among some intellectual approaches to understanding the shift from a world of nation-states to the “post-sovereign” or “post-Fordist” order. He retained an optimism of the will. I argue, however, that he did remain a nationalist in that his ontological understanding of the global system rested upon the nation state as a still fundamental actor, even if its powers might be constrained by other actors, including supranational forms of governance like the World Trade Organization, and multinational corporations (see Clarkson 2001). And this position led him to reject the idea that NAFTA represented a “world region” in the sense that Europe was (a position that would also disqualify almost every other region from that terminology).
Clarkson’s approach also emerged out of the practice of teaching. In a 1972 article, he lamented the lack of social science courses on the Canada-U.S. relationship, caused by the lack of serious literature, of appropriate conceptual tools, and the “continentalism” of the Canadian scholarly community (referring here to the role of Europe and then the United States as the site of “professional finishing schools”). He devoted much of his career to the task of developing a body of analysis and adequate conceptual and theoretical tools to understanding that relationship, not just for analytical purposes but to help develop a Canadian academic community as a “motor of national development” (1972: 271).

Once the Canada-U.S. FTA was followed by the NAFTA, which included Mexico, his intellectual approach shifted and it can be argued that unlike most students of the agreement, he approached the three partners as deserving equal attention. With Maria Banda, he recognized that despite the fact that both “peripheries” faced a common challenge in their relationship to the partner in NAFTA, the United States, each continued to view their own problems separately “since the evolution of scholarship on Canada’s and Mexico’s place in the North American continent had long proceeded in its own two vacuums” (2004, n.p.). Because of the differences in the two countries’ historical and cultural origins, their commonalities did not become clear until the signing of NAFTA. Even then few analysts followed his path in systematically examining these commonalities as well as differences. These commonalities rested on the nature of their relationship with their common neighbour. Both countries had struggled with their relationship with the continental hegemon and world superpower for many years, but had struggled alone, failing to overcome those historical, linguistic, economic and cultural differences.

Neoliberals (who he insisted on referring to as neoconservatives) view FTAs as based on an equal playing field, in which all parties will benefit even if inevitably there will be some individual winners and losers. In contrast to neoliberal approaches, Clarkson emphasized the asymmetries and imbalances that prevailed in NAFTA. Based on his reading of history, and contra Trump, Clarkson argued (with Mildenberger) that the United States benefited enormously from its relationship with its weaker partners in terms of its wealth, domestic security, and international influence (2011: 247). In Uncle Sam and Us, he argues that  “NAFTA was carefully designed to prevent any form of continental governance. …CUFTA and NAFTA do indeed represent a sea      change for the two peripheral members of North America. Far from producing a system of continental governance in which Mexico and Canada would have had some influence their texts have reconstituted American hegemony in the form of an economic rule book that establishes an unevenly liberalized market and a set of supraconstitutional constraints on the policy-making options of both Canada and Mexico” (2002, 41-42).

Asymmetry The Fundamental Imbalance

In stark contrast to the uninformed rhetoric of Trump and his populist allies, Clarkson shows clearly that NAFTA was not a “a catastrophic trade deal for the United States” but rather a highly asymmetrical arrangement whose design the hegemon, the U.S., was able to dominate, and which drew much more benefit than its two weaker partners, Canada and Mexico. Nevertheless, his methodological nationalism may lead him to underestimate the harmful impact of the agreement on workers and marginalized groups in the United States – not that he did not recognize this impact, but it was not his main area of interest.

In a prescient discussion of the situation we soon might face, he noted that the asymmetry of the relationship comes out perhaps most clearly in the prospect of abrogation:  “De facto asymmetry characterizes NAFTA’s formally symmetrical clause defining how any ‘party’ can abrogate the agreement: it needs only to give its partners six months notice of its intention. The threat of abrogation has a very different weight in the hands of Washington than in those of Ottawa or Mexico City. American interests would be affected – but not radically so – if Canada or Mexico defected from NAFTA. Disaster would be the assumed impact on either of the peripheral states should the United States abrogate. Following their virtually complete integration in the continental economy, they would be forced to their knees if Washington threatened to terminate its participation in the agreement, a technique it used when it forced Hawaii to join the United States late in the nineteenth century” (2002: 41).

Clarkson advocated for a systematic comparison of the situation of the two weaker countries partly for analytical reasons, but also for political reasons, since the possibility of constructing a “solidarity of the weak” represented an important (perhaps only) tool for counteracting the disproportionate power of the United States in the agreement. He was, however clear-eyed about the obstacles to such cooperation.

In addition to the asymmetry that characterizes the North American region, he also recognized the fundamental “imbalance” – the discrepancy between the US-Canada relationship and the US-Mexico one. In Does North America Exist he asks whether this discrepancy is being diminished “as the two peripheral countries become more similar in their US relations” (18). In particular he focuses on the possibility that “the development of the third North American bilateral has helped Mexico to become more like its northern counterpart and so reduce the imbalance with Canada of its periphery-centre relationship.” He also asks whether North America has evolved away from its origins as essentially “two separate bilateral relationships to a more trilateral space” (19). I think he is saying no to the second question but yes (somewhat) to the first one, and that the current situation seems to point to the possibility of greater convergence between the two peripheral partners.

Canada and Mexico – Toward a Partnership of the Weak?

In Chapter 18 of Does North America Exist, Clarkson focuses directly on the development of the “third bilateral” relationship, that between Canada and Mexico. He begins with a recognition that a feature of the “old North America” (pre-NAFTA, even though Mexico was then still geographically part of the continent) was “Canada’s manifest disinclination – in terms of both economic self-interest and intellectual curiosity – to connect with Mexico. The opposite was equally true: even though Mexico’s exports to Canada were considerable, its political and cultural connections were minimal.” (2008: 417).

This lack of mutual knowledge or interest is developed more extensively by other scholars, including our mutual friend, María Teresa Gutiérrez-Haces. In Los Vecinos del Vecino (The Neighbours of the Neighbour), Gutiérrez-Haces traces the way in which the character of the Mexican and Canadian states have been modified as a result of the relationship with their neighbour, the United States. She examines how “the two semiperipheries of the United States, represented by Canada and Mexico, have responded in a parallel, sometimes simultaneous, and on numerous occasions inconsistent fashion, to the U.S. neighbourhood” (2015: 14, my translation).
Canada was initially alarmed about Washington’s decision to agree to Mexico’s request to enter into an FTA that would threaten Canada’s privileged access to the U.S. market, and decided to agree to a trilateral agreement in a defensive move to protect its hard-won gains in the earlier negotiations. Clarkson elaborates on how Canadian and Mexican officials slowly began to overcome their mutual disinterest as they first negotiated the NAFTA agreement, and after the agreement came into force senior officials interacted and got to know each other more (Clarkson 2008: 418). Economic interaction also increased fairly rapidly, although Mexico still represented a tiny market for Canada.

At the same time, the two countries continued to view each other as rivals for U.S. affections, and Mexico was concerned about Canadian multilateral involvement in promoting international human rights in the late 1990s (419). Despite occasional opportunities for collaboration, Canadian diplomats “resisted being associated in US politicians’ minds with a Mexico that translated politically as illegal immigration and narco-traffic”. (420). Canada also rebuffed the proposals of the first democratically elected Mexican president Vicente Fox, who in 2000 pushed for a deepening of the North American partnership to promote greater investment in Mexican development (421).

According to Clarkson, the September 11, 2001 attacks changed North America considerably because of the effects of U.S. (over)reaction to those attacks on the bilateral relationship between Canada and Mexico. Even though there was no increase in trilateral forms of consultation, let alone new continental institutions, the crisis led both Canada and Mexico to recognize their common dilemmas. And the two countries’ foreign policies converged in opposing the U.S. decision to invade Iraq.

One sign of increased cooperation was the creation of the Canada-Mexico Partnership (CMP) in 2004 (based on the model of the 2003 US-Mexico “Partnership for Prosperity”). Five working groups were established on the topics of urban housing, sustainable cities, human capital, competitiveness, and agribusiness. Copying the structure of the US-Mexico Partnership for Prosperity, each working group was headed by one representative from government and one from “civil society” (normally the private sector) from each country. The groups operate in a non-transparent fashion, closed to observers.

As a result, they are hard to evaluate, but, according to Clarkson, appear to be excessively bureaucratic and “oriented to do little more than help the Canadian private sector drum up some business in Mexico” (425). Nevertheless, they contributed to increased interaction between government and business elites from the two countries. Clarkson also discusses the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which is viewed in a highly positive fashion by both countries, despite criticisms that have been raised by academics and civil society organizations.

