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Mark Camilleri: As EU leaders visit Newfoundland, the message is clear: It’s time to step up, Canada

Commentary

Today, Canada will wrap up a two-day Canada-EU Leaders Summit in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the first such meeting since June 2021. Given the strategic importance of Canada’s relationship with the EU, Canadians should pay close attention to its outcomes.

For the EU, its relationship with Canada represents a pivotal opportunity in the midst of growing global uncertainty: a stable, like-minded partner with enormous reserves of energy and critical minerals that is a friendly alternative to other authoritarian sources of these goods. One problem? Canada’s seeming inability to capitalize on this pressing demand.

The EU is one of Canada’s major trading partners—its third-largest, in fact, after the United States and China. The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), sits at the heart of this trade relationship and is, by conventional measures, working well. Trade has increased by over 50 percent since the agreement’s signing in 2016, with a greater participation of companies, especially SMEs.

Yet for all this success, the potential for Canadian businesses in the EU market (the world’s second-largest economy) remains—as it has for decades—largely untapped. Current developments in the EU offer significant opportunities for Canadian companies to expand their reach.

For one, the EU is embarking on a historic transition to a low-carbon and digital economy, a process that is nothing short of a continental re-industrialization. Essential to its success is access to vast amounts of critical minerals. Having recently experienced the weaponization of its energy and critical mineral supply, a key part of the EU’s new economic security strategy is to secure a reliable supply of the critical minerals it requires for its green transition. While the EU has recently put forward ambitious legislation to significantly increase its domestic sourcing of key raw materials by 2030 (10 percent from extraction, 40 percent from processing, and 25 percent from recycling), it will still rely on imports from other countries for years to come.

Canada is viewed by the EU as a reliable and like-minded partner, so it should come as no surprise that the EU wants to develop stronger ties with Canada. It’s time for Canada, which shares the EU’s commitment to the energy transition, to step up and produce more of what the EU and other allies need. While it has been slow to roll out, the Canadian government’s 2022 Critical Minerals Strategy (backed by a nearly $4 billion funding commitment) does offer the potential to align Canadian and EU interests. Canada must find a way to improve its complex permitting process and bring new strategic projects online faster—it is essential for Canada’s international credibility. 

In addition to critical minerals, the EU requires access to reliable energy supplies. While Canada does not export LNG directly to the EU, it can and should do more to increase LNG exports (especially to the Indo-Pacific) to help alleviate the pressure of global supplies for the EU. Beyond this indirect assistance, there are promising opportunities for other Canadian energy exports (such as hydrogen) and, in light of the current EU nuclear renaissance, the Canadian nuclear industry. 

The EU is also looking to develop its own clean tech sector. Canada is a leader in the clean tech industry and a pioneer of key emission-reducing technologies, including carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems and small modular reactors (SMRs). Engagement with the EU is critical to ensure that Canadian technologies and services are seen as part of the EU solution. Canadians should be paying attention to the signals coming out of this summit on such opportunities. Particular attention should be given to the state of Canada’s application to become an associate member of Horizon Europe (the EU’s flagship funding program for R&D with a budget of more than 95 billion euros) which offers a direct pathway to many of these economic opportunities.

Coupled with the EU’s re-industrialization efforts are the rules the EU is adopting to ensure that its products and goods are produced responsibly and sustainably. As the EU imposes higher environmental social and governance (ESG) standards on its own industries, it has developed tools (such as the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism) that will effectively exclude third-country products that do not meet these standards. In some cases, European businesses and importers will be forced to alter their suppliers to comply with new EU rules. Given such supply chain disruption, Canadian companies that can demonstrate their own high ESG standards stand to benefit from this exceptional opportunity for a deeper integration with the EU market.

In addition to the opportunities afforded by the EU Single Market, the summit will feature talks on cooperation on digital regulation such as AI and cyber-security. The EU is a regulatory powerhouse and its rules, particularly in digital regulation, are often exported abroad, or are otherwise complied with by foreign companies including Canadian ones (think, for example, of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation). As both Canada and the EU create their own rules on emerging industries like AI, they should ensure these rules are aligned and create opportunities for partnership. The summit offers the chance to establish key priority areas of cooperation.

In the present geopolitical context, the Canada-EU relationship is unusual in that it offers an oasis of stability. Yet beyond diplomatic niceties, it also offers the promise of real and viable growth for Canadian businesses. This is indeed something to celebrate and for Canadians to pay more attention to.

Ian Cooper: Be aware, law students—anti-Israel activism may (rightfully) cost you a job

Commentary

As the war between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization started to unfold last month, many law students at top schools across North America immediately rallied to the Palestinian cause.

Take, for example, Ryna Workman, the student bar association president at New York University’s law school, who claimed in an October 10 written statement: “I want to express, first and foremost, my unwavering and absolute solidarity with Palestinians in their resistance against oppression toward liberation and self-determination…Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life. This regime of state-sanctioned violence created the conditions that made resistance necessary.”

Workman’s prospective employer, a global law firm, didn’t take kindly to Workman’s apologia for a modern pogrom and victim blaming and promptly rescinded Workman’s job offer.

