Brian Lee Crowley

Getting real about China, on NAFTA, national security and trade diversification

I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet these days about China, as any sensible person should. Everyone seems fixated on Donald Trump bullying Canada (and that is a reasonable concern) but the number of people who hold up China as some kind of alternative is truly staggering. If you want real, subtle, long-term bullying in unapologetic pursuit of national interests, you cannot do better than China. Add to that that China is an authoritarian, autocratic and repressive country without even a nodding acquaintance with the rule of law and a hostile relationship with the western alliance, etc., etc., etc., and China gets less appealing every day as a partner for Canada. Here are three recent op-eds in which I develop these various themes:

In the 30 May 2018 edition of the Globe, I took aim at China for its clear threats to Canadians’ national security. The context was Ottawa’s rather unexpected but welcome decision to veto the takeover of Canadian construction giant Aecon by a Chinese firm. As I pointed out, if this means that Ottawa is going to take national security threats from China more seriously (including their to-date insouciance about Huawei’s deep involvement in building Canada’s next generation 5G wireless network) that is very good news indeed and not before time.

Then came the G7 Summit. The G7 seems to me a little adrift these days, an organisation in search of a mission that would unite the disparate interests of Japan, North America and the largest European economies. My suggestion in an 8 July piece in Inside Policy: they should all agree to unite and reinforce their current disparate efforts to confront China’s disgraceful behaviour in the South China Sea that is an affront to the rule of law and freedom of navigation. There is also a video version of this piece.

Finally, Ottawa has been ramping up its focus on “trade diversification” as a kind of defensive card to play in its NAFTA negotiations with Washington. But of all the daft ideas, the one that China can replace or even partially compensate for our trade relationship with the US is surely the daftest. Read my op-ed, co-authored with Sean Speer, in the Globe of 20 July 2018 about why China is no trade saviour for Canada.

Nokia’s lessons for Canada

In 2006 Nokia was making 40% of the smartphones in the world. Today it makes none, having sold its failing business to Microsoft. Nokia’s home country, Finland, has been reeling ever since and recently saw its credit downgraded by one major rating agency. In my latest column for the Economy Lab feature in the Globe’s ROB, I dissect Nokia’s spectacular collapse and find some lessons for Canada. The main one is not to become complacent and start to think that what your company wants is more important than what your customers want. And the most obvious places where exactly that is happening are the industries (airlines, broadcasting, telecoms, dairy, taxis, etc., etc.) where companies shelter behind bureaucrats with rule books, protecting them from sharper competition from abroad, as well as from their own customers. That way decline lies….

“Monopoly” no synonym for “consumers massively preferring good companies”

In this week’s column for the Globe’s Economy Lab feature I have a little fun with words. Specifically I call to order those who erroneously  call Google’s dominance in the search engine market a “monopoly.” It is nothing of the sort when consumers freely choose one provider’s product or service over that of its competitors, which is the case with Google and was the case in earlier times with Microsoft, IBM and others who have all been unfairly and inaccurately treated as monopolists.

If you want to find real monopolists, you should look at those companies whom the state shelters from the bracing winds of competition, technological change and consumer preference. Supply management and the post office, anyone?

Big data is here. Will Canada embrace or rebuff it?

In my weekly screed, this time for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers, I think about some of the potential of Big Data to transform our economic and social lives and maybe even our health. But at the same time as we can see as through a glass darkly where big data may be leading us, Canada is sending signals that it may well not be welcome. This wouldn’t merely be an economic loss of sizeable proportions. It would deprive us of the benefits of the self-knowledge that big data makes possible.

Right to be forgotten vs duty to remember

In the wake of the European Court of Justice’s decision to create a “right to be forgotten” by Google’s search engine the National Post has been running a series of article’s about the decision’s meaning and effects. They kindly asked me to contribute and my piece asks the question, ‘if there is a duty that corresponds to every right, what is the duty that corresponds to the right to be forgotten?’ The answer must be that we have a duty to forget. But we have no such duty — au contraire! It is our duty to remember and to defend the integrity of the historical record.

Right to remember vs Right to be forgotten

In my latest column for the Ottawa Citizen and other Postmedia papers I dissect the significance of the European Court of Justice’s decision to recognise an individual’s “right to be forgotten.” The form this right takes is to order Google to remove links from their search results when the subjects of the links believe information they contain about their past may be injurious to them in the present. Warning: spoiler. The tenor of the article is summed up in the concluding sentences: “For there to be a right to be forgotten, someone must have the power to erase the record. That’s far worse than being remembered.”

Brian Lee Crowley
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