Why should any one industry or even one company be forced to bear the burden of Canada's political war with Russia over the Ukraine? By imposing travel and other restrictions on Russian oligarchs, Ottawa prompted a retaliatory Russian strike on Canadian agricultural imports. Which flank of the Russian economy will Canada hit next? Where will it end?
A fascinating, thought-provoking and for some of us, chill-inducing perspective from Terence Corcoran.
Will get to the chill factor in a second, but first - it's worth noting the war-room terminology being used here. The military talks about strikes and flanks as does, to an increasing degree, politics. But both modern economics and modern politics were supposed to be an antidote to militant conflict, were they not?
In a democracy, public discourse, debate and representation was supposed to insert a bit of civility into the proceedings of government. No longer would feudal lords of any stripe be able to wage war at the expense of the people, nor even on behalf of the people without their content. That isn't how it works any more, of course - only our leader can save Canadians from the coming zombie apocalypse, all you have to do is donate and vote for us, then tweet what we tell you you.
In economics, rational interest is supposed to dominate - when we all pursue our own interests, we will work and pay in a fair measure, avoiding self-detrimental stuff like war.
Yet now we have economics being used as a tool of war by politicians who are supposed to be focused on jobs and economic growth.
But that's not what really stood out of Corocran' article for me. It was the first line that caught my eye - why should one industry or company be forced to bear the burden for Canada's political war?
All wars are inherently political. In the past they tended to be waged by one nation against another, or a series of national allies against opposition powers. These days, it's less clear, with tribal warfare (of political/ideological tribes) a growing concern. More to the point - less people are content with government's judgement when it comes to war, period.
Which leads to the first peace of Joe Oliver's condundrum. His government is committed to avoiding reckless spending, says he: "Our government," he huffed, "will not open the taps on reckless spending."
Yet Canadian businesses (and businesses with a footprint in Canada, whether they're Honda or Huawei) can make a credible argument that, using sanctions as a tool of war, the Harper government is recklessly endangering Canadian corporate profits, Canadian jobs and as a result, the stability of Canada itself.
Right now, Oliver is trying to convince South Western Ontario that his government has a plan to save manufacturing jobs in the country through lower taxation (but as I've written elsewhere, that's hardly enough to compete with/bring jobs back from places like Bangladesh where child labour and a lack of workplace rights are equally part of the low-cost-to-business mix).
Honestly, Joe, how do you have any credibility on this front when your government is imposing sanctions? Any good industry lobbyist would pick this up and push the hypocrisy of the Harper's foreign left hand/domestic right hand approach. Even if their client isn't Canada based.
Do you like the idea of a foreign-owned company lobbying our government through ads, direct meetings and of the more subtle variety that makes scandals when exposed on how to conduct military/economic strategy?
You might answer "what do I care, so long as life's affordable, taxes are low and I have cheap product availability." That's essentially the argument that Aitken is making; politics shouldn't impede with financial well-being, nor all the stuff that spins out of it.
In a funny way, Team Harper are getting what they wanted; a government that is increasingly seen as a stumbling block to financial success, even by their own supporters. What were to happen if the Ukraine conflict were to explode into a broader regional conflict? Would Canadian citizens and businesses alike say "not my problem?" Would Canadian Ukranians be hard-pressed to make the case that Canada should get directly involved, lest they become marginalized by their own neighbours?
"If you're worried about family dying over there or whatever, move back to Ukraine and fight yourself. It's not my problem."
When our democratically-elected government is seen as forcing "it's" conflicts on citizens and businesses, we have a problem. Our government is supposed to be a conduit for the people, not a separate entity. Theoretically, in a democracy, it's the owners and employees of businesses that elect our officials and give them mandate to act upon.
Which would make any war Canada engages in our war, too - because we are Canadians.
When we are encouraged with and buy into the notion that there's no society, that individual everything trumps collective anything, it becomes a natural thing for us to figure out how to individually get ahead with as little risk as possible. The more we can offload, the better; when it's someone else's problem, we can close our eyes and pretend it's got nothing to do with us.
Which brings me to the chill factor - a company called Topf & Sohne. They became experts at selling what the market demanded, with no consideration for what the consequences of their products were to anyone other than their bottom line.
Topf & Sohne built crematoriums for Nazi Concentration and Death Camps. They did a good job, too, constantly looking to improve their designs to ensure the quickest body-to-ash rate. None of this is to say that they were complicit in the Holocaust, of course - they were simply businessmen, making money through economic activity. No harm in that, right? What a client actually does with a product has nothing to do with the manufacturer.
Much like what a government does has nothing to do with its citizens, nor the interests of humanity on the whole have nothing to do with the prosperity of businesses.
You can widen or narrow the frame as you like, focusing on one element or the other - but the reality is that it's all connected. Domestic jobs, foreign relations, economic activity, social services, neighbour across the street or around the world - we're all connected.
You cannot govern by putting partisan interests first, or focusing on a mixed-message of ideological packages and opportunism.
Team Harper's mix of foreign-affairs toughness yet economic prosperity at home through laissez-faire governance was never going to work; not in the current global economy.
If we're using economic tools as weapons of warfare, there will be costs domestically. If we are so insular that we have no interest in sacrificing anything for foreign affairs, then we have no business playing at superpower.
By the same token, if political parties are all about people holding on to more of their own money, they have no business spending oodles of coin on ads and fundraising asks. It's blatantly hypocritical.
You can boil it all down to this - a phrase I'm sure Oliver would be familiar with: do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.
Each to their own doesn't work. That has always been the biggest crack in the Team Harper armour, one that self-serving opposition parties have never been able to successfully target.
We're seeing the condundrums that emerge when one tries to be a superpower, yet not part of this world now.