Thursday, October 15, 2009

Protectionism- Quebec Style

To our politicians, protectionism occurs when others (particularly America), shut us out of their markets in order to protect their local industry. However, according to them, it's not protectionism when we shut others out of our market to protect our own local economy.

Our newspapers, who parrot this concept, have been filled with stories of righteous indignation in regards to the "Buy American" provisions of the US stimulus package, rarely mentioning that we are in fact, bigger offenders in relation to free trade.

Quebec has always protected it's industry through an unpublished, but strict policy of buying locally. That coupled with a rigged bidding process for government contracts insures that Quebeckers pay more for just about anything that the government buys.

Quebec, however, is not the only culprit in Canada.

Robert Presser sums it up succinctly in The Metropolitain;
"According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Canada is a major hypocrite among OECD nations when it comes to protectionism. We ask for free trade with our US neighbor and cry about the Buy American provisions of the US stimulus package, but we protect our own provincial and municipal procurement system from US suppliers. The federal government is trying to work out a deal with the provinces on this issue, but progress is slow. There are over 100 trades and 50 professions that are covered by provincial regulation in Canada, which means that Canada does not have a mobile labour market and this creates financial and employment distortions across the country. Jean Charest is working to create a common labour market with France, and if he is successful a plumber from Lyon will have an easier time getting accredited in Quebec than one from Belleville, Ontario.

The OECD points out that Canada has significant restrictions on foreign direct investment in the telecommunications, transportation and broadcasting sectors and this hampers modernization, international competitiveness and creates higher structural costs for consumers – there is a price we are all paying for protecting the “Canadian” players in these industries"

In the midst of all the complaints of American protectionism, Quebec has launched a publicity campaign, encouraging people to shop locally for Quebec agricultural products. The campaign called "Acheter et manger québécois" is being run by the Quebec Ministry of Agriculture.
Claude Béchard, the Minister of Agriculture is quoted in a speech as saying;
"If each of us would replace $30 of foreign bought food with products bought in Quebec, it would mean that within five years, local sales would increase by a billion dollars."
The Government web site says it unabashedly;
"Whenever you choose a local food product in the grocery store, restaurant or market, you help to save jobs and grow the economy of Quebec, while supporting the people here. This growth is beneficial for all of us."

These types of ads, once popular have become verboten in a free-trade world.

Lucky for us, the Americans don't read French.

Reminders that identify local products are now appearing in our grocery stores.

I wonder if our Agriculture Minister would appreciate an American advertising campaign calling for the replacement of Quebec maple syrup with syrup produced in Vermont.

I wonder if members of the Quebec government would appreciate a snazzy commercial like the one above, created by the government of Washington State, imploring American airlines to buy Boeing airplanes instead of Bombardier, because it's good for the local economy.

It's a double-edged sword.

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