Saturday, August 25, 2007

Customs union the solution for border delays

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

The Pont de l’Europe linking Strasbourg, France, and Kehl, Germany, used to straddle one of the most heavily fortified borders in the world. Today, cars and trucks whiz across the bridge without stopping: There are no border guards, no customs officials and no immigration officers to impede the free flow of goods and people between France and Germany.

Consider, in contrast, the supposedly longest undefended, border in the world between Canada and the United States. Thanks to tight border security, cars and trucks attempting to cross any of the major border points between these two countries routinely experience delays of an hour or more.

In reaction to the September 11 terrorist attack, the United States immediately closed the border altogether. No traffic was allowed to enter the United States by land, sea or air. And for days after the border was reopened, intensified inspections by United States customs officials caused trucking delays of 12-to-18 hours.

The result was a severe economic blow to employers and workers on both sides of the border. On average, some $1.4 billion worth of goods, services and investment income daily crosses the Canada/United States border. More than 100 million people cross that same border every year.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attack, all cross-border traffic was severely curtailed. Some plants such as those in the automobile sector that depend on just-in-time deliveries across the border had to shut down.

At this week’s summit in Montebello, Quebec, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President George Bush discussed plans for keeping the border open during future emergencies. Meanwhile, on the provincial level in Ontario, Transportation Minister Donna Cansfield has disclosed that by the end of this year, her department will begin issuing new, more secure driver’s licences with imbedded citizenship information. She hopes that these licences will meet the requirements of a law enacted by the United States Congress that could require everyone seeking entry into the United States to present a passport or some other secure identification document as soon as next summer.

The introduction of easier documentation, more customs inspectors and other similar measures is all to the good, but cannot eliminate the underlying problem of chronic border costs. It has been estimated that brokerage fees, duties, customs administration and waiting times for shipments across the Canada/United States border routinely cost companies at least $10 billion a year.

Allan Gotlieb, Canadian Ambassador to the United States from 1981 to 1988, has long argued that there is only one sufficient remedy: namely, the elimination of all controls on the border between Canada and the United States. In his view, cars and trucks and goods and passengers should be able to sale across the Bluewater Bridge between Canada and the United States in the same way that traffic freely moves across the Pont de L’Europe between France and Germany.

Gotlieb is not alone in taking this view. In recent studies of cross-border trade, Danielle Goldfarb and William B. P. Robson of the C. D. Howe Institute and Alexander Moens of the Fraser Institute have come to the same conclusion.

Of course, eliminating border controls would be no simple matter. Among other measures, Canada and the United States would first have to harmonize their external tariffs, establish mutually acceptable procedures for preventing terrorists from infiltrating their countries, and reach agreement on common food and safety standards.

To the dismay of our more strident Canadian nationalists, some of these issues were discussed at the Montebello summit. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was justifiably dismissive of the alleged threat to Canadian independence. He asked reporters: “Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize jelly beans?”

Instead of relying on half measures, Harper should propose an outright customs union and the eventual elimination of all border controls between Canada and the United States. With solid Canadian support, the idea should meet with a favourable reception in the White House and Congress. It stands to reason that the free and unimpeded flow of people and goods across the border between Canada and the United States would enhance the North American Free Trade Agreement which has proven hugely beneficial in boosting living standards for millions of people in both countries.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Our philanthropic neighbours

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

Compared to the people of the United States, we Canadians are far more generous in supporting the poor, the sick, the needy and other worthy causes, right?

Actually, that assumption is completely false. In a recent study of generosity in Canada and the United States, the Fraser Institute found that charitable donations amount to 1.67 per cent of aggregate income in the United States as compared to just 0.72 per cent in Canada.

This is not to suggest that Canadians are unusually stingy. In Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, Arthur C. Brooks, a professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, reports that the people of the United States also give more than twice as much of their income to charity as the British and Dutch, almost three times as much as the French, more than five times as much as the Germans, and more than 10 times as much as the Italians.

As in Canada, so in every country of Western Europe, the percentage of personal income donated to charity is less than half the level in the United States. Why is that? Why are the peoples of Canada and Western Europe so much less generous than the people of the United States?

One prime factor is the extraordinarily high percentage of committed Christians in the United States. In a recent survey of attitudes in the countries of Europe and North America, the Pew Research Centre found that the proportion of the population for whom religion is “very important” amounts to 59 per cent in the United States as compared to just 30 per cent in Canada, 33 per cent in Britain, 27 per cent in Italy and a mere 11 per cent in France.

Brooks has found that there is a strong and specific correlation between religious faith and support for charity. He relates that: “All across Europe, we find that religious citizens are more than twice as likely to volunteer for charities and causes as secularists.”

In the United States, religious people who say they devote “a great deal of effort” to their spiritual lives are 42 percentage points more likely to contribute to charity than secularists who have little or no religious faith. Moreover, religious Americans do not just give to their churches: They are also significantly more likely than secular Americans to donate money and time to non-religious charities such as the United Way.