Overall, then, by the late 2000s, levels of interaction and limited coordination had been built between the two countries, even if the relationship was still overshadowed by the other two bilaterals – between the US and Canada on the one hand and the US and Mexico on the other. Clarkson judged at this point that this pattern of interaction had “helped Mexico reduce the asymmetry of its relationship with the United States and so diminish the imbalance of the two prime North American bilaterals. With North America’s peripheral members having developed an independent relationship of their own, it is clear that the continent’s governance is more than just a sum of their two relationships with the system’s hegemony”(434).

Constructing The Center Periphery Dynamic- ‘The Two Davids’

However in order to overcome centrifugal tendencies, the periphery could “play a special role in rebuilding the continent’s ‘regionness’ and so constructing US power itself”. This would require change on the part of the United States, but would also require Canadians to sacrifice. Canadians should “accept their own responsibility – and long-term self-interest – in helping Mexico break out of its vicious circles of corruption, criminality, and social disintegration” (Clarkson and Mildenberger 2011: 282); and Mexico itself, as this passage indicates, would have to embark on a difficult project of social, economic and political change.

In Dependent America, Clarkson and Mildenberger decry the fact that under the Harper government, Canada did exactly the opposite of taking responsibility for the situation Mexico faces. Instead, “Canada has played its own part in breaking down whatever trilateral solidarity NAFTA originally represented. Because it feared that its influence in Washington was contaminated by being associated with Mexico, Ottawa has taken pains to turn its back on Mexico. Openly, it instituted offensive visa requirements on Mexican travellers to Canada. Privately, it expressed reticence for a continental trilateralism that would link itself with Mexico in Washington’s eyes. Although the political, economic, and military conditions that had sustained Canada’s cordial transnational political culture with the United States have long since eroded, the Harper government is bent on resurrecting the two countries’ special relationship.”

They thus recognize that in order to break down the region’s disparities, the two “Davids” need to move beyond their differences (without ignoring their different economic, social, and political situations), and learn to work together. And in another prescient passage they warn: “The North American periphery has been Uncle Sam’s gold-laying goose for as long as most can remember. It would make an ironic epitaph for the United States’ hegemonic decline if alienating its most valuable and cultivated foreign asset accelerated its self-induced fall” (272). While Clarkson might not mourn the decline of U.S. power, which Trump’s pitfalls and machinations seem to be accelerating, he also recognized that the collateral effects on the former empire’s neighbours would be devastating.
What does a broad political economy perspective, that incorporates historical structures of oppression and is attuned to the asymmetries of the existing North American region contribute to understanding our current situation? And what can Canada and Mexico do to mitigate the damaging effects of Trump’s actions on their individual and mutual interests?

Trump, North America and Canadian Political Economists – “I told you so”

First, Canadian political economists are entitled to say: “I told you so”! While neoliberals continued to trumpet the clear benefits of free trade (without open borders) for decades, against substantial evidence to the contrary, political economists like Clarkson warned against the potentially devastating impact of the free trade agenda on the lives of ordinary citizens of the region. Although perhaps none of us could have foreseen the exact form blowback might take in the politics of the hegemon, it was not difficult to see that growing inequality would threaten the social contract on which Canada and the United States had built their (limited) versions of Fordism.
And in the case of Mexico, the threats of NAFTA and other neoliberal policies adopted by neoliberal technocrats since the early to mid-1980s were also not difficult to identify, even if few could have predicted the wave of deadly violence that the country has suffered since President Felipe Calderón unleashed his war on drugs in a bid for legitimacy after his closely contested electoral “win” in 2006 over leftist candidate Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.

And secondly, Clarkson’s analysis indicates the importance of an alliance of the two peripheries in response to the threat they each face in light of the Trump threat to rip up NAFTA, and other threats Trump has wielded against Mexico and Mexicans in the United States in particular.

The instinct of Canadian leaders (and many Canadians) is to distance themselves from Mexico’s problems and insist on the continued relevance of Canada’s supposed “special relationship” with the United States, a notion which, as Clarkson implied, was long obsolete.
This instinct was on display before Trump came to power when Stephen Harper imposed the visa requirement on Mexico, our NAFTA partner, in 2009. This move seemed to defy economic and political logic, since Mexico was one of the few countries where Canada could possibly expect to see significant economic prospects of diversification away from the declining U.S. economy at that moment. Most Canadian economic elites criticized this decision. In 2010, Canada also placed Mexico on a list of “designated countries of origin,” as part of Bill C11 – the “Balanced Refugee Reform Act”. This move suggested that Mexico was a country that was not producing legitimate refugee claimants, in defiance again of logic and evidence, given that country’s high levels of violence, serious record of human rights abuse and widespread impunity.

In the process, Canadian officials shifted from justifying these moves in terms of Mexican “queue jumpers” and “bogus claims,” to linking them in a xenophobic fashion to fears of criminality spreading to Canada as a result of Mexicans’ unrestricted access to the country (Gabriel and Macdonald 2014). This decision of the Harper government caused enormous shock and disappointment among Mexicans at all levels of society, who were accustomed to thinking of Canada as a remote, but friendly partner, and less racist than the United States. One op ed in El Universal, Mexico’s leading newspaper, for example, asked, “How to explain such a clumsy measure as the visas for Mexicans? It is an inefficient decision, since it corrected a relatively small problem by causing one of greater dimensions….[Harper] tried to confuse Mexicans by claiming that a North American trusted traveller program would be adopted. This doesn’t mean eliminating the visas. Furthermore, lacking solid arguments, immediately on returning to Canada he linked the problem of the visas with the incapacity of Mexico to control illegal migration – to Canada? – and even with problems derived from organized crime. This shift in his discourse is at least negative and ultimately counterproductive” (Reyes Heroles 2014, our translation, cited in Gabriel and Macdonald 2014).

The result was a diplomatic showdown and the decision of Harper to postpone and eventually cancel the North American Leaders Summit, scheduled to be held in Canada in 2015, partly because of the tension with Mexico. The deterioration of the relationship between the two peripheries thus contributed to sidelining the entire North America agenda in this period.

The Trudeau Rebuilding Exercise: Summitry and Lifting The Visa Requirement

In contrast, when Justin Trudeau came to office in 2015, one of his main goals was to “renew and repair our relationships with our North American partners”. The Liberal Party election platform stated: “For the past decade, Stephen Harper has led a government that is increasingly partisan, suspicious, and hostile when dealing with our closest neighbours: the United States and Mexico. We will end this antagonism and work with our partners to advance our shared interests. As a first step, we will immediately lift the Mexican visa requirement that unfairly restricts travel to Canada, and commit to rescheduling and hosting a new trilateral leaders’ summit with the United States and Mexico.” (

Trudeau made good on this promise by hosting the North American Leaders Summit in June 2016 (where his bro-mance with both of his North American counterparts was highlighted for public relations purposes) and lifting the visa requirement for Mexicans in December 2016.

In addition, in October 2016, then-Foreign Affairs minister Stéphane Dion met with his Mexican counterpart, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, in the first Canada-Mexico High-Level Strategic Dialogue The meeting was designed to advance on commitments made during Peña Nieto’s state visit to Canada and to promote cooperation in areas such as “cooperation in security and student mobility, best practices in consular management and increasing prosperity for Canadians and Mexicans.” Dion and Ruiz Massieu also discussed the political situations in Colombia, Venezuela and Haiti, reflecting increased willingness to coordinate foreign policy positions on issues in the hemisphere.

They also announced the creation of an annual bilateral dialogue on human rights, reinitiated an annual dialogue on multilateral and global issues, and established a high-level task force bringing together various government departments to address challenges within the extractive sector in Mexico. The creation of the human rights dialogue was especially significant as it displayed the Canadian government’s recognition of the need for serious and open discussion of the many human rights issues facing Mexico, and the Mexican government’s willingness to discuss these sensitive issues with Canadian counterparts, at least behind closed doors.
The election of Donald Trump in November 2016 ended these gradual signs of improvement of the North American relationship. Trump’s rhetoric represented an attempt to re-assert U.S. hegemony in the region and the world. The rhetoric was particularly hostile toward Mexico, with threats to “build a wall” and to make Mexico pay for it, the threat of deportation of 11 million undocumented migrants (and the attendant impact of the drop in remittances), about 5 million of whom are Mexicans, the threat of a border adjustment tax, and the threat to rip up NAFTA. All represented blows to Mexico’s economic and political stability and national pride represented most vividly perhaps in the online ripostes of former President Vicente Fox. The peso hit a record low of 22.03 to the dollar, pressured by concern over a potential trade war between the United States and Mexico.

