Three years after we first started hearing the warnings of a global pandemic, there is no doubt that the world has changed.
While it is easy, and for the government perhaps preferable, to blame the pandemic for the challenges that lie ahead, to do so would be dishonest and would serve only to further exacerbate the issue that remains to be tackled head on if we are to have any chance of preserving our way of life.
Every democratic state, including Canada, is confronted with an increasingly uncertain, unstable and conflictual global environment. At the root of that stands a rising totalitarian threat. Our vulnerability to that threat is multifaceted, but among the weaknesses we must address is the vulnerability of our supply chain when it comes to vital goods and materials.
The global pandemic illustrated that significant weaknesses exist in Canada’s supply chain. In large measure, the government has sought to address this by focusing almost exclusively on the technical challenges that exist around supply chain efficiency. Using the government’s own words, its efforts are focused on “making it easier to plan and co-ordinate transportation initiatives to alleviate bottlenecks,” “supporting industry-driven approaches to digital solutions,” and other such measures.
While these purely functional measures may be needed, they skirt around the core issue. This country has put itself in a position of extreme vulnerability and overreliance on the importation of critical goods from the world’s leading totalitarian state: Communist China.
Given the nature and imbalance of that bilateral trading relationship, we have made ourselves very vulnerable to political pressures that the regime is now regularly imposing on Canada.
In 2023, China remains Canada’s second-largest source of imported goods. It is a country with which we posted a $45-billion trade deficit in 2021. It is Canada’s greatest source of cheap, often low-quality, goods; not only consumer goods, but (as we discovered during the pandemic) also critical medical and personal protective equipment — equipment that on some occasions was shown to be sub-par.
Communist China remained Canada’s largest supplier of such goods even after it took the two Michaels hostage for more than 1,000 days from 2018 to 2021.
It remained our second-largest source of imports even after it was condemned, globally and by the Parliament of Canada, for conducting a genocide against the Uyghur minority.
Its exports to Canada actually increased during the second quarter of 2022, despite its crackdown on democracy protests in Hong Kong, its escalating military threats against Taiwan, and its open and blatant support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine.
The policy approach of Canada’s current government has sought to ignore all of this. But there are now strong national interest and moral imperatives to rethink Canada’s relationship with Communist China. Other democracies, some less vulnerable than we are, are already doing this. They are doing so because it is necessary.
The United States has started to encourage and pressure companies to shift their supply chains away from Communist China. The desired shift is toward other democracies and friendly nations in a policy known as “friendshoring,” and it is essential.
Australia, Japan, and India have also launched a resilient supply chain initiative. They are now working with the United States in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue on this very matter.
Canada, however, has been absent from these multilateral processes. Not only has the government absented itself, it has also made no effort to halt even those goods that may have been manufactured using forced labour.
As was recently reported, while the United States stopped 2,398 shipments at its borders based on the possibility that the goods were manufactured by forced labour, Canada stopped only one over the same time period. Even that one shipment, clothing from China, was subsequently permitted to proceed.
If we are genuinely interested in supply chain security, then we need to confront the elephant in the room. If for ideological reasons the current government is unable to do so, then that is yet another reason why Canada urgently needs a new government.
There will be no security for our supply chain, or indeed for our country, if we do not do so.
Senator Leo Housakos represents the division of Wellington in Quebec. He is chair of the Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, and he is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
This article appeared in the January 18, 2023 edition of The Hill Times.