It’s a problem sharing a cage with a sick gorilla (Photo: Shealah Craighead, the White House, Public Domain).

As is often the case when dealing with Donald Trump, the saga of the five million N95 respirators built by Minnesota’s 3M Co. and purchased by Ontario keeps changing.

On Saturday, the U.S. President invoked the Defense Production Act to force the Maplewood, Minn.-based multinational to stop sending Canadians the suddenly precious pieces of medical personal protective equipment, which are considered the gold standard for personal protection when viral droplets start to fly.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Saturday night, the level of concern on this side of the Medicine Line was starting to ratchet up — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney posted one of his little social media homilies about how unhappy he was with President Trump.

“As a Canadian, I am insulted by the decision announced today to block the export of critically needed medical equipment that we need to fight the pandemic here in this country,” he intoned. “Apparently we can’t even count on our closest friend and ally to be a supplier.”

Yesterday morning, Canadian politicians were understandably starting to get wound up, with both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford assailing the United States.

Mr. Ford said Ontario had only a week’s supply of the masks on hand. Later in the day, Mr. Kenney said Alberta only had a month’s supply — contradicting earlier carefully worded reports by Alberta health officials that they had a three- to four-month supply of medical supplies and “slightly less” when it came to N95 respirators. Health care workers were frightened.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Yesterday evening, 3M was widely reported to have issued a news release saying it would continue to export the U.S.-made medical face masks to Canada. The deal with the White House is said to hinge on a plan by 3M to import more than 166 million of the masks from a facility it owns in China.

Canada looks to have secured a vital supply of face masks from the United States,” the National Post, champion of globalization, sighed with relief. Mr. Ford’s estimate of the original shipment size was adjusted to half a million.

But don’t count on it that all won’t change again tomorrow — because Donald Trump.

That’s that way it plays when a country forgets Lord Palmerston’s famous dictum“We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow” — and ties itself too closely to the empire next door.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford (Photo: Andrew Louis/Flickr, Creative Commons).

Of course, Lord Palmerston, later prime minister, was home secretary of Britain when he uttered those famous words in 1848, and Britain was the empire next door. Sometimes pursuing your country’s interests — at least pursuing them unsubtly — is not an option if you don’t happen to be the only Imperial power on the block.

That, of course, is Mr. Trudeau’s problem, and that of those lesser first ministers too, given our relative size and relationship with The Neighbours, as a Polish colleague of my father used to call his country’s “fraternal allies” to the east back in the 1970s.

Everyone understands that what President Trump was proposing was an embargo — an act of war, in other words, and embargoes of food and medical supplies are war crimes to boot.

Mr. Trudeau and his deputy, Chrystia Freeland, can hardly say that aloud, though, without risking dangerous repercussions. They understand, as a columnist for the Toronto Star put it yesterday, “we don’t have a North American ally any more,” we’re dealing with “a sick gorilla in a cage.” Anything could happen, and if we take a wrong step it probably will.

Lord Palmerston circa 1845 (Painted by John Partridge, 1789-1872, Public Domain).

So what can we do about it?

Not much for now, other than stepping very carefully.

Longer term, maybe we can be a little less enthusiastic about those globalizing “trade” deals that Liberals and Conservatives alike seem to love so much.

Obviously, we need to create our own secure supply of medical equipment like N95 masks — even Mr. Kenney concedes that. But the “secure” part of that equation means they must be made by a Crown corporation, because we can never — literally never — trust a private corporation not to go broke, close down and move somewhere else, or sell out to someone who doesn’t have our interests at heart.

And maybe now that we’ve been threatened with the receiving end of one of the United States embargoes, we can stop jumping aboard so enthusiastically every time President Trump or whoever succeeds him decides to embargo some other country because it won’t bow to the Washington Consensus, be that Russia, Iran or Venezuela.

And maybe, here in Alberta, the next time we have a dust-up with British Columbia over a pipeline project we can stop threatening to boycott shipments of vital supplies to them. Although, at least in that case, we have Canadian courts that can step in and encourage Premier Kenney to act like a grownup.

