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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Foreign Ownership of the Means of Chocolate Production

The somewhat erratic Conservative Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, says that the markets should decide who owns legendary British brand, Cadbury.

Hence the public outcry. And in the controversy there is a conundrum for Conservatives. There is a contradiction in Conservative thinking, a mixture a bit like a Cadbury Creme Egg. There is the surface toughness of free-market ideology, the hard necessity of exposure to international competition. Then beneath that is the gooey confusion of a general desire to protect old national institutions, and to honour icons of British culture, and to preserve time-honoured businesses and their dependants.

Which should a Conservative prefer? The hard bit or the soft bit? The reality is that, as with a Creme Egg, you can't have the one without the other.

It is now two decades since the public was seized with an almost identical patriotic angst about the takeover of Rowntree by Nestlé. Thousands marched, and newspapers protested; and eventually Nestlé won. Not every change has been good. I miss the old Smarties tubes. But it is thanks to Nestlé's global clout that Rowntree built a huge new Aero factory in York two years ago. It is thanks to Nestlé's marketing drive that the world is now exposed to a dizzying array of Kit Kats.

The argument goes just as well for oil, gas, coal, water, electricity and every other good or service. Those with long political memories will recall the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA). An icon of the Seventies Canadian Left. FIRA was the Trudeau government's ham fisted attempt to play dirigiste with the economy. The Canadian Encyclopaedia article reads:

The agency advised the government (through the minister of industry, trade and commerce) on what action should be taken, if any. In making its recommendations, FIRA took the following factors into consideration: the effect of the investment on employment and economic activity in Canada; the effect on Canadian productivity, technological development and product variety; the degree of Canadian participation in management; the effect on competition; and the compatibility of the investment with national policies.

In other words, it was a Can-Con requirement for the Canadian economy. Its spiritual origins, however, predate the Trudeau years, going all the way back to the 1870s and Macdonald's National Policy. The conceit of FIRA was that Canadians weren't smart or patriotic enough to defend Canada, the government had to do that for them. If foreigners - read Americans - owned Canadian industry, we would in short order cease to be Canadian. You are what you shop. A nation not as an idea, instead a nation as a government managed economic deal, in which Canadian consumers and taxpayers must foot the bill. For the good of the country, of course.

Posted by Richard Anderson on December 17, 2009 | Permalink


Canadian Content = Ontario control. These laws were passed so that the racist rich of Ontario would have open markets. Without US competition they could sell overpriced cheap crap to Westerners, Quebecers and Maritimers and reap huge profits. That's why they complained like mad over free trade - at first. Once they realized that the US market generated greater profits, they quietly abandoned their criticisms - but not their politics. That's why they told Chretien to exempt them from Kyoto. They knew it would ruin them, so they put the costs on to Alberta - the perfect foil, being powerless and rich. Thank goodness that global warming proved to be a gigantic scam.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2009-12-17 2:15:20 PM

"You are what you shop."

We are in big trouble. We make next to nothing and what we do make is generally owned by outside interests. As with the Avro Arrow, when we do make something to be proud of, we will be shut down. As long as we are outnumbered 10 to 1 by our neighbors and best friends this will not change.We march to their drums.

Posted by: peterj | 2009-12-18 9:09:48 PM

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