Trader Joe and Trojan horses

President Joe Biden put in a bravura performance last month, telling Canadian Parliamentarians it was time for Canada and the US to forge closer economic ties.

Biden, at his ‘ah-shucks’ best, said ‘secure’ North American supply chains would put the two nations at the forefront of the economy of tomorrow. (Think high tech, electric vehicles, and clean energy.)

Sounds good, but the notion of closer ties to the US has long been controversial in Canada – and with good reason.

In 1911, Walter Borden, the third (and so far last) prime minister from Nova Scotia, defeated sitting Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier when the incumbent ran on closer ties with the United States.

Borden’s campaign motto – “No truck nor trade with the Americans.”

That sentiment had staying power. It wasn’t until 1988, 77 years later, that Brian Mulroney ran and won an election on a free-trade platform.

In his Ottawa speech, Biden didn’t detail his argument for made-in-North America prosperity, but the backstory is clear.

A continental economic fortress is a tempting idea given China’s success building its own economic alliances with African, Asian, Middle Eastern, South American nations – and Russia.

But we, the watchful mariners in the CrowsNest, believe Biden is really promoting the kind of economic protectionism that’s bad for his country and worse for ours.

OK, we do concede a plausible-sounding argument can be made for Stand Alone America, with its large domestic market of 331 million people.

Outpost Canada – a mere 38 million souls huddled for warmth along our southern border – is more trade dependent than the US.  We have to be free traders to prosper.

Atlantic Canadians get this. The world buys offshore oil and onshore minerals from Newfoundland and Labrador. PEI, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick are glad to have added Asian nations to their list of major seafood-buying nations.

Yes, the US is far and away the most important export country for every province in the region. But guess which nation comes second, overall?  China, and by a wide margin.

Here’s the other thing about Biden’s proposal. He won’t be president forever, and the next person in the White House may decide to cut this little nation out of continental supply chains.

Beware trojan horses, then, even if the gift-giver is a kindly uncle.

Remember instead Lord Palmerston’s view that nations have neither permanent allies nor enduring enemies, only permanent interests.

And Canada has an enduring interest in free trade, of the global variety.