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  1. Once we got over the reality that we were being lied to about masks, that masks actually do work, the next lie was that we shouldn’t bother with gloves, because gloves don’t work. Of course we all know that gloves and masks work, because medical workers wear them. The other lies we’ve been told: don’t stock up on food and toilet paper. Anyone who has tried to buy meat, flour, milk, eggs or toilet paper in the past three weeks is now getting the idea that the supply chain is not fine. These things are not being restocked, or minimally/sporadically restocked, to the extent that shoppers must go from store to store and join lines like the old days of the USSR, not knowing what’s in store. So are these things missing by embargo, or prioritized to the highest foreign bidder for export? Things are not right. The supply chain is not fine. Is it just reefer trucks being sold to governments for mobile morgues, or what?

    1. I don’t feel we were lied to about masks. The prevailing thought about them was that they were a secondary or further along measure below distancing, isolating and washing hands. I agree. Unless the mask is medical grade N95 or better, the little buggers can enter. So if they were given the green light I can assure you there would be multitudes walking the streets and stores that ignore the golden standards I mentioned because they think they are protected.

      I have watched several people with masks in my small community. They ALL arranged their masks several times, held it to their face with their hands etc. And unless they took it off PROPERLY when they got home and effectively cleaned it they might as well just have touched their faces to multiple surfaces.

      Gloves are worse. People still touch their faces or surfaces and then discard them in the parking lot or think they’re protected. It’s ludicrous and dangerous. They’ll use their gloves to drive home but not clean their steering wheel and turn signal. Or their handles or glasses etc etc.

      In my small community there is no shortage of food. No shortages whatsoever EXCEPT due to hoarding shoppers that was replaced with the new shipment.

      You are dangerously misinformed.

      1. I agree.

        It requires expertise to properly use masks and gloves. I doubt I’d exhibit the necessary expertise so I will rely on social distancing, washing constantly and staying home as much as possible.

      2. Mr T: thank you for making some valid points on the mask issue. Please allow me to reinforce them with a few of my own.

        Firstly, N95 masks need to be fit-tested, a ritual we health care professionals must undergo every two years. One of our large health care employers is now scrambling to fit-test in a crisis, employees whose previous tests are overdue. The average Joe or Jane out in the broader society isn’t being fit-tested, so these masks are not just useless but potentially dangerous.

        Secondly, the coronavirus is just that, a virus: a tiny particle, much smaller than a bacterium, so small it is only visible using an electron microscope. In fact, viruses were once called “filtrable viruses”, because they could pass through the micron-level filters used by biologists to research bacterial infections and colonization. An ordinary surgical, or “procedure”, mask, will not filter them out, nor will a cloth mask. Procedure masks and cloth masks can stop or reduce virus-containing “droplets” from being expelled by the wearer, reducing the risk of transmitting virus to others or into the environment, but they cannot protect the wearer from catching it.

        There are procedures for properly donning & doffing PPE to prevent recontamination. As health care workers, we are obligated to refresh our PPE training every year. How many ordinary folks do so?

    2. There was an article explaining the toilet paper shortages that claimed it was because of increased demand — and that explains the flour/yeast problems too. We’re now all spending all our time at home, so we’re using toilet paper at home (rather than work or school) and people are baking and cooking because they have time, for comfort and to fight off boredom, and because, again, we’re eating all our meals at home rather than in restaurants.

      I haven’t had trouble with milk or eggs, although the last time I went shopping there was no cream. But the shortages are mostly because of vastly increased demand for stuff we consume at home.

  2. “Act like a grownup” is good advice for everyone. But what does it mean?

    It means, among other things, to step away from self-serving and parochial impulses in one’s decision making and to have knowledge of and utilize science, facts and accepted truth as a basis for making decisions. This is surely no guarantee of wise determinations but it is what makes the difference between a child and a grownup.

    We are seeing today, the dark side of 4 decades of the free reign of corporatism. Business schools, the media and even the ‘common’ man-in-the-street have all celebrated globalization and the miracle of just-in-time inventories. It’s incredible that one can get a shirt for the cost of about 10 minutes work and fresh strawberries in January.
    While we all have been celebrating our new found wealth, (not that anyone has more money, just that we can buy so much more!) we have missed noting the disappearing manufacturing facilities and distribution chains, the loss of skilled tradesmen and professionals and the depletion of ‘bench strength’ in productive activities across the board and the connection of communities to their sources of income. All this has been replaced with the industrialization of what we call service. This is our neoliberal economy.

