The US sets the pace for the world when it comes to innovation in information technology, energy and life sciences, writes Philip Cross.
By Philip Cross, May 11, 2018
Canada recently attracted 24 scholars from abroad to its Canada Research Chair program. As would be expected, a couple of these professors turned up in news reports, claiming their motivation was escaping the US political climate under Trump. “Many of my colleagues have told me that they will leave the United States if things get worse,” Alan Aspuru-Guzik, a chemistry professor recently told The Globe and Mail. “The difference is that I already think it’s worse.”
Every US presidential election back to at least Nixon has triggered threats of mass emigration to Canada, which never actually occurs but nevertheless reinforces our self-indulgent conceit that “the world needs more Canada.” While this burnishes our sense of moral superiority to the US, one can just as easily argue the world – including Canada – needs more of the United States.
The only intelligent thought rock star Bono ever articulated was that “America is not just a country. It’s an idea. It’s a great idea. It’s the best idea the world has ever had.” Despite its flaws, there is much to admire. But those positive qualities are often ignored in Canada’s reflexive anti-Americanism, dating back to the influx of loyalists during the American Revolution and reaching full blood with the arrival of rabid left-wing draft-dodgers during the Vietnam War.
The US sets the pace for the world when it comes to innovation in information technology, additive manufacturing, energy and life sciences. A list of the world’s leading technology companies shows they are almost exclusively American. No wonder a recent report from the University of Toronto and Delvinia found a brain drain of Canada’s best young tech talent to Silicon Valley, the reverse of what was predicted in the aftermath of Trump’s election. Clearly there is something in the US business model for innovation that the rest of the world tries in vain to emulate. Jean-Claude Trichet, former head of the European Central Bank, said “The American economy is nothing short of a miracle. Your people’s sense of daring, or a willingness to explore innovation, to take on risks is nothing short of breath-taking.”
The US sets the pace for the world when it comes to innovation in information technology, additive manufacturing, energy and life sciences.
The US has led the way in applying new technologies to fracking for oil and gas, revolutionizing the global energy industry. That has left Canada scrambling to adjust to the new reality that our sole customer for oil and gas suddenly became our greatest competitor.
While the US develops its resource base, Canada’s long-standing ambivalence towards natural resources is mutating into unthinking, overt hostility in provinces such as BC and Quebec, especially towards oil and gas. The disdain for fossil fuels in these provinces originates in their plentiful supplies of renewable hydro power, a reflection not of their innate moral superiority but that geography blessed these provinces with the large differentials in topography hydro power requires. (Of course, Quebec and BC still depend on fossil fuels for a majority of their energy needs, especially for transportation.)
Canadians assume their superiority in supposedly being progressively post-fossil-fuel extends to their superiority in providing government services. That doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, either. Canada’s points-based immigration system is admired by many, but its functioning partly depends on its borders being far away from migrants from poorer countries, unlike the US and in Europe. It is revealing how our immigration system is now struggling to handle even a fraction of the inflow of illegal immigrants the US has confronted for decades. Even the relatively small inflow of asylum seekers into Quebec and Manitoba over the past year has triggered alarm, outrage and a growing crisis.
It is easy for Americans to admire the Canadian health and education systems from a distance, especially since they don’t pay the taxes needed to support them. But do they provide good value? While Canada ranks high in spending on health and education, our outcomes are well below the OECD average since much of the spending is wasted on bloated bureaucracies and lavish pay for our pampered public servants and professors.
The US leads the world in generosity, regularly on display but rarely acknowledged in a world that delights in demonizing it. The US role as “the world’s policeman” reflects its military clout and global reach, without which Pacific nations such as Taiwan and South Korea would not even exist today. Most anti-Americanism is reflexive and lacks a self-awareness of the security the US provides. For example, in 1966 when France’s Charles de Gaulle ordered American troops to be “removed from French soil,” then US secretary of defence, Dean Rusk, sarcastically asked “Even the ones buried in it?” American sacrifices are quickly forgotten, even by countries that owe their freedom to the US.
A recent poll found 60 percent of Canadians held a negative view of the US, up sharply since Trump’s election. This is shocking. Apparently, we are letting our antipathy to the temporary occupant of the White House outweigh all the benefits from access to the world’s largest economy, supplier of investment and innovative ideas, and guarantor of our safety. The world hardly needs more of Canada, if it comes with our short-sighted small-mindedness about the US.
Philip Cross is a Munk Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.