Liberal MP Scott Brison has just returned from the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland. I spoke to him about his trip, and about why Obama’s budget could be a problem for Canada.
Q: How was Davos?
A: It was very good. I’m just summarising everything and working on an op-ed. I gave a speech summarising some of my observations at the Canadian-Swiss Chamber of Commerce on Monday night in Geneva, so it was very good. But very busy.
Q: How would you rate the Prime Minister’s debut performance at the World Economic Forum?
A: I think it’s good for a Prime Minister to be there. I think if anything, I’d like to see more ministers go, and I’d like to see more Prime Ministers and ministers more engaged there, not just going and doing one or two sessions, but actually participating in a lot more sessions. I see cabinet ministers from other countries much more engaged, and people who will be much more active at Davos than our ministers. In fact, Canada used to up until a couple of years ago, sponsor a big reception every year that attracted movers and shakers from around the world. I think that’s important. You’ve got some of the best business and economic thought-leaders in the world. The troubling part of Mr. Harper’s performance was he was the only leader from anywhere who failed to understand the opportunities of the green economy. He said that any measure to address climate change would hurt jobs and the economy, and that was at odds with what everybody said. The fastest growing part of the 21st century economy, the greatest level of opportunities in the 21st century economy will be in clean energy and environmental technology. China gets it, European countries get it, and in fact the Americans under Obama are starting to get it. The US Republican Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, actually said that six months ago he was concerned about pricing carbon in the US, that it would hurt the US economy. But he believes now that the longer they wait, the further ahead China is going to be in the green economy. Stephen Harper still does not recognise the opportunities of the green economy, and frankly his performance in Davos was consistent with his performance at Copenhagen, and in both cases, he’s bad for our brand.
Q: With respect to Obama, there’s been a lot of talk this week about his new budget package, and the possibility of thirteen new “Buy American” provisions.
A: Not have an overly technical discussion, the Buy American provisions are what we’re tremendously concerned about, and they were part of the Obama stimulus package, and the provisions came into effect almost a year ago – February 17th, and the Harper government has failed miserably to defend Canadian interests against them, and we’re coming up to a year, and I talk to industry leaders, and companies, and employers, and mayors all the time about this, and they are disillusioned and dispirited with the lack of effort by the Harper government.
Q: The possibility of potential thirteen new provisions are just going to compound that problem?
A: The Buy American provisions further divide the Canadian and US economy, and as such, they make our North American economy less competitive and more vulnerable to where the real competition’s coming form, and that’s China and India. The fact is that China, India, Japan – Asian nations are taking down their trade barriers. They’re more deeply integrating their economy. In North America, we’re still having this discussion with the Americans on Buy American, and frankly there’s a lot of protectionist sentiment in Congress, and the Harper government has failed to engage Democrats. The Harper government focused for the first three years on the Bush Republicans. Now the Democrats are in the White House, and they have very few friends with the Democrats on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Q: When I mentioned the Buy America provisions the other day, I had a comment asking what’s wrong with Buy American or Buy Canadian provisions within those countries. You’re the trade critic – can you explain that?
A: What happened around 1929-1930, at the dawn of the Great Depression, what really turned what was a financial crash into a global depression was American protectionism in a piece of legislation called Smoot-Hawley that led to global retaliation, and my fear is that one of the real risks of the Buy American provisions as they are now, is retaliation that leads to a deepening of trade barriers around the world. From Canada’s perspective, we depend on the US market more than they depend on our market, so we have a disproportionate interest in open borders, but the dialogue that we should be having with the Americans is around energy security. Let’s focus on where we are really valuable to them, and have the dialogue around an area where we have some power. We have power around energy security, and we should be building a deeper relations with the Americans around energy and energy security in three key areas – one is the pricing of carbon; number two is with energy grid modernisation and energy grid infrastructure; and number three is around the research and development of clean energy technologies, particularly around clean conventional energy technology like CO2 sequestration. In fact, Canada should be hosting a North American energy summit with national and state-level leaders, so premiers and governors as well as representatives from the Administration.