The one-sided statements emanating from other elite universities prompted dozens of American firms to send a letter to law school deans at Yale, Harvard, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell, the University of Michigan, New York University, and Stanford, expressing their concern about “reports of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assaults on college campuses, including rallies calling for the death of Jews and the elimination of the State of Israel,” and encouraged the schools to do their job in providing “students with the tools and guidance to engage in the free exchange of ideas, even on emotionally charged issues, in a manner that affirms the values we all hold dear and rejects unreservedly that which is antithetical to those values.”

These events have highlighted the tension between the freedom of individuals to express their political views and the freedom of prospective employers to take such statements into account when it comes to hiring. Individuals have a constitutional right to speak their minds without government interference, but it doesn’t come with employment guarantees. If private citizens, including employers, don’t like what they hear, they are free to act accordingly. This distinction between government and private actors, which receives extensive consideration in every single first-year constitutional law class, should be obvious to law students, if anyone.

The drama has not been limited to the U.S. At Toronto Metropolitan University’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law, 74 students signed a particularly obnoxious letter that stated “’Israel’ is not a country, it is the brand of a settler colony. So-called Israel has been illegally occupying and ethnically cleansing Palestine since 1948, when the British unlawfully conceded Palestine’s territory.”

The letter went on to claim that “the apartheid state referred to as ‘Israel’ is a product of settler colonialism…We assert that Hamas’ attack was a direct result of Israel’s 75-year-long systemic campaign to eradicate Palestinians, and that Israel is therefore responsible for all loss of life in Palestine.”

These are, speaking charitably, odd contentions given that (1) the group ought to have known that Israeli statehood has been recognized by the United Nations as a matter of international law for more than 75 years and (2) since Palestine, as defined by these students, is all of Israel, they too appeared to blame Hamas’s massacre of Israeli citizens on the Israeli government.

The students who have faced a backlash on both sides of the border are crying foul, but law firms are not only entitled to exclude them as a matter of employment law, they’re wise to do it.

Many of these strident public statements evinced a lack of basic skills nearly every law school exam tries to hone—namely an ability to wrestle with ambiguity, use precise language, and recognize opposing arguments.

They also exhibited a remarkable tone-deafness. It would be fair for prospective employers to wonder if this group could be expected to get along with colleagues and clients or worry that they would bring this combination of righteous toxicity and ignorance to their new jobs. 

Law firms are tightly knit environments in which new hires usually arrive for their first day of work with no relevant work experience, a high sense of self-worth, and an unusually large salary for a first job. Senior lawyers are expected to provide files to juniors and to spend years mentoring them, usually working on small teams within a specialized practice area.  

For those who stay a decade or more, equity partnership and the eventual bequest of a “book of business” offer the prospect of a seven-figure income. It’s not an easy path, which is why there’s so much attrition in the early years of practice. But it’s a fair trade for those who have the required skills and want to put in the time and effort.

Incoming students may feel it’s their right to waltz into a high-paying job in a large law firm, but many partners do not want to work with people who publicly express views they or their clients consider odious. 

Moreover, the warmed-over Marxism represented by the settler/colonizer narrative students have been parroting is fundamentally incompatible with a law firm’s corporate culture.

Large law firms are among the least Marxist workplaces one can find. Those who own the means of production—client relationships—profit off the labours of a much larger mass of proletarians who do the bulk of the work, measured in six-minute increments, who in turn are supported by a vast number of administrative staff who have no prospect of becoming owners, and who are often the first to go in an economic downturn.

The most common areas of private practice—corporate/commercial, civil litigation, insolvency, employment, and tax—and the high hourly rates charged for such expertise, do not provide fertile ground for social revolution.

In the absence of any employment history, grades and extracurricular activities are generally used as predictors of future job performance when engaging in the annual speed dating ritual that is student hiring. The thinking is that people who are involved in their communities can be assumed to be hard workers who can juggle multiple commitments and that they will bring the same energy to their new careers.

That thinking seems to be changing, as employers are beginning to ask why someone who fulminates in the language of intersectional justice and decolonization would ever want to work in a large law firm, and why the firm should want to bring such an avowed revolutionary activist into its midst. Whatever it means to be an ardent decolonizer in a major North American city in 2023, surely two thousand billable hours a year in the corporate restructuring or commercial litigation department couldn’t possibly scratch that itch.

Law firms are businesses that sell a tireless commitment to client service. They’re not Bolshevik workers’ councils that exist to effect broader social change.

In a choice between picking a student whose interests are rooted in critical race theory or one who is president of the business law club, the latter is looking more attractive than ever.

Rather than lament the absence of an imagined right to say whatever they want, however they want to say it, and be hired for a high-paying job by people who find their views abhorrent, these law students ought to have the courage of their convictions and choose careers that are more suited to their priorities and aspirations.

That may mean avoiding large full-service law firms and taking a lower-paying job in government, a legal clinic, or an NGO. 

No employer should have to apologize for hiring people who actually want to do the job they’re offering. When applicants tell employers who they are and what they want to do, they can’t fault law firms for listening.