Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Canadian Politics Turns to Farce and the World Wonders Why We are Becoming Global Underachievers

Here is our LaPresse column that was published on May 20, 2007. It was inspired by Satya Das, my business partner, and his recent excursion to Hong Kong and India for one of our projects. It has caused a flurry of emails out of Quebec since it was published. Many of them are angry over how we framed Duceppe and others agreeing that Canada is punching well below its weight in the global reality of today.

Satya Das and Ken Chapman
After a frenetic week of business in Asia, it is a joy to step into the chilled cabin of a plane bound for home, take a long drink of clean water, and catch up with the SRC news.

The joy quickly fades. There on the miniature screen is the anguished face of Gilles Duceppe, explaining himself with all the conviction of a boy caught raiding the liquor cabinet. After the intense, concentrated, high-energy atmosphere of Delhi and Hong Kong, this farcical slice of Canadian politics is just too much to bear, especially when you’re flying 11 kilometres above the South China Sea.

In Delhi, people of serious intent asked about the status of India’s pursuit of a free trade agreement with Canada – they wanted to know how the idea was being received in Canada, and did the politicians and the public approve?

One had to reply, with considerable embarrassment, that India-Canada Free Trade really wasn’t on our political radar screen in Canada. We were too preoccupied with the minutiae of minority governments, with the junior high-school antics of sniping party leaders. Indeed, our national media has not even taken notice of the Indian overture. Why bother with the long-term sustainability of our economy and our society, when it’s so much easier to obsess about Duceppe’s bizarre psychodrama?

Already the world’s third largest economy by purchasing power, India wants to negotiate free access to its huge range of economic opportunities. "We believe that it is mutually rewarding for India and Canada to work towards a strategic partnership," Indian High Commissioner to Canada R.L . Narayan explained to a Toronto business audience at the end of April.

The fact that India is coming to us is hugely significant. It underlines once again the attraction and value of Canada’s abundance of natural resources, human talent, and our ability to craft a civil society from many streams of the human experience. India isn’t alone. Also on the horizon is a Free Trade proposal with the European Union. The pursuit of these opportunities demands significant political focus.

At this stage in history, Canada has an obligation of positive global engagement, indeed of global leadership. Yet our political class seems entirely incapable of even recognising the opportunity, let alone seizing it.

Our combination of political stability and huge energy reserves set us apart in a world addicted to the hydrocarbon economy. This puts an enormous responsibility on us to develop these resources in an environmentally sustainable manner, ensuring that we sharply reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Our stability is going to make us the energy supplier of choice for the world. There is a real opportunity for Alberta and Canada is to sell carbon capture and clean coal technology to China and India before they embark on a huge expansion of coal-fuelled power generation.

Yet by benign neglect, we are losing our way in the broader world. Our politicians are reacting instead of leading when it comes to our global engagement. This is a shame, because we have an obligation to share what is best in us. We can set an example for the world in showing how we use our wealth to advance the common good. This will distinguish us from the many resource economies where the bounty ends up in the hands of the few. We have a global obligation to show that investing in the potential of one's people -- mass access to education, health, a clean environment -- is a better application of the enormous resource wealth that fuels war and instability elsewhere.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper intends to meet with Canada’s First Ministers shortly before he leaves for the G-8 summit in Germany, to discuss Canada’s international trade policy and positions. It would be extremely helpful to use this meeting for a full consideration of Canada’s global leadership.