The debrief

Rex Murphy is a most enjoyable radio host with whom to work. On Cross Country Checkup he honours every caller, giving each of them a full opportunity to state their case. He draws out the best in people and never cuts them off as do some shock jocks.

I spent the full two hours in studio with Rex yesterday trying to add some of my modest thoughts to the debate. The topic was the soaring loonie and the callers were a thoughtful, geographically diverse bunch from Victoria, B.C. to Truro, N.S. and north to Baffin Island. They included a long-haul truck driver whose shipments to the U.S. are shrinking, a female entrepreneur who can’t compete because Canadian book publishers have maintained high prices and a man who worries about Canadian productivity at any price because management at his place of employment has added too many redundant positions in the upper ranks.

Everyone was irate about laggardly Canadian retailers who have refused to drop prices on books, cards, autos and a host of other items even though the C$ is 60 per cent stronger than five years ago. The most surprising example was the caller who priced a new Bombardier 400cc ATV and found it’s $2,500 cheaper in the U.S. – even though the vehicle is made in Canada. When he called Bombardier to complain they told him the market was more competitive there. Buying new in the U.S. and bringing it home doesn’t work because that voids the three-year warranty. Gotcha.

I was frankly amazed to hear a consensus among callers that parity is no help unless you’re a snowbird with a pension that will go further this winter in the U.S. Indeed, Canadians know full well that parity has a negative economic impact because we have too many industries – including forestry, automotive and tourism – that are being devastated.

The final caller, David Ganong, head of a company that’s been making chocolates for four generations in St. Stephen, N.B., said it all. The rising dollar already caused layoffs a year ago. The only reason his firm has survived these last twelve months is that two or three competitors were forced to close so his market share grew. There are tens of thousands of such struggles going on across this country.

I said at the end of the show that I thought Canada had turned a corner last week. I fear that the street we’re on now may be dark and mean.

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