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Opinion stories

FUREY: Calculating our costs if Canada’s relationship with China cools

Would you forego ten grand in lost gains over the course of a few decades in exchange for living in a country that does not cave to Communist China on a laundry list of issues?

If it was up to the current government, the spat with China would be dealt with by just letting it quietly go away. The two Michaels would continue to be held hostage in prison. A variety of nonsensical trade decisions would be left to stand. And the “approve Huawei or else” threats would be left on the books, with Canada cowering in fear at what will happen if they don’t go the direction Beijing wants us to head in.

We’re told it’s a complex situation. That it’s not easy. That there are many factors to consider. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale keeps talking about experts reviewing the situation.

It’s not that complicated though. Are there many moving parts? Sure. But the broad strokes are pretty simple. 

China – an authoritarian Communist state – is on the rise, wants to replace the United States as the dominant global power, and is pressuring other countries to get on board and do things the Xi Jinping way.

Simply put: We have to decide whether we say “yes” or “no” to this question. We have to decide what direction we want to head in. 

If the politicians are too sheepish to turn this into a national conversation, then the people have to take the reins and start doing it themselves. In their homes. In coffee shops. On social media.

There are two key things to consider. 

One is the idealism factor – the question about what kind of a world we want to live in. This one is something of a no-brainer. Based on everything we know about the way the current regime in Beijing operates, the answer should be obvious. We pick the side of Western liberal capitalist democracy.

The more difficult question to navigate is one of pragmatism. Most of this relates to trade. There are many prominent Canadian businesses who have a lot to gain from trade with China, setting up shop in China and securing bids from Chinese firms and their government. 

While many of them would no doubt prefer not to do business with an authoritarian Communist regime, they turn a blind eye to it in their pursuit of the almighty dollar.

What does the economic angle mean though in the big picture? What do these lost opportunities mean to the everyday Canadian? 

My guess is that if our business dealings significantly cooled with China, it would mean everyone would be out something like $10,000 throughout the course of their lifetime earnings. 

That’s money lost in their investment portfolios, growth that they would have had in their retirement funds that don’t materialize, contracts their companies don’t win – that sort of thing. I’ve floated this idea to a couple of academics and ex-diplomats and they agree that this is a reasonable way to frame it.

So that’s the question Canadians need to ask on a personal level: Would you forego ten grand in lost gains over the course of a few decades in exchange for living in a country that does not cave to Communist China on a laundry list of issues? Let’s hope the answer is yes.

These are the sorts of questions we need to put to each other as we talk about Canada’s relationship with China in the years ahead.

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