Brooks has also found a strong and specific correlation between political ideology and charity. In both the United States and Europe, conservatives who believe in limited government are far more likely to make charitable contributions than are liberals who think government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality.

Note the irony: Liberals who support the governmental redistribution of income are apt to deride conservatives as selfish, yet these liberals are far less likely than conservatives to donate their own time and money to help the poor and needy. Of course, there are subsets within both groups: For example, religious liberals are a lot more generous than secular conservatives.

Many of the liberals who give little or nothing to charity attempt to justify their selfishness on the ground that government is more effective than private charity at redistributing income. Perhaps so, but at what cost? When Bob Rae’s New Democratic Party government of Ontario increased welfare benefits in the middle of a recession at the beginning of the 1990s, the predictable result was a crisis of soaring welfare dependency that demoralized thousands of workers and disrupted their families.

Brooks persuasively argues that the combination of relatively small government and high rates of charitable givings has contributed to the extraordinary economic prosperity and relatively high living standards for all income classes in the United States. And he also contends that it’s no coincidence that unlike Canada and Europe, the United States, the world’s most Christian and conservative democracy, has avoided a calamitous drop in birth rates.

Canadians might well meditate upon Brooks’s findings: Perhaps, with more religious conviction and less reliance on big government, we, too, might also become more generous, more prosperous and less reliant on massive levels of immigration to sustain the population.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Recipients disgrace the Order of Canada

The Interim
By Rory Leishman

Governor General Michaelle Jean outraged many Canadians on June 29, by announcing the appointment of the Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes to the Order of Canada. Hawkes is not only the longstanding pastor of Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church but also one of the foremost gay activists in Canada and a leading proponent of same-sex marriage.

Several critics of the appointment directed their ire at Prime Minister Stephen Harper. That was a mistake. In making appointments to the Order of Canada, the Governor General must act upon the recommendations of an independent advisory council headed by the Chief Justice of Canada.

In addition to the Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court of Canada, the advisory council includes five other ex officio members as well as five temporary members who are nominated by the ex officio members of the Council and appointed by the Governor General for a three-year term. Of the 11 persons currently serving on the Advisory Council, the great majority were chosen directly or indirectly by previous Liberal governments.

The appointment of Hawkes is not the only recent controversy engendered by the Order of Canada. In February, Jean conferred the honour on Michele Landsberg, a radical feminist, left-wing journalist and one of the most notorious proponents of abortion on demand in Canada.

Moreover, Jean and the Advisory Committee considered Landsberg worthy to serve not just as an ordinary Member, but as an Officer of the Order of Canada. Four years earlier, Landsberg’s husband, Stephen Lewis, the former leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party, was appointed to the highest rank of Companion of the Order of Canada.

In the latest notice of appointments, both former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien and former Reform Party leader Preston Manning have also been designated as Companions of the Order of Canada. In Manning’s case, the distinction is well deserved and most exceptional. Over the past 40 years, few of the social activists among the more than 5,000 Canadians who have been appointed to the Order of Canada have been social conservatives. The overwhelming majority have been liberals and left-wingers.

Notably missing from the ranks of the Order of Canada are such distinguished Canadians as Jim Hughes, leader of the Campaign Life Coalition; Gwen Landolt, National Vice-President of RealWomen of Canada; William Gairdner, author, professor, philanthropist and champion of the natural family; and Dr. L. L. (Barrie) deVeber, who, among a long list of distinctions, is President of The Euthanasia Coalition of Ontario, and Founding President of The deVeber Institute for Bioethics and Social Research.

It’s appropriate that many recipients of the Order of Canada are ordinary Canadians who have been recognized for “a lifetime of distinguished service in or to a particular community, group or field of activity.” Who, though, could better qualify for such a distinction than Joanne Dieleman, former director of Aid to Women, a crisis-pregnancy centre located next to an abortuary in downtown Toronto?

Despite having eight children of her own and caring for innumerable foster children, Dieleman found the time and energy over the past 25 years to provide counseling, emotional and financial assistance to women troubled by a crisis pregnancy. During 19 of these years, Dieleman served as the unpaid director of Aid to Women. Altogether, she is credited with helping to save the lives of 1,500 babies.

That Dieleman and others like her have not been named to the Order of Canada is scandalous. At the least, the House of Commons Government Operations Committee should bring McLachlin and her colleagues on the Advisory Council to account before an open hearing and grill them on their biased recommendations for Order of Canada appointments. Most especially, members of the Committee should admonish the Advisory Council to stop discriminating against distinguished Canadians who uphold the natural family and the sanctity of human life.

Given the dominance of transgressive liberals and leftists in Parliament, no such hearing is likely any time soon. Regardless, the failure of the Governor General to appoint principled Canadians like Dieleman to the Order of Canada in recognition of their outstanding service will in no way impair their heroic determination to go on fulfilling their duty to do the right as God gives them to see the right.