The economic implications for Mexico are disastrous if even some of these threats are enacted. One Mexican analyst predicted that if Trump fulfills his campaign promises we could see a fall of 4.9% of GDP in the first year of his mandate. These economic problems would aggravate long-standing economic problems with the Mexican economy – the country has experienced low levels of growth since NAFTA took force and poverty and inequality rates remain extremely high.

In response to these threats, the Liberal government initially appeared to retreat to Canada’s long-standing default position, which is to prioritize the U.S. market. Dion was replaced by former trade minister Chrystia Freeland, who was given responsibility for U.S. trade relations and the NAFTA file. On her list of “top priorities” in her mandate letter was to “maintain constructive relations with the United States, Canada’s closest ally and most important economic and security partner”. Dion had been told in his mandate letter to both improve relations with the U.S. “and strengthen trilateral North American cooperation with the United States and Mexico” (MacCharles 2017).

The Canadian Pivot Betting On The Canada US Relationship Most of All

Freeland was apparently selected because of her strong connections in the United States and the perception that the cerebral Dion would not make a good negotiator. The Trudeau government also launched a campaign to make connections with the Trump team, especially with Trump’s influential son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and mobilized a group of well-connected Canadians like former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, to try to get the ear of the new U.S. administration to convince them they had little to gain from picking a fight with Canada. There was much talk of “throwing Mexico under the bus” (Carmichael 2017). Although Freeland stated after taking on her new position that Canada supported NAFTA as a trilateral agreement and had spoken with Mexican colleagues, senior officials were quoted as saying there was no intention of creating a common front against the U.S. over NAFTA since this could bring heat onto Canada (Ljunggren 2017).

A January 24th, 2017 Reuters article quoted government sources on the sidelines of a cabinet retreat who stated that Canada would focus on its own bilateral relationship with the U.S. and would not step in to protect Mexico from being targeted: “We love our Mexican friends. But our national interests come first and the friendship comes second,” The same sources stated Canada and Mexico had little in common: “Trump is unhappy about the large U.S. deficit with Mexico and has promised to punish firms with manufacturing bases there.” Another source quoted in the same article stated: “Our negotiating positions are totally different. Mexico is being hung out of a skyscraper window by its feet,” (Ljunggren 2017).

Former Canadian ambassador to the U.S. under Brian Mulroney and NAFTA negotiator Derek Burney has been called upon to provide advice to the Trudeau government on the current situation. Burney told Maclean’s Evan Solomon (2017) that Canada should immediately abandon its relationship with Mexico: “We should not indulge in ridiculous posturing – like getting together with Mexico to defend our interests, when Canada has very different economic interests than Mexico. It is a fundamental error to conflate them.” Trump appeared to be engaging in “divide and conquer” rhetoric by talking about merely “tweaking” the relationship with Canada while engaging in fierce attacks on Mexico that led to the cancellation of the planned visit of President Peña Nieto to Washington.

Mexicans were certainly not oblivious to the Trudeau government’s wavering commitment to its NAFTA partner. Prominent Mexican academic and media commentator Denise Dresser published a blistering op ed (2017) in the Globe and Mail, which stated that despite the presence of many Canadian companies in Mexico, “Mexico has never been part of Canadians’ mental map. It remained a distant, unknown, uninteresting place, rarely covered by the media, rarely part of the conversation.” And since Mexico became Trump’s “whipping boy,” she noted with disappointment the “weighty silence” of Trudeau, Freeland and Canadians in general about the depiction of Mexicans and the idea that Canada would dump Mexico and negotiate a bilateral FTA with Washington:  “But today, we are disappointed and with good reason. It seems that Canada is compassionate, but on a case-by-case basis. It appears that Canada extolls its inclusive identity, but when push comes to shove, that identity is not tied to North America or to Mexico. Canada has the right to renegotiate NAFTA on its own terms, to ignore the plight of displaced and persecuted Mexicans. It can even turn a blind eye to the recently discovered mass grave in the southern state of Veracruz, with 250 victims of the country’s continuing violence.

But please, at the very least, don’t wrap yourselves in the flag of moral self-righteousness. Canada’s treatment of Mexico reveals the country as it truly is: a place not that different from the United States, where interests matter more than principles, where interests are more important than ideals. And please remember the next time you open the door to a Syrian, you just slammed it in the face of a Mexican.”

Is Canada Dumping Mexico?

Former Mexican foreign minister Andrés Rozental (2017) also denounced the strategy of dumping Mexico: “The Trump presidency should bring Mexico and Canada much closer together, not tear us apart. Whatever trade or investment measures the U.S. applies to our country may end up harming Canada as well and destroying the competitive advantages that the North American value chain has brought since NAFTA came into force 23 years ago.”

Other long-time NAFTA analysts and advocates like Colin Robertson have urged the Canadian government to establish common cause with Mexico, expressing the view that Canada could not avoid experiencing collateral damage with any Trump administration protectionist measures against our NAFTA partner, even if Canada was not the main target. John Weekes, Canada’s chief negotiator for NAFTA, responded to suggestions that he had received that Canada should pre-emptively pull out of NAFTA, reverting to the 1988 Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement, to distance itself from Mexico. “I understand the psychology,” They think the Trump administration sees Canada as good guys, “and the Mexicans as a bunch of rapists,” so we can do better without them. “But we don’t know what the hell [the U.S.] will propose…What’s the advantage in acting?” (Clark 2017).

Former Canadian ambassador to Washington, Michael Kergin, stated, “He’s certainly got Mexico in his sights but it’s a three-way agreement. What hits Mexico will inevitably have an impact on us.” Similarly, former CUFTA negotiator Gordon Ritchie stated, “If barriers are put up against Mexican imports into the United States, we would be affected because of supply chains” (Freeman 2017). Flavio Volpe, president of the Automotive Parts Makers Association of Canada claimed that the “sentiment ‘we can do this bilaterally’ will damage the prospects for the auto sector, which relies on trilateral relationships and [product] flows” (Fife 2017).
These reactions suggest that Canadian elites recognize that North America is indeed a region, however dysfunctional, and that any disruption to one of the “prime bilaterals,” in Clarkson’s terms, would seriously affect the other. In any case, it appears that the Trudeau government realized that its early reaction was short-sighted. As well, a month later, in the light of the chaos and ineffectiveness of the Trump regime, it appeared that standing beside Mexico was not as risky as it had initially thought. On February 21, 2017, Freeland assured Mexico that Canada would stand beside Mexico and would not seek a bilateral deal with the U.S. Freeland phrased this as a technical response to the nature of NAFTA: “…we very much recognize that NAFTA is a three-country agreement, and if there were to be any negotiations, those would be three-way negotiations,” even if some issues would be discussed with the United States on a bilateral basis.

Trade minister François-Philippe Champagne reiterated in a visit to Mexico in March that “NAFTA is a three-nation agreement. So the way to renegotiate a three-nation agreement is on a trilateral basis”. Nevertheless, when push comes to shove, it is possible that Canada may revert to its bilateralist impulse if Canada and Mexico are unable to agree on negotiating positions, or if Trump insists on punishing Mexico while somehow exempting Canada from protectionist measures.

The Clarkson Legacy

Stephen Clarkson has left us – too early – but has left behind a rich body of analysis that will help us interpret the monumental challenges we face as a country and a region. There is much to be learned from his work about the limitations of the NAFTA model and what measures states and leaders can and should adopt to achieve a better neighbourhood. As I have discussed in this short essay, despite his nationalist political leanings, he was an early and consistent internationalist in his intellectual interests. Nowhere was this more evident than in his treatment of the Canada-Mexico relationship. The emergence of the Trump challenge has heightened both the insecurities and vulnerabilities of both countries, and the importance that they work together.

