When It Comes To Determining Our Destiny As A Region And Country, Who’s Pulling The Strings?

By Mark Taliano

Lee Iacocca once said that there “are no free lunches”. It seemed to be a mantra extolling the virtues of hard work.  Fair enough.  Then along came “free trade” and all of its ensuing inferences and associations.

Who is really in calling the shots?

Somehow free trade was thought to be linked directly to democracy, equality, and the shedding of the yoke of poverty and disease from the world. Turns out, it’s not very “free”, and it’s quite indifferent to poverty and disease, unless there’s money to be made.
If we dig deeper, and “follow the money”, we find “free trade” is also associated with de-regulation and privatization.  That’s when it impacts us directly. After all, it’s the P3 hospital in North West St.Catharines that seems to be having its way with most of Niagara. The democratically elected Regional Council has voted in favour of an independent review of health care in Niagara, but its supplication has been met with callous indifference.  I would suggest the insinuation of private monies into the equation (P3 hospital) has colored the equation.  It’s a somewhat tenuous conclusion, but democratic–style negotiations with the HIP and LHIN have been an abject failure so far.

Free Trade hasn’t been so free or egalitarian in its treatment of Niagara’s middle-class either. Its effects have been rather costly in terms of high taxes and the loss of good-paying jobs.

What about the trickle-down effect and good jobs?  Has the money from trade trickled down to the less affluent?  Certainly not in Welland, but apparently not in Mexico either. The truism that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer is unfortunately more valid than we’d like to believe.  The poverty rates in Mexico are about the same, if not higher, since the ratification of NAFTA.

It would seem this “free” flow of goods and services endorsed by NAFTA hasn’t always served the markets well either, unless billion dollar bailouts funded by taxpayers is good service. This deal is “more equal” for the relatively small number of people who own most of the stock market, than it is for the regular tax payer.

The link between free markets, capitalism, and world democracy is also quite tenuous.  Saudi Arabia, home of religious extremism, and birthplace of most of the 911 terrorists, is very autocratic, not democratic, but goods and services flow quite easily between the Saudis and the U.S.  So this link doesn’t hold water, but if it does, the vessel is full of holes.

There is much talk of Homeland Security, infrastructure expansions, and holes in the trade and security net between Canada and the U.S . The process to enable “free” trade between Canada and the US will continue to be very expensive, and the taxpayers are footing the bill, so again, What’s so “free” about it?

Especially irksome is that powerful, free-ranging corporations, protected by trade treaties, are undermining what used to be sovereign issues, and are starting to dictate foreign policy.  Currently, AIDS medications, protected by “Intellectual Property rights” are very expensive and unaffordable to countless peoples in Africa.  The developed world could make those meds more affordable if it weren’t for patent laws protected under trade agreements.  There’s something very wrong about that.  Foreign policy used to be the domain of elected political parties. Less so now.

So, if it weren’t for some of these binding trade agreements, democracy at home and abroad would be more powerful. Mexico and other developing countries would be more self-directed, and less trapped by economic colonialism. We’d have more industry in Niagara, and foreign assistance to the developing world would be more effective. I would suggest we say “goodbye” to extreme capitalism, its trickle down theories, and its tenuous associations with democracy, and “hello” to renegotiated trade treaties.  Failing that, let’s at least stop calling it “free”.

Mark Taliano is a resident of Niagara, Ontario and regular contributor of commentary to Niagara At Large.

(Visit Niagara At Large at http://www.niagaraatlarge.com – Niagara’s independent online site for posting news and commentary on matters of interest and concern to residents in our greater Niagara region and beyond.)


7 responses to “When It Comes To Determining Our Destiny As A Region And Country, Who’s Pulling The Strings?

  1. Very thought provoking Mark. Yes, the World is such a complex case and the more you know, the more you don’t know….or so it seems.
    I read a book on Fidel Castro and he said, prior to his successful revolution in Cuba, he studied all sorts of economic systems and discarded “capitalism” bcause of its greed factor. Castro is highly criticized in some circles, but free education and free health care were two major measures he imposed asap when “his” revolution took place. How can you not admire this?
    I suspect the “secret”, if there is one, to having a country or world that works well for all, is to have a proper balance between capitalism and socialism….but how is this achieved?
    Too much privatization and deregulation leads to enormous wealth in the hands of the few. However, too much power in the hands of unions can also be destructive and run the cost of living up to a state where non-unionized citizens cannot keep up. Lee Ioccoca also said, (not a direct quote, but words to the effect) the car industry was doing so well and making huge profits, so they caved into ALL the demands of the unions, and thereby created a monster. I think he referred to this as one of the biggest mistakes they made.
    To get back to “Free Trade”…..sounds to me like we need “Fair Trade”.


