Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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“Buy Canadian” is Only Part of the Answer

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, July 30 / 18

Zack Gross

Donald Trump (or as Harry Potter calls him, “He who must not be named”), has imposed tariffs on Canadian exports to the US, and of course our Prime Minister and his government have done the same back to our neighbours to the south. It’s possible to see long lists of the products (metal, lumber, food, etc.) that have been affected by these measures and counter-measures by undertaking a simple Google Search.

 On-line, on Facebook, through e-Petitions, etc., and on billboards around Manitoba, businesses and individual citizens and consumers are promoting the idea of “buying Canadian,” and to the extent possible boycotting American products.  Some are calling for Canadians not to spend their tourist dollars in the US, and some are even inviting – as they have done since he was elected – Americans to move to Canada as refugees!

Of course, there are different degrees to which some products can be called Canadian or American.  Take ketchup as an example.  There are Canadian companies that use Canadian ingredients and process their ketchup in Canadian factories.  Then there are US companies operating in Canada, manufacturing ketchup here and creating jobs for Canadians.  And there are also US companies operating in the States and exporting their ketchup for us to purchase. 

Some consumers have switched from Heinz to French’s brand condiments as, although the company is American, they have kept their plants operating in our country.  Some say they won’t make that change because Heinz is the ketchup taste that they want.  This is not dissimilar to Coca-Cola drinkers who say that generic brands just aren’t as good.  Taste “trumps” politics and economics in these cases!

Buying a product or buying from a particular company is at least, for the consumer, an act of making a choice.  And that is likely much better than mindlessly buying a product with little or no thought involved.  However, buying “Canadian” shouldn’t be the only consideration. 

Many Canadian companies don’t have the best record in areas such as environmental or labour policies or carry on questionable activities in developing countries.  And many companies have such complex ownership, shareholder involvement and management structures that it may just be a matter of opinion as to how Canadian they really are and what country or individual derives the most benefit.

If we assume that the world needs some “real change” right now, as opposed to tit-for-tat squabbling and one-upmanship, then we need to look deeper at issues around consumerism and citizenship.  After all, while we may not be able to control the President of the United States, we should be able to control ourselves and shape our personal decision-making to lend weight to creating a better world.

Why do we need change?  The world’s rich are getting exponentially richer while the other 99% of us are stagnating financially or getting relatively poorer.  Extreme weather events are increasingly putting our lives, our jobs and our property at risk.  Many countries, in both the poor parts of our planet and the rich parts, are facing increasingly dictatorial governance and both civil and regional conflict.  These factors put all of us at risk.

Oxford University Professor Kate Raworth says in her book Doughnut Economics that people need to start thinking like citizens, not consumers.  She points out that commercial thinking has changed the description of people’s role in society, from active citizens to passive consumers, leading us to accept and not question, especially if we are “doing OK” anyway.  Why rock the boat?  Let’s just eat! 

She also says that people nowadays expect monetary compensation for what they do and have lost the spirit of contributing to community (doing what’s right) and making their purchasing decisions based on what is best for “the commons” rather than on what is cheapest or trendiest.  She encourages us to bring back the ethic that our lifestyles and our social policies need to benefit people while preserving the environment.

How can you do this?  Seek out the good corporate citizens and make them part of your shopping experience.  Many companies have sustainability departments and policies that measure and improve their impact on the planet.  Many offer fair trade, ethical, local and organic products.  Many are active in philanthropic support, funding local and global social and environmental programs.  Many small companies specialize in carrying only ethical and “green” products and your support will help them survive in a mega-company world.

Let’s reverse the trend and think outside the box when we go shopping!

You can find more on this subject by checking out
Fair Trade Manitoba and Canadian Fair Trade Network.

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s The Marquis Project, home of Brandon’s award-winning Fair Trade Town Committee.

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