Clarkson was highly critical of the anachronistic and close-minded tendencies of Canadian leaders who reflexively tend to shy away from the Mexican liaison. Most of his work focused on the actions wise Canadian leaders could take to improve our country’s position, but he viewed Mexico as an inevitable and necessary partner in limiting the power of the U.S. hegemon in the North American region. Unlike some government and business spokespersons who also advocate working with Mexico, he also recognized that in order to build a healthy region Mexico needs to undertake tough reforms to address the problems of inequality, poverty, corruption and violence that afflict that nation. Moving away from the neoliberal model that Mexico has embraced since the mid-1980s is a fundamental first step toward that objective, even though such a shift would not be welcomed by business elites.

Ayres, Jeffrey and Laura Macdonald. 2012. “Introduction,” in Jeffrye Ayres and Laura Macdonald, eds. North America in Question: Regional Integration in an Era of Economic Turbulence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 3-32.

Carmichael, Kevin. 2017. “Canada shouldn’t throw Mexico under the bus to placate Donald Trump”. Canadian Business. February 6.

Clark, Campbell. “Trump’s negotiation tactic for NAFTA? Creating chaos”. Globe & Mail. January 27.

Clarkson, Stephen “Reform from Without versus Reform from Within:NAFTA and the WTO’s Role in Transforming Mexico’s Economic’s%20Role%20in%20Transforming%20Mexico’s%20Economic%20System.pdf

Clarkson, Stephen. 1972. “Lament for a non-subject: reflections on teaching Canadian-American relations” International Journal, Vol. 27, no. 2.

Clarkson, Stephen. 2001. “The multi-level state: Canada in the semi-periphery of both continentalism and globalization. Review of International Political Economy, Vol. 8, no. 3, 501-527.

Clarkson, Stephen. Uncle Sam and Us.

Clarkson, Stephen. Does North America Exist?

Clarkson, Stephen and Matto Mildenberger. 2011. Dependent America? How Canada and Mexico Construct U.S. Power, University of Toronto Press.

Dresser, Denise. “Canada is suffering from a case of selective compassion.”

Fife, Robert. 2017. “Canada won’t abandon Mexico in NAFTA talks, Freeland says”. Globe & Mail, February 22.

Freeman, Alan. “Trump has aimed his NAFTA criticism at Mexico. But Canada is now worried.” Washington Post. January 19.

Gabriel, Christina and Laura Macdonald. 2014. “At Cross Purposes: Refugee and Immigration Policy versus Foreign Policy in the Canada-Mexico Relationship,” Paper prepared for 2014 Canadian Political Science Association Meetings, Brock University.

Global Affairs Canada. 2016. “Minister Dion concludes successful visit to Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras”. October 15.

Gutiérrez-Haces, María Teresa. 2015. Los Vecinos del Vecino. La continentalización de México y Canadá en América del Norte. Mexico City: Universidad Nacioanl Autónoma de México and ARIEL.

MacCharles, Tonda. 2017. “Mandate for Canada’s foreign affairs minister is now to focus on America first”. Toronto Star. February 1.

Reyes Heroles, Jesús. 2014. “Visas Harper,” El Universal, February 27.
Robertson, Colin. 2017. Canada and Mexico must stand together amid trade threats”. Globe & Mail, January 16.

Rozental, Andrés, “Mexico – and Canada – stand to lose in the Trump years,” Globe & Mail, January 27.

Solomon, Evan. 2017. “Why Canada – and its economy – has plenty to fear from Trump”. January 24

Categories: News for progressives

Louis Pauly on Clarkson’s Great Transformation

Tue, 2017-11-21 00:08

Lou Pauly

The following is a contribution in the blog series on the exceptional contribution of Stephen Clarkson to Canada.  Stephen Clarkson died in 2016.

This piece is by Louis W. Pauly who is the J. Stefan Dupré Distinguished Professor of Political Economy at the University of Toronto. He is cross-appointed to the faculty of the Munk School of Global Affairs.   His publications include twelve books with his most influential work focusing on the politics of global finance, economic crisis management, and multinational corporate structure and strategy.

Stephen Clarkson’s Great Transformation
Louis W. Pauly

From Innisland to Polanyi

Stephen had a complicated relationship with a country that had changed dramatically during his lifetime. He was a 68er, who came from what would have accurately been described as the elite of his generation in what used to be called Upper Canada. Even if they hardly appreciated it at the time, the members of that group had inherited the rapidly expanding Canadian political economy of the post-war years. That economy was somewhere between Innis’ commodity-based dominion of the British Empire and the emerging continental production system of our own time. Stephen learned to like neither—despite being a prime beneficiary of both. Like Abe Rotstein, Mel Watkins, and his friend Daniel Drache, he yearned for a relatively more autonomous, prosperous, and egalitarian country—a country different from the late-imperial one that had benefited him at Upper Canada College, Trinity College, and Rhodes’ Oxford.

Needless to say, the nationalism born of that yearning, that aspiration, was complex.
The frustration created by the gap between aspiration and reality defined Stephen and his generation. That generation truly lived through a great transformation. No wonder they were inspired by Polanyi! They were born in Innis-land. They grew old in the land of the continental supply-chain, a land that seemed destined to be ever more deeply integrated into a financial and innovation system grounded in political structures south of the border. The best of both worlds? Some say so. But Stephen rejected that rosy view. He saw only a transfer of colonial allegiance. In the days of Trump, who can plausibly argue that he was wrong to hope for something better, something more noble.

Personally, I’m glad that Stephen did not have to witness the abomination currently unfolding in the USA. He might have liked it too much. It would have taken away more of the shades of gray that lie in between the urge for Canadian autonomy and the reality of deepening social and economic integration. It would not have led him to optimism.
The Legacy of ’68 and Stephen’s Elite Past

One thing, though, always did leave a smile on Stephen’s face. He loved his students, and he loved teaching them about Canada in a changing world. Of course, he had some unfair advantages. At the end of every year, he would visit the undergraduate office in the Political Science Department. There he would find out who were the top undergraduates finishing third year. He would gather their names and addresses, and over the course of the summer he would write personal letters to them. The letters invited them to register in his famous fourth-year political economy seminar. Ah, despite the legacy of ‘68, the old instincts persisted! He wanted to work with the best, he wanted to shape the leaders of the next generation, albeit now a truly multicultural generation. And he did work with them. During his last decade, he found ways to take his seminar-students—the survivors of a rigorous selection process—abroad. Every year, he led them on serious research missions, which would always lead to a collaborative publication. And despite his stated disdain for the glittering prizes of his own elite past, he would quietly but exceedingly diligently work very hard to help the brightest of his students win Rhodes, Commonwealth and other prestigious graduate scholarships.

For present purposes, it is quite interesting to note the research theme that his students and he pursued in those seminars during his last years. It was the same theme that continued to win him distinguished research grants in Canada and Germany—so much for the idea of retirement, which he detested! The theme was comparative continentalism. It was not exactly clear where that research was going, but let me take some guesses and put it into the longer term context of contemporary political economy.
Stephen’s doctoral dissertation dabbled in Marxist thought. In retrospect, it can be hard to distinguished from a critique of hyper-liberalism: a global division of labour, the rise of boundary-spanning markets beyond the control of nation-states, the inherent value of labour inexorably usurped by capital, the inexorable rise of an impoverishing system that in the end would surely collapse. Alas, that nightmare abated in the post-war years and especially in the wake of rising nationalism in the 1960s. By the 1970s, the Vietnam War rendered the prospect of globalism seriously problematic, for here was a misguided venture opposed by national and international capital, the defense industry notwithstanding, but pursued to its hideous conclusion by a hegemonic state that could no longer calibrate its own fundamental interests but could indeed control markets.

Clarkson’s Pan Canadian Nationalism: One of His Red Lines

In its wake locally, though, came not Stephen’s dream of a new pan-Canadian nationalism, or Abe Rotstein’s and Mel Watkins’ infrastructure for an independent Canada. No, in its wake came the Auto Pact, the FTA and then NAFTA. And during the same era, Canada itself almost fell apart with the Quebec referenda of 1980 and 1995. Stephen was not happy. Eventually, his unhappiness found a focal point in the Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism at the heart of NAFTA, a structure that seemed to lock Canada into a single continental economic system with an accountability flaw at its heart. The US Congress still held the ultimate whip-hand, but Canadians had no representatives in that ultimate decision-making body. There is no doubt that had he survived to the present moment, his attention would have been riveted on this particular, and particularly ironic, aspect of the NAFTA renegotiation demanded by Trump.

For Stephen, I think, whether one’s political economy priors have Marxist, liberal or even Gilpin-style realist roots, the resulting research questions today are three: was the North American experience of transformation and trauma in traditional authority relations happening elsewhere? If so, was the direction of change toward fragmentation or integration? And what were the most consequential political reactions locally?

