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A Canadian slant on the sensitive issues.

Dr. Walker has strong opinions on some of the most talked-about issues in business today, both in the United States and in Canada Here, he shares his views.


The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is the second best alternative from Canada's point of view. We've had a Canada American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) that gave us better protection over our access to the U.S. market. But because the United States and Mexico were bent on coming to a free trade agreement between themselves, Canada had no option but to seek to be a trilateral member.

NAFTA will lead to diversion of Canadian products, since some of the items we now export to the U.S. will be exported from Mexico. We'll also see investment diversion, as foreign firms wanting to take advantage of the U.S. market and of somewhat lower costs in the Mexican market may opt to invest there rather than in Canada. We're going to lose something, but there's a huge potential in the Mexican market that may offset our losses. In the long term, all of North America will be better off with a trilateral arrangement rather than the "hub and spoke" arrangements that would otherwise result.


Health care in Canada is a monopoly run by the public sector, which is the single supplier of resources. It's a health care system in trouble. The trouble, however, is not yet obvious to Canadians.

In Canada, you don't pay anything to get access to the health care system. And therefore 95 percent of the population, who really don't have anything seriously wrong with them, feel we have the best health care system in the world. But those who are waiting, for example, 40 weeks for bypass surgery (in the province of Newfoundland), or waiting more than a year for hip replacements, or elderly people who are waiting six months for cataract surgery recognize that our health care system is in dire trouble.

One symptom of trouble is the capping of physicians' incomes. The general practitioner in British Columbia now may bill the provincial health plan for only $300,000 in total costs. That includes salary and all the costs of running a general practitioner's office. A specialist may bill for $360,000. As soon as you begin to put income controls of that kind into a system, it's not long before you see other, more serious symptoms of decay.

And our hospital waiting list survey shows other symptoms emerging, such as rationing access to supply and a lack of high-technology medicine.

Most people don't assess Canada's health care plan on the basis of how "high tech" it is or on how we treat people who really need health care intervention. They judge it on the basis of unlimited access. And that's relatively cheap to provide, as is clear from the British case, where they spend only about 5 percent of their GNP on health care, but of course don't deliver the product.

Americans complain about spending 12 percent on health care. But you're not paying much more for health care than we are in Canada, perhaps an adjusted 1.5 percent more of your GNP. And you're getting a hell of a big difference in product for that.


What if the worst happened and Quebec left Canada? How should you as a financial executive regard that? You should then see Canada as an even better place in which to invest. Canada would have a better balance sheet than it has now, in the sense that Canada is less indebted on average either internationally or internally than is the province of Quebec.

In addition, Quebec is a beneficiary of the federal transfer system in Canada. It gets net benefits from the rest of Canada as a result of its being inside the Canadian federation. If Quebec were to leave, the federal treasury would be that much more in surplus than it is at the moment, by an amount of nearly one-third of the federal deficit.

And, finally, Canada would be a better net exporter as a country and therefore better able to service whatever foreign obligations it might have, because Quebec is a net drain on the rest of Canada. The debt servicing cost incurred by the province of Quebec reduces our net export position as a country.
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Title Annotation:views on issues affecting Canadian business
Author:Walker, Michael A.
Publication:Financial Executive
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Candid about Canada and the U.S. - for the future.
Next Article:When you want to give to charity.

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