  2. I should also have added to my comment as far as democratic negotiations go with the LHINs or the MoH regarding the HIP; it is definitely a one way street….their way or the highway. Initially a serious mistake was made in the location of the new hospital in west St. Catharines , which will eventually house all acute and emergency care for Niagara. They refuse to admit a mistake was made as they would then have to admit they must make changes in the HIP to enable the southern tier to have reasonable access to adequate care. Change is a very emotional issue for the LHIN and the NHS to accept.


  3. Excellent synopsis as usual Mark. Why don’t we have people like you in government? Maybe it’s because you have ethics. Most, not all, politicians are bottom dwellers. They claim to believe in the private sector above the public sector – they just don’t care to work in it!
    As Pat says, there must be a balance of systems but money and greed always win out. As for NAFTA, I cannot recall any treaty in history where the US was not the primary recipient of the benefits. If treaties are found to be lacking in benefits for them, they just circumvent them (eg soft wood lumber). They, to their credit, are very canny in their dealings and know how to come out on top.Too bad our politicians aren’t as smart or assertive. Of course, it’s hard to negotiate with a giant.
    Also, as you said, capitalism does NOT equal democracy. Frequently it’s quite the opposite. All of us are owned by the wealthy. It’s not so much the puppets (politicians) we should fear but the hand inside controlling the puppets – the hands we never see.


  4. Well put, Mark and others. I find the world so much more confusing these days. Read a great book though, over months, which helped. Doug Saunders ‘Arrival City’; it explained much. Even with that, I cringe when I hear the words “world class city” or “globalization”.


  5. David Orchard Novel “The Fight for Canada” is probably one of, never mind “one of” it definitely is the best accounting of the Canadian/American history as it relates to “entitlement” and ownership of Canada. Even in the earlier days there were certain wealthy Canadians who would sell their souls to the devil and my reference to the devil is clear.
    Read this book and if you can’t get it I will lend it to you.
    A local Conservative Candidate on at least two occasions has voiced her belief that Welland does not need Industry and it seems our own council during the past several years believed the same as Atlas was basically let die and John Deere was forced to leave…So much for Job Creation Welland Conservatives


  6. I have been writing for years about the scam called NAFTA very few of my letters are printed,Ross Perot warned North America this was a guaranteed job killer, and there would be a giant sucking sound as our jobs dissappeared to Mexico, now Mexico is losing jobs to China, we can get out of NAFTA after giving 6 months notice, my Party thr Green Party want’s ghanges made to this horrible deal,NAFTA is the brainchild of the US and Canadian Chambers of Commerce after over ten years of lobbying their Republican pals, even convinced the Democrats it was good business, it was sold hook line and sinker, Canadian lumber, pork, beef, potatoes, wheat and steel have all been subject to tarriffs by our US partners, one billion dollars was stolen by the tarriff on lunber, why don’t we stick a dollar barrel enviro tax on oil sands oil sales, give them a dose of what the US has been doing to us,Lou Dobbs said the Chamber of Commerce should change it’s name to Chamber of Commerce Mexico!!! trade between US and Canada according to a study by TD Bank and BofMontreal is at it’s lowest in 28 years, the EU would never have let a country like Mexico join their free trade area.They kill union leaders have no safety or environmental rules, and have sweat shops. The Chamber of Commerce sold out the Canadian people,they are nothing but a bunch of hypocrites in my view.


  7. Mark, you are right on again! I have been reading Mel Hurtig’s book, “The truth About Canada” and it looks like we are going downhill, not only as a region but as a country. I am saddened by many of my fellow Canadians’ attitudes towards poverty, believing all we need to do is carrel the community into giving to food banks and providing shelter at churches, when we still don’t have any long term solutions for anything.


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