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Expansion plans

Recent events should force Canadians to rethink our country’s relationship with the United States.

Canada will always be the mouse in bed with the elephant that is the U.S., but we need to realize the elephant is sick and consider other bedfellows, or better yet, how we might be able to sleep alone.

American leadership appears to be deeply corrupted, with President Donald Trump indicating he values economic and personal gain over human life. He has proven to be a liar willing to mislead American citizens, and continues to contribute, arguably more than anyone else, to the growing political divide currently festering in the U.S.

How much our southern neighbours suffer as a result will become clear later, but domestically, their nation appears dysfunctional, and the impact of that dysfunction will linger long past Trump’s presidency.

So far, Canadian leaders have been unwilling to stand up to Trump. They were bullied into renegotiating the new Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement, with Canada’s dairy industry taking a hit as a result. While much of the text remains the same, and the renegotiated deal was largely dubbed a “win” by farm groups and agri-food businesses, the threats and bad-faith bargaining employed by the U.S. should leave a bad taste in Canadians’ mouths.

Our political leaders grumbled as Trump imposed unfair tariffs and backed out of commitments to address climate change. This is a president who openly mused about sending armed troops to the border and tried to stop much-needed medical supplies from arriving in Canada.

If not now, then when is it a good time to alter this relationship?

As the U.S. descends further into protectionism and continues thumbing its nose at international trade and order, Canada is attempting to take a leadership role in advocating for rules-based free trade.

More is needed. The U.S. is being ravaged by COVID-19, meaning the border is likely to remain closed. Further economic damage will inevitably follow.

There have been calls for Canada to become more resilient and self-reliant. Some people suggest our food processing capacity needs to drastically increase if we are to become a food sovereign nation. These calls should be seriously considered by policy makers and be a focus of future elections.

We’re fortunate to be in a country with an abundance of raw materials — it’s one reason why we’ve been such a valuable trade partner on the international stage for so long. But Canadians should be calling on elected officials to ensure our supply chains aren’t reliant on the impulses of leaders in other nations.

In short, Canadians should resurrect an old idea: the so-called “Third Option” first proposed in 1972. In seeking how to live “distinct from, but in harmony with” the U.S., former Canadian secretary for state for external affairs Mitchell Sharp argued Canada should “develop and strengthen the Canadian economy and other aspects of its national life and in the process reduce the present Canadian vulnerability.”

Sharp was suggesting Canadians should diversify trade with other nations and, at the same time, increase its own self-sufficiency. Efforts being made to pursue trade deals outside of the U.S. should be supported by all Canadians. Even if such deals (like the EU trade deal) don’t immediately offer the same economic benefits as our current relationship with the U.S., they hold the potential to be strengthened with time.

It is impossible, of course, to fully sever ties with the U.S. And diversification will take time. But Trump’s unpredictability and the scourge of the pandemic are two very good reasons to start thinking about sleeping with others, or alone.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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