Stephen’s research guided by these questions was still underway when he died, but a couple of books had come out along the way and many papers were in the pipeline. I do not know where his unfinished magnum opus would have landed on these questions. But my guess would be as follows.

The Terrible Spectre of a Contested Future

Continentalist ideologies remain ascendant in the real world of political economy. Who can doubt the existence of a US-centered North and South American economy—linked by finance, goods and services, drugs, labour mobility, and a US-defined rule of law? Who is not asking him or herself right now if that regional economy is being matched by a rapidly evolving German-centered Europe? (By the way, I’m sure Stephen did sense that during his last years; he was as attracted by German culture and by the post-war German idea of the social market economy. Note in this regard that by his own request half of his ashes are now buried in Germany.) And finally, who is not fascinated these days by the implications of China’s rise in Asia?

By the time he left us, though, I think Stephen was aware of the fragility at the core of each of these continental economies, the continuing, even deepening, linkages across them, and perhaps most importantly the ideological weakness of continentalism. Unlike most variants of nationalism, it seems not to call forth any potentially constructive passion. But around the world, it certainly does seem to inspire a spirit of passionate resistance. And thus might Stephen have concluded.

His students, though, could not stop there. For they had begun to see clearly the immensity of the challenges in front of their generation. The problems of collective action looming—from climate change to financial instability to refugee-generating conflicts around the world—could not be avoided. If the nation-state was no longer up to the task of problem-solving, if nascent continental polities were incoherent, if supranational institutions were absent or ineffective, that only serves to clarify things. If they remain inspired by Stephen Clarkson, they will take that clarity as a challenge, the starting point for new and urgent research.

If Stephen had lived long enough to be inspired by that next generation and to write yet another book of his own, he might have looked to his past work for an appropriate title. He might have called it “Canada and the Global Challenge.”

Categories: News for progressives

Andrew Cooper on Stephen Clarkson’s Foreign Policy

Mon, 2017-11-20 22:01

The following is a contribution in the blog series on the exceptional contribution of Stephen Clarkson to Canada.  Stephen Clarkson died in 2016.

This piece is by Andrew F. Cooper, who is a Professor at the Balsille School of International Affairs and the Department of Political Science at the University of Waterloo.  He is also the Director of the Centre for the Study of Rapid Global Change.  Andrew Cooper is the author of 9 books including Group of Twenty (2013) Internet Gambling Offshore (2011) and Celebrity Diplomacy

Stephen Clarkson’s ‘Foundational Text’ on Canadian Foreign Policy

Andrew F. Cooper

Canada and The World Then

 We collectively miss Stephen Clarkson but our individual intellectual understanding and appreciation of his work are quite different. Stephen was idiosyncratic, in the sense that it is difficult to typecast him too tightly via a particular framework although the new Canadian political economy comes closes (Cameron, 2016). He was hopeful for Canada’s future, but his analysis led him to pessimistic conclusions. He despaired about the limitations of Canada’s ‘mandarins’ (especially its diplomats) but had high expectations for both citizen based activity and some technocratic driven policy solutions. And he appreciated ‘big’ individuals in a manner rare for a political scientist, but was duly worried about the nature of that personalism, especially emerging from the US with bouts of go it alone zealousness.

To try to tease out some of these fascinating features about Stephen’s thinking with regard to Canada’s position in the world, I have gone back to what is his foundational work – his edited collection An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada? Published in 1968 this volume attracted attention not only from established academics but aspirant scholars (including myself as an undergraduate). Although I didn’t know Stephen at the time, I was intrigued and to some extent inspired by his animation of this collection.

Organizationally there is a lot about An Independent Foreign Policy that speaks to Stephen’s personality. This was not a work with one tightly controlled view. Rather it was a pluralist endeavor containing chapters by many of the big highly argumentative academics of the day (if with only a single female contributor, Pauline Jewett, a gap Stephen made up later in life with an array of female collaborations).

Substantially the topics especially in the opening section remain – in a time of Trump – highly relevant. The Myths of the Special Relationship, Quiet Diplomacy revisited, Retaliation? Confronting Uncle Sam!

Stephen’s own contributions in binding the collection together are significant in locating major points of continuity and adaptation in his later (prolific) writings. Therefore, although not as well-cited now as many of these subsequent works it is a valuable exercise to go through An Independent Foreign Policy as we remember Stephen and celebrate his contribution.

Canada’s Potential versus Structural Limitations

At the core of Stephen’s work is what he considers the Canadian conundrum, the tension between Canada’s (unrealized) potential versus the formidable structural limitations (Clarkson, 1968: x). Indeed, it was this tension that underpinned An Independent Foreign Policy.

In general mindset Stephen was an optimist. Indeed, in many ways, he was the godfather of a wave of books (many decades later) that advocated Canada go beyond its traditionally cautious and modest habits, and go big in terms of ambition. A primary example of this evolution is Jennifer Welsh’s book, At Home in the World (2004), framed by the aspiration that Canada should be a model international citizen. Another example of this ambitious construct comes from Michael Byers, of the University of British Columbia, in his Intent for a Nation (2007). The core themes of this ‘model citizen’ approach is to look to a fully post-colonial Canada, with a deep distrust for the status quo.

What is striking from the start then is a rejection of the positioning of Canada as a quintessential middle power, at least how that framework has been identified and utilized by practitioners and mainstream academics. While of course he comes back to the middle power notion later on in his career, he never embraces the middle power model in terms of its familiar diplomatic toolkit.

The Search for Alternatives

Nor however does Stephen embrace the alternative notion that Canada is destined to be a principal or foremost power. Although this school – led initially by James Eayrs (also at University of Toronto) gained some strength by the mid-1970s, Stephen kept his distance. Stephen was extremely interested in institutions, but the institutions that grabbed his attention were almost always exclusively economic (and in large part continental) in nature. Unlike other University of Toronto colleagues (such as Bill Graham and John Kirton) he did not engage deeply in the debates about the G7/8.

What was salient to Stephen – and increasingly so after the publication of An Independent Foreign Policy – was the substance of political economy rather than the practice of diplomacy or geo-politics. In this shift we can see a fundamental split between Stephen and other key individuals that advocated a revisionist foreign policy in the mid to the late 1960s.

It is pertinent here to also note the divergence between Stephen and Lloyd Axworthy. Akin to Stephen, Axworthy departed from the established tenets of the past with considerable impatience with the static quality of Canada’s traditional middle power diplomacy.  Explicitly, Axworthy wanted to liberate the middle power model from its identification with the fixed ‘order’ driven worldview of the Pearson era. This impatience was a long-standing condition, which may be traced back to Axworthy’s younger days as a critical observer of Pearson’s “worth[y]” but “grey and oh so solid” diplomacy. As neatly captured, for instance, in a series of newspaper articles that Axworthy wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press in September 1965, this sense of impatience pointed – like Stephen’s – toward diplomatic activity that was more noisy and public-oriented (Axworthy, 1965).

But the divergence between Stephen and Axworthy after the late 1960s is illuminating. Shut out of the NAFTA debates, Axworthy’s focus as minister was towards a more fluid focus on ad hoc, normative driven issue-specific coalitions of the willing. The most dynamic expressions of this narrative come on the issues of land mines, the ICC, and the advance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) The narrative of the Axworthy doctrine puts orthodox conceptions of security and national interest on the defensive; at the same time, it is an implicit criticism of traditional Pearsonian conception of middle power diplomacy, as it regards this approach as being too slow and too cautious.

Stephen retained an interest in these sorts of diplomatic initiatives. In a 2010 talk he pointed to how the land mines and ICC initiatives were examples to how pressure from civil society could influence government (Clarkson, 2010). Yet, this was not at the heart of his concern, as he privileged less specific cases of diplomatic success but the need to address structural conditions.

Such ambition fitted into his original desire and optimistic spirit to reach Canada’s unrealized potential but also to highlight his enveloping concerns (even pessimism) that the structural constraints were simply too great. As he suggested: “These examples give some sense of how citizens have tried to correct the constitutional imbalance that is constraining the regulatory state, exacerbating global inequalities and threatening the planet’s survival as a hospitable environment for human life. But activism is not enough. If the market’s capacity to self-destruct is to be contained, governments must get in step with their citizenry to give clear priority to human emancipation” (Clarkson, 2010).

