Covid-19 has brought national identity to the forefront of international geopolitics in a way that hasn’t occurred in recent memory. The row over Canada sourcing N95 masks from the US exemplifies this sudden problem. Every country, when push comes to shove, will have a propensity to act in self interest to protect itself. With a country as resource-rich as Canada, with well developed energy and manufacturing centres, and among the best places in the world to live, now’s the time the re-think our identity and potential.
With “the overwhelming majority” of the world’s PPE coming from China and SE Asia, along with Canada having no domestic manufacturers of N95 masks, sensitive supply chains are now affecting our ability to treat our own citizens. Luckily, the government has made a recent deal with domestic companies for the production of medical supplies, but until they are up and running Canada will have to rely on shipments from other countries. The CEO of one those domestic companies, Guillaume Laverdure, commented “the new paradigm is that governments are willing to pay a little more as long as they have access to products locally.”
Why shouldn’t Canadians adopt the same philosophy? Social distancing and travel restrictions may last for over a year. In the meantime, we’ll have to rely on each other for support. The sense of community and mutual reliance has grown, and will continue to do so. So why not highlight local, domestic businesses? Why not take this as a rallying cry for Canadianism, an opportunity to further our self-reliance? Instead of buying products and supporting overseas business, instead of giving money to people outside our country, we should appreciate the benefits of paying that little bit extra to keep it home and support those around us.
Another factor the N95 issue highlights is Canada’s renowned sensitivity to export markets. Relative to our land mass, we have a small population, and reliance on exports for national revenue is a fact of life. Now’s the time to re-think how much we rely on the US as our major export partner. We should look to diversify our export markets and broaden our trade portfolio to mitigate our exposure to the whims of any single player. Canada’s trade balance has spent most of the past decade in the negative, meaning we import more than we export. With more money spent locally, we can keep more of that revenue in the country, and potentially strengthen local business so they can export their products and services overseas.
Another sudden development has been the significant financial loss on stock markets. The markets, although a great money maker in the long run, are inherently volatile and sensitive to unpredictable foreign actors. Even before Covid-19, there was talk of an impending market correction. This lost wealth relies on returns from investments that don’t really exist anywhere real or create anything tangible. Perhaps now we should get back to basics: truly save for a rainy day, keep money in secure instruments less susceptible to artificial bubbles, and begin to see the value in putting more towards expenditure on real assets at the local and domestic levels.
With the weakness of globalization at the forefront, and the resurgence of national identity and helping each other at a grass roots level, now is the time to look at diversifying export markets to hedge against future risk, and see the value in keeping the Canadian dollar inside our borders by supporting local business and each other. Community and national unity are worth more than the extra price tag and will make us more robust in the future.