A changing world, whether it be climate or politics means challenges for Canada, but also opportunity.
Canada and other northern nations with the ability to attract talented immigrants, increased economic activity due to changing climate and stable political systems stand to benefit, speakers said at the Grain Farmers of Ontario March Classic.
Why it matters: Anti-trade sentiment is growing around the world, but most northern countries continue to embrace trade and openness to other countries, which sets them apart from other parts of the world.
The world has changed and many people haven’t noticed, said Gordon Campbell, former premier of British Columbia and high commissioner to the United Kingdom. That explains why people in the UK couldn’t understand why people in Scotland wanted to separate, but who themselves voted enthusiastically to leave the European Union. That sentiment also explains why Donald Trump was elected president in the United States when few saw it coming.
“People in Cornwall (UK) voted 60 per cent for Brexit, but didn’t believe they would not get the millions of pounds they were used to from the EU,” he said, calling the phenomenon “willful blindness.”
In a place like Canada, with a growing trade connection to the world through the CETA agreement with Europe or the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) trade deal with the Pacific region, there will be places for farmers to find advantages in a less-predictable world. Campbell said in the UK, specifically, there will be opportunities.
“There is opportunity because there are no greater friends to the UK than Canada,” he said. The UK will have to become an open, trading economy connected to the world, once outside of the EU in order to maintain it standard of living.
“They’re not going to rebuild the empire,” he said referring to the British Empire of history.
They will need historical friends to trade with like Canada.
Laurence C. Smith, a professor and researcher at UCLA and a leading climate researcher told the March Classic that northern nations like Canada will be significantly affected by climate change, although not all negatively.
The changing climate is one of four major trends affecting countries like Canada in his book Four Forces Shaping Civilization’s Northern Future.
The four trends he’s identified include:
- Increasing urbanization around the world demanding more resources, resources that northern countries have in abundance
- The global aging of the population, especially in northern countries
- Water stress and demand around the world will put northern countries – with more stable clean water supplies – in more difficult positions when dealing with other countries. It will also mean northern stability while there’s instability elsewhere.
- The changing climate. He says there’s no doubt that the climate is changing, but that its effects vary across the globe. “Global warming is not always global and nor always warming,” he said.
Altogether, the result will be more movement of people around the world and northern countries are in a position to benefit by attracting the best immigrants, a model Smith said Canada already follows better than any other country.
Many of these trends will affect the agriculture sector, says Smith.
That includes increasing demand for food products as people move into cities.
“Consumers moving to the city have very different patterns of consumption than someone in China living an agrarian life.”
They will demand more protein rich foods, including grains and oilseeds, but also grain-fed meat. Efficient global supply chains and corporate interests already established in Ontario, will benefit, he said.
The changing climate will also affect global trading patterns, and that change has already started, said Smith, who researches how climate affects the Arctic. There are more potatoes being grown in Greenland. Shipping routes across the north, which have mostly been limited to hugging the Russian coast are changing to include opportunities to pass through the Northwest Passage, which will change the speed at which products can get to market.
He says more than large ships carrying good through, the volume of traffic moving locally in the Arctic has already increased, between communities, doing research, oil and gas prospecting and tourism.
Species are moving northward at a significant rate, which will have unpredictable effects on ecosystems, some negative and some positive.
He has more optimism for the new north than others, pointing to treaties that have been signed and negotiations held that portend a more peaceful outcome geopolitical jockeying in the north than some headlines might reveal.
Northern countries are already prepared for a more globalized world where trade moves differently, said Smith, as they are mostly, recent U.S. and British political decisions excepted, open to trade and have stable political systems.
Smith and Campbell both agree that there’s plenty of change to manage for farmers, countries and economic systems. Kirstine Stewart, who also spoke at the March Classic agreed. She is a former head of English-language programming at the CBC and of Twitter Canada.
“There’s opportunity in the disruption,” she said. “People are watching Canada. They are envious. Let’s make them totally jealous.”