Stephen’s appreciation of the structural constraints facing Canada pushed him further into the analysis of political economy. If the Independent Foreign Policy volume was animated largely by the Vietnam war, over time it was the issue of how ‘Continentalism’ compromised the Canadian economy and constrained the Canadian state that dominated his work.

Clarkson:  The North American Political Economist

Others in this collection will deal with Stephen’s association with the study of new Canadian political economy in greater depth. What I will add is above all my appreciation not only of the depth of Stephen’s knowledge but also the extent of his normative commitment on these issues. Even scholars who disagreed with Stephen acknowledge the nuanced approach that Stephen used to tease out the contours of Continentalism, and the full implications of these conditions. As rehearsed most specifically in  his book 2008 Does North America Exist? Stephen revealed the highly varied nature of those contours, with some sectors, for example, water management and the steel industry, far more integrated than would be expected.   In others (like intellectual property and financial services), bilateral relations and globalization are more powerful forces than regional convergences (Clarkson, 2008).

In terms of normative concerns where Stephen has had the most influence of later debates is his showcasing “Canada’s Secret Constitution” Consistently, Stephen emphasized the undemocratic manner by which NAFTA – along with the WTO – “create a new mode of economic regulation with such broad scope and such unusual judicial authority “that it entrenches certain inviolate principles or norms that are above the reach of any politician to alter.”(Clarkson, 2002).

As always with Stephen he continued to expand his intellectual horizons, moving from a concentrated focus on Canada to extended studies of the trilateral North American relationship including in considerable detail Mexico, and the comparative study of NAFTA and the European Union. In both cases not only did he tap into some valuable themes, not least the huge asymmetries among the three partners, and the absence of a European-style system in North America of multi-level governance.

Gaps in the Clarkson Oeuvre

All of this is not to leave Stephen free of criticism (although he would be quick to debate these issues). His focus on structural conditions has a mercantilist air about it, with a conflation between US state and commercial interests. As we see to some extent through the Nixon years, and more robustly at the beginning of the Trump administration, however, this connection can be broken. It is not only the asymmetry between the US and its North American partners that needs study, it is also the asymmetry between different winners and losers in the US as well as Canada and Mexico that merits attention. Stephen put a heavy weight on the ‘hollowing out’ of corporate Canada, but without the same appreciation of how corporate America has hollowed out investment and jobs in the US, leaving space open for a populist backlash. Stephen could argue that, “NAFTA cannot be blamed for the growing income inequality within the US economy [- whereas] free trade appears causally related to the various factors increasing economic disparities within Canada and Mexico” – this is not the message drummed home with considerable impact by Trump (Clarkson, 1998).

A second criticism at least for liberal internationalists is the disjunction between Stephen’s normative-oriented criticisms about NAFTA, the WTO and indeed many other institutions and the hold of the more pragmatic attitude of Canadian citizens and politicians. Dealing with the US in terms of institutions might be bad, but dealing with the US without institutions is worse. The Trump attacks on NAFTA, the WTO, and NATO brings this embedded attitude out. Whatever the difficulties of having NAFTA in place – with a US imposed Chapter 11 highly prominent in terms of policy output – are the difficulties of dealing with a unilateral ‘rogue’ US without some ‘insurance’ from increased risk of arbitrary and unfair treatment.

And finally, there is the question of the EU model as a suitable alternative design. Stephen is highly laudatory of the EU model, both in terms of “the strength of its institutions or the sophistication of its jurisprudence. Yet, no less than in North America, the process towards continental integration could be viewed by the peripheral countries as “fast but secretive, controversial, and divisive, privileging business interests and excluding social partners” (Clarkson, 1998).

All of this is not to detract from Stephen’s contribution. On the contrary, in many ways what we find with the Trump phenomenon is a reinforcement of the accuracy of many of the other themes that Stephen concentrated on. No less than when he edited An Independent Foreign Policy, it is the centrality of the US relationship to Canada that comes to the fore. When there is space – for example – in the aftermath of the Cold War Canada could downplay this relationship as it main game. But when things get tough, as in the Reagan years or with Trump the main stream dominates. So, in this sense, Stephen’s work remains a crucial guide for understanding Canada’s position in the world.

The Deficiencies of Canadian State Practice Still Haunts Us

A second major theme that comes out of An Independent Foreign Policy is an intense frustration with the bureaucracy ‘managing’ Canada’s place in the world. If the structural conditions imposed enormous constraints on Canada’s freedom of action, these limitations were exacerbated by a combination of “traditional elitism and secrecy” (Clarkson, 1968: xi). Such a culture immobilized big creative thinking and action.

As in later eras, Stephen was appreciative of some of the contextual difficulties, especially the need to work under conditions of the communications revolution. But there was a deep concern whether under any circumstances Canadian mandarins had the will to things differently beyond a crisis management approach.

This critique was another sign of Stephen’s distance from orthodox scholarship about Canadian foreign policy. For most academics up to the late 1960s celebrated Canadian diplomats and policy makers more generally for their skills.

Stephen punctured this sense of pride and image of superiority. Not for him the art of the possible, or mere problem solving. In many ways, this distaste connected with his suspicion that the functional approach in regard to institutions undersold Canada, with an onus on joining and status enhancement as opposed to a transformative ethos.

Stephen came to see Canada as a middle power in terms of its place in the hierarchy of nations (a semi-peripheral country) but he never embraced middle power diplomatic techniques. In some areas this was by omission, as there was only brief mentions of mediation as a primary focus of attention.

The main cause of contestation was on the primacy of quiet diplomacy in the Canadian repertoire. For the traditional ‘External Affairs’ mandarin this was the dominant practice in the tool kit. What was important was access and influence in Washington DC. Urges to criticize the US and US leaders should be tempered. Changes in US policy should be anticipated before they go public in an atmosphere of controversy. And there should never be the utilization of retaliation via linkage of issues.

In hindsight much of Stephen’s critique in An Independent Foreign Policy seems quite moderate. After all he played down the revolutionary dynamics. Arguing that Canada did “not need the mountain moving voluntarism of Mao. simply needs a leadership that can make it clear to the public – if not in a little Red book at least in a White Paper- what role Canada can play and how its objectives are to be achieved.” (Clarkson, 1968: 268).

Moreover, some of the changes pushed for by Stephen were coming into being albeit unevenly. One of the first things the government of Pierre Trudeau did was to start a conversation about foreign policy – a conversation that continued in a variety of structured forms in later years. Plus, we can see bursts of activity trying to do things differently in foreign policy, from the Third Option to the National Energy Program (NEP) related initiatives in the early 1980s.

Stephen was supportive of these efforts, and of course distressed when the momentum for both opening up the debate on Canadian foreign policy and the implementation of robust policies dried up first in the Mulroney years and then the Harper years. In doing so he became a key source of memory in the championing of an open autonomous foreign policy.

Yet as with any robust template for foreign policy there are points of contradiction and gaps. For the paradox of moving towards an autonomous and robust policy template in the early 1980s was that the actual policy making process reverted to the closed format that Stephen was so frustrated about in the 1960s. The only difference was that instead of a generalist elite dominating foreign policy it was now a centralizing cohort of technocrats inside central agencies.

Trudeau’s Failed Third Option:  The Reagan Cowboys

The NEP shows off this problem of reconciling dialogue among Canadians and the pursuit of robust policy making. As Stephen appreciated the process of decision making was secretive not only in the context of public dialogue but bureaucratic interaction: “remov[ed] from the normal process of interdepartmental consultation..[with DEA] ‘not informed until the last moment” (Clarkson, 1982: 79).

At the same time US retaliation showed itself to be no paper tiger. With the US first Reagan administration in place retaliatory pressures increased, with the Trudeau Liberals shifting from the practices of accommodation of the past to a “complacent and superior” positon that was premised on the notion that the “Californian cowboys” needed time to learn their job (Clarkson, 1982: 32).

The hard-line position of the Reagan administration was complicated further by the fact that the Trudeau government had expected some support for a global initiative on North-South relations. Not only were these (unlikely hopes) dashed but Canada found itself under pressure from Washington’s “institutionalized and unpredictable vulnerability” a doctrine of reciprocity that pushed the Trudeau government (again to Stephen’s frustration) to seek again the “advocacy of indirect means of influence” on issues such as Cruise missile testing. As Stephen suggested – very much in the mindset of An Independent Foreign Policy– this backtracking marked “a striking resemblance to the old quiet diplomacy approach and offers as little concrete evidence of its effectiveness” (Clarkson, 1982: 282).