    Neoliberalism seems great, at first. But it’s not. Service is not a profession nor a trade; servers are not professionals nor tradesmen. One does not replace the other; it’s a trick!
    In a globalized, just in time economy profits got to the top as always. In this case the top is, by definition, in some far away place, not your community. In a neoliberal economy ownership becomes more and more concentrated because there is only one globe so you only need one source of control for a global economy.
    Concentrated ownership means concentrated wealth can buy (and sell) more political power.

    So, here we are, eating our fresh strawberries in the snow. We know our government doesn’t represent us, they are far too busy brown-nosing their corporate masters. We see our local infrastructure falling into disrepair while the globalised supply chain is being strengthened with our tax dollars. Our natural resources and environment being decimated and destroyed so that globalized supply can be competitive.
    And now, our friends, our community, our own family members are dying all around. Why? Because no one, IN AUTHORITY, was watching out for our community. My community, your community, anybody’s community is not part of the goddamn global economy!
    So we’re not prepared. We don’t have materials. We don’t have the personnel. We just get sick. And die.

    A liberal democracy does not produce a neoliberal economy.
    A liberal democracy comes from the strength of individuals making decisions for their communities.
    A liberal democracy produces a government that represents those people and those communities. Represents those individuals and those communities by invoking and enforcing laws and regulations that constrain activities and actions of corporations, foreigners and others whose interests are not in alignment with those individuals and those communities.
    A government in a liberal democracy is a bulwark against the depredations of corporations and foreigners. It stands for the people. It protects citizens. Against foreigners and corporations.
    A strong liberal democratic government is our ONLY defense from the globalized neoliberal impulses surrounding us today.

  3. Yes, we are ok now, until Mr. Trump does something else stupid. It must be a familiar pattern by now, the mercurial Trump comes up with an idea perhaps, to distract from something else stupid he has done, and one country, more, or the world is blindsided.

    It is true countries have interests, but unnecessarily antagonizing various formerly close allies and friends on a regular basis is really not in the long term interest of the US. It might be in the short term interest of a politician trying to find a path to re-election. Some people in the US get how damaging this actually is to US interests and sometimes they can explain it to those in power, often only after some damage is already done.

    If anyone in the US reads this, they should know that the rest of the world will not quickly forget the mercurial, chaotic approach to dealing with other countries Trump has taken. After he is gone, yes the US will still have interests, but it will it a lot harder to get countries to go along with them, because it will have a lot fewer friends.

  4. It’s not so much a ‘sick gorilla in a cage’. More like the White House is occupied by a petulant baby-man, who screams his indignation at every single slight, whether or not it really is a slight.

    Acts of war come easy to the Trumpster, because his slum lord father, who Trump idolized, was always ready to pass judgments on anyone. (But skin color was an important variable in those decisions.)

    And there’s the matter of the infamous Roy Cohen. Cohen was the elder Trump’s long time lawyer, adviser, and dirty trickster. Trump is still angry at God for taking Cohen away from him. (But Cohen’s death was definitely a win for everyone else.)

    Dealing with Trump is like dealing with a real life version of Don Corleone, without the gravitas of Marlon Brando.

    Welcome to the Apprentice world of international relations, where only the likes of Putin and Mohammed bin Salman get the respect of Trump.

    1. I have bookmarked a performance by the “other” Michael.
      Mike Daisey doing “The Trump Card”.
      In the performance, Mike raises the point that Roy cohen played a very important part in the execution of the Rosenburg’s (for espionage). He was deeply embedded in the closet, and died due to AIDS.

      1. If you can find a copy, check out “Citizen Cohn” by Nicholas Von Hoffman (1988).
        From Library Journal, “Roy Cohn was not so much a lawyer as an operator. All his life he preferred manipulating connections with the rich and powerful to playing by the rules diligently.”
        Any comparisons with present date politicians are purely coincidental.

      2. Other performances depicting Roy Cohen…,

        Al Pacino’s performance in ‘Angels in America’ portrays a person who had no compulsion to every be ethical and feasted on personal insults and attacks.

        James Woods in ‘Citizen Cohen’ an interesting play on Citizen Kane. Cohen is depicted as an nasty and destructive power broker who lived in a constant state of war. Even in his dying moments he still wanted revenge.

        Look to Roy Cohen to see the templet for Trump’s madness.

  5. Gov’t policy must change:
    Simply requiring Companies who import to have some manufacturing on the ground in Canada starting at at least 10% and up to 50% in 5 years with almost no exceptions would make for far better policy. We would have had a place to start from.
    And Military equipment should be built and sourced in Canada even if by a foreign company.

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