Where the mantra of retaliation did creep into the Canadian agenda was at the sub-national level, a domain allowing for some considerable fragmentation on issues of provincial responsibilities. This type of action was of course most recently highlighted by BC Liberal leader Christy Clark, who on the eve of the recent election pushed for retaliatory trade threats to pressure for a softwood deal: “With our ban on moving thermal coal, we have got the Americans’ attention…We aren’t going to be weaklings” (Bailey and Hunter, 2017).

Stephen’s main contribution to the debate about Canada’s own practice was as a catalyst for change in change. Arguably more than any other text An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada opened up the debate about how accepted practices had run their course. Few pushed back to defend the Department of External Affairs as the core ingredient in the making of foreign policy. And the manta of quiet diplomacy lost ground accelerated over time to new and sophisticated practices of public diplomacy and national branding designed to cushion Canada from retaliatory activities).

Nonetheless, Stephen set himself a high bar to pass in terms of wanting both an open citizen based and coherent technically sound foreign policy. As the experience of the Trudeau government showed in the early 1980s robustness commonly combines with a revised form of elitism. What is more, under the structural constraints that Stephen so ably depicted, any departure in the traditional habit by legitimizing retaliation runs risks especially in the context of an America first administration – whether Reagan or Trump.

Continentalism and Canada’s Perennial Leadership Dilemma

Arguably the main point of departure of Stephen with most of his counterparts studying political economy – or International Relations more generally – is his appreciation for not only agency but the individual agency. Although to be sure a good deal of his work focused on the structural imposed by Continentalism, space opened up over time concerning how of major individuals influenced policy making decisions.

Here it is not so much An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada that acts as the foundation for this appreciation, but arguably his earlier work on Nehru and other ‘third world’ leaders focused upon in his thesis and subsequent publication on The Soviet Theory of Development (Clarkson, 1978: 265).

As alluded to by the reference to Mao and Canadian public policy, Stephen did not show expectation in An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada for a dynamic form of personal leadership in Canadian public policy. Nonetheless, he clearly expected more in terms of leadership than what was on offer by Lester Pearson in the 1960s.

To Stephen, Pearson’s instincts for quiet diplomacy (if useful at the time of the Suez crisis) had become a weakness weighing Canadian foreign policy down. As he writes Pearson’s has turned an “unobtrusive” style of diplomacy – “tactics which lead to his own international successes in the mid 1950s into a dogma that frustrates” (Clarkson, 1968: 265).

As well rehearsed in a host of later publications, Pierre Trudeau was far more Stephen’s image of a leader. And although on many specific occasions frustrated by his actions, Pierre Trudeau was the model that Stephen used to judge other leaders right up to the time of the government of Justin Trudeau (Appel, 2015).

If he found Trudeau fascinating (and in many admirable) Stephen became just as taken up by the personality types of American leaders. An indication of this shift from structure to agency in studying Continentalism is his tile of Canada and the Reagan challenge (as opposed to the neo-conservative challenge).

NAFTA and Market Integration

As a consequence of this shift Stephen became a close observer of bilateral (and later trilateral) summits between North American leaders. In the actual benefits of these summits Stephen was ambiguous. In some appearances, he supported greater institutionalization: “it’s amazing actually to think that, given all the attention spent on NAFTA, the three heads of government don’t meet regularly. They didn’t even meet after September 11, 2001, when the borders were blockaded, which put the whole notion of NAFTA in jeopardy” (Clarkson, 2005). At the same time, though, he was as worried as other observers that such meetings could be highly problematic, animating a securitization of North America.

But the importance of Stephen’s bringing individual agency in is that he was (or could have been!) well situated to take into account new unanticipated and disruptive changes at the apex of the US political system. A major contribution of his in the 1980s was to capture the individual importance of the Reagan challenge: “Reagan was serving notice on the world that America’s decade of instability and indecision was over [with a) simplistic and self-serving moralism” (Reagan, 1982: 21).

While a topic never allowed to be elaborated upon, Stephen was early on aware of the “tsunami” like implications of a Trump victory (Metro, 2015). In a December 2015 public event in Toronto he signaled that the Trump revolution would go beyond that animated by Reagan or George W. Bush “He’s off the map, even for conservatives”. Stephen stated, adding that Trump would “create an earthquake with Canada suffering tidal wave” (Metro, 2015).

The Clarkson Legacy

From his editorship of An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada, therefore, Stephen indicated his unique attributes as a scholar and a commentator. While building on his expertise in political economy in comparative perspective, he honed in on the Canadian continental condition. Although immersed in theory of economic development, what jumps out is his eclecticism: his concern with history and his blend of an analysis of structure and over time an appreciation of big personalities, albeit not always in a positive fashion.

For all of these of reasons– and many more- Stephen stands out among Canadian intellectuals. Yet if we miss him, we can still learn from him, not the least about how to balance tough interrogation of what is happening in everyday politics and policy making with an enthusiastic expectation that we can move beyond cautious and limiting habits.


Appel, Jeremy. 2015. “The Harper Doctrine in Red? Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy” Canadian Dimension, 1 June <>

Axworthy, Lloyd. 1965. “Canada’s Role as a Middle Power.” Winnipeg Free Press, 8-9 September.

Byers, Michael. 2007. Intent for a Nation: What is Canada for? Madeira Park, BC :Douglas & McIntyre.

Cameron, Duncan. 2016. “Why is Justin Trudeau invited to the White House?” Rabble, 8 March 2016 <>

Clarkson, Stephen. 2010. “The unbalanced world of global governance,” Globe and Mail, 19 March

Clarkson, Stephen. 2008. Does North America Exist? Governing the Continent after NAFTA and 9/11. Washington, D.C., Woodrow Wilson Center Press.


Clarkson, Stephen. 2002. “Canada’s Secret Constitution: NAFTA, WTO and the End of Sovereignty?” CCPA, October <

Clarkson, Stephen. 1998. Fearful Asymmetries: The Challenge of Comparing Continental Systems in a Globalizing World 

Clarkson, Stephen. 1982. Canada and the Reagan Challenge. Toronto: Canadian Institute for Economic Policy.

Clarkson, Stephen, ed. 1968. An Independent Foreign Policy for Canada? Toronto: McClelland and Stewart for the University League for Social Reform.

Metro (Toronto). 2015. “A president Donald Trump would be a ‘tsunami’ for Canada: Prof”,  (Toronto) Metro, 2 December <>.

Welsh, Jennifer (2004) At Home in the World: Canada’s Global Vision for the 21st Century. Toronto: Harper Collins.




Categories: News for progressives

Ontario’s Electricity Sector IV: Pre-Election Update

Sun, 2017-11-19 19:43

My first, second and third posts on the Ontario electricity sector described how policy and administrative decisions by different Liberal Governments gave rise to excess electricity generation with an inflated cost structure, leading to higher electricity prices. In anticipation of June 2018 elections, the Liberal Government recently implemented a costly and first-in-Canada financial scheme to fund its “Fair Hydro Plan” (FHP) to provide a short-term 17% price reduction. Given that the FHP is now a financial reality, this post focusses on the options available to a new Government with respect to both the FHP and the main driver of Ontario’s inflated cost structure, long-term contracts with independent power producers (IPPs).

Matter #1: What to do about the FHP

Ontario consumers received an across-the-board 25% reduction in electricity prices in July, consisting of 17% from the deferral of certain Global Adjustment (GA) costs and 8% from the rebate of the provincial portion of the HST. With respect to the former, Figure 1 updates my earlier analysis with publicly-available data from Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer, showing that the FHP borrows about $18 billion in the short term and pays back about $39 billion in the long term. This scheme is designed to lower prices in anticipation of the upcoming election; it does not reduce underlying costs, only defers them.


It is clear that the Liberal Government will continue the FHP if returned to power. While the Conservatives and NDP both voted against the FHP-enabling legislation, neither has yet clearly stated what they would do if in power. The challenge is that the FHP requires the Government to continue to approve borrowing to keep prices below costs for an extended time period for political advantage. Many alternative borrowing schemes with different interest costs and political repercussions could be devised. Figure 2 presents my design of an Alternative Plan that would reduce the total amount of borrowing by about 55%, simply by transitioning back to cost-based pricing soon after the election.



As shown in Figure 3, the difference between the two plans is significant, at over $22 billion in the repayment phases. After a period of artificially low prices, both plans bring prices back to or above costs. The FHP has prices below costs for a total of ten years, the Alternative Plan for about half that time. Once borrowing has to be repaid starting in 2028, the prices under the Alternative Plan would be significantly lower than under the FHP. What would the Conservatives or the NDP do if they were elected in 2018? Would they continue with something along the lines of the FHP that they have critiqued? Or would they take the economically efficient but politically riskier  option to return prices to costs faster than in the FHP, perhaps as in this Alternative Plan?


Matter #2 – What to do about the Contracts

In previous posts, I demonstrated that the main policy driver responsible for Ontario’s inflated electricity cost structure has been the adoption of regulation-exempt, bilateral long-term contracts to procure new private-sector generation capacity.  This policy approach guarantees private producers a specific price at which they can sell their electricity, regardless of the market price. Figure 5 shows how installed capacity has evolved over time and how publicly-owned generation under OPG (both regulated and under contract) has declined and been surpassed by contract-based private generation. (The Bruce nuclear facility is a special case, a type of revenue-generating public-private partnership (3P) whereby management and financing is private while the infrastructure remains public; that is now also under contract.)


Has this bilateral long-term contract approach turned out to be good public policy? In the broader context of a political decision to have new generation provided only by the private sector, this approach may have been necessary in the early days of reform in the mid-2000’s to attract adequate private sector financing. However, such an approach soon become antiquated and indeed unique in North America, where other market-driven jurisdictions were implementing more flexible and less costly means to procure capacity. Indeed, in the context of the current Market Renewal process in Ontario, the Government has accepted that one such approach, Incremental Capacity Auctions (ICA), would replace long-term contracts as the means to procure capacity going-forward.

But that policy decision does not address the effects of the legacy 29,000+ long-term contracts totaling about 28 GW that have been signed and for which rate-payers are on the hook for another 10 to 20 years. It is the payment of such contracts that drive future costs; their review is the only means of lowering such costs. To ensure that such a review is a fair and reasonable policy option, it is important to discuss again why many of these contracts were not good public policy, putting these contracts into conceptual context as yet another type of 3Ps wherein the asset ownership and revenues of a traditionally public service (electricity) is private with a revenue stream guaranteed by the public. One of the Government’s stated reasons for the adoption of the private sector contract approach was that the public would not bear the risks of construction cost overruns and delays. That risk was in effect transferred to the private sector. However, these contracts failed to transfer two types of commercial risk, leaving them wholly with the public.

One such risk is associated with excess capacity. In a competitive market with free entry/exit, a situation of excess capacity would not hold for long because the corresponding lower market price would drive higher-cost IPPs out of the market. That does not occur in Ontario under the contract approach because the market price is only a small portion of the revenues received by IPP, the rest being the GA. So there is no exit, and the public continues to pay for unneeded capacity and curtailed electricity.

The other type of risk is associated with the difference between contract versus market price. The long-term cost trends to generate electricity depend on technology, input prices and technological developments. In Ontario, the market price of electricity has been in steady decline since about 2008-2009 (consistent with other competitive energy markets in North America). In the meantime, technological improvements have resulted in a steep reduction in the price of renewables generation. Rate-payers have only benefited partially from these developments. For example, standard offer solar contracts signed in 2009 will mean that rate-payers will continue to compensate IPPs until 2029 at the rate of $800/MWh set in 2009, rather than the current competitively-contracted average price of $155/MWh.


So what are the options available to a new Government interested in reducing future costs by reviewing some of these contracts? First, it is important to create a hierarchy of contracts to understand the task at hand. By way of background, of the 28GW total contracted, OPG and Bruce account for 11GW. Of the remaining 17GW, about 5GW are accounted by about tw0-dozen larger contracts that were negotiated bilaterally, about 6GW were procured by standing offer arrangements (accounting for nearly 29,000 smaller contracts) and about 6GW were procured competitively via about 70+ contracts. This means that about 11GW were contracts that were not competitively sourced and whose contract price was established via negotiation or administratively. I would suggest that it is these contracts that could be first on the list to be reviewed. Second, it is also important to note that their review would not be an easy or fast process (otherwise it would already have been done) and is subject to legal and political risk because these contracts include termination and other compensation provisions if they are unilaterally amended by the Government. The specifics of such provisions, however, like the rest of the contracts, are confidential (at least for the bilaterally-negotiated contracts); therefore, these options are necessarily preliminary, and may have to be revised based on a review of such provisions.

  • Option #1. Negotiation. The Ministry could indicate to some IPPs that it wants to re-negotiate the corresponding contracts with the objective of reducing contract prices. The affected IPPs would have to determine whether to participate or to remain shielded behind the termination/compensation provisions and risk the uncertainty associated with the new Ministry proceeding with one or both of the options discussed below.
  • Option #2. Cancellation of Contracts with no special additional compensation. The Ministry could cancel some or all contracts, which would mean that the affected IPPs would no longer receive the GA or any curtailment payments, but would revert to the pure energy market of 2002, receiving only the market price (HOEP) for actual electricity dispatched. From the public side, the savings would be significant. Some of the affected IPPs would claim compensation in courts and international fora, and Ontario’s regulatory reputation in the energy sector would be further damaged, thereby further raising the risk-premium for future private investment in the sector. In the context of the current excess capacity, I can see a number of scenarios wherein the long-run public savings would be greater than the corresponding costs, especially if the Government decided to revert to earlier policy of giving primacy to the public sector in any required new investment after the current surplus situation is concluded around 2024-25. A variation of this option is that in tandem to the cancellation, the Government also enacts legislation that shields it from any claims of additional compensation, along the lines argued in this legal note.
  • Option #3. Replacement of Contracts with a new regulated regime. The Ministry could amend/cancel some or all contracts, replacing the compensation-related provisions with a new regulated regime. There are of course many options in this regard, but the main principle would be to provide for a regulated rate of return (ROR) for IPPs. One variation of this would be to establish a going-forward IPP-specific compensation regime providing such an ROR over the life of the project. For example, say that the calculated net revenue requirement to earn the regulated ROR for a particular 20-year project is $10 million, and over the last 10 years the project has received $7 million. Without any change, the project would receive another $7 million in the next 10 years, meaning that by its end, the project would have been over-compensated by $4 million in excess of the reasonable ROR (of $10 million). Under this example, the Ministry could revise its compensation regime downwards so that this IPP would receive only $3 million over the next 10 years, for a total of $10 million over the twenty years. A relatively efficient application of such a regime would likely be based on a series of economic models of efficient firms using current technology that could be updated periodically. Such models would be designed with the objective of capturing the majority of the affected IPPs, rather than having to review and calculate the ROR for every IPP. However, the Ministry would also need to carry out case-by-case reviews of the largest contracts and consider any special cases by appeal. My hypothesis is that total compensation to IPPs would be reduced considerably compared to the status quo under this option. It is possible that a portion of the affected IPPs would claim compensation in courts and international fora, but I suspect that it would be fewer than under Option 2, that a lower percentage would be successful and that any damages would be orders of magnitude less than the savings to the public.

There are tens of billions of dollars at stake. The Liberal Government has indicated that they will not review any of these contracts. What would the Conservatives or the NDP do if they were elected in 2018? Free from association with past policy mistakes and alliances, would they try to turn the political spotlight on some of the IPPs to see whether it strengthens their hand in future potential negotiations? Or will they take the well-worn path, throw their hands in the air saying there is nothing to be done (now that they have access to the confidential contracts) and continue to blame Liberal Governments for another generation, while rate-payers continue to pay for those mistakes?

Categories: News for progressives

Why Toronto needs a national housing strategy

Sat, 2017-11-11 23:53

Dr. Colin Phillips is an up-and-coming scholar in Canada’s homelessness sector. He has an opinion piece in today’s Toronto Star titled “Why Toronto needs a national housing strategy.”

Points made in the opinion piece include the following:

-The City of Toronto has worked hard to develop good practices on the ground to address homelessness.

-But, like all of Canada’s major urban centres, it can’t properly address homelessness without substantial increases in funding from the federal and provincial governments.

This opinion piece is quite timely, as a new “national housing strategy” is expected to be unveiled by the Trudeau government later this month.

On Monday, the Calgary Homeless Foundation will be publishing a peer-reviewed report authored by Dr. Phillips. That report’s focus will be Toronto’s Streets to Homes program (a program that provides immediate access to housing to persons experiencing homelessness).

Categories: News for progressives


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