OPINION by MATT McEACHRAN
Cross border shopping is back with a vengeance.
So many people are shopping south these days; neighbours greet each other while in line at U.S. customs; you bump into friends you haven’t seen in years in the aisle at Sam’s Club; discussion of amazing bargains is becoming regular conversation around the water cooler at work; and Facebook statuses spout the latest deals at McDonalds. (ten chicken nuggets are just $1.99 by the way)
People are driving an hour or even two just for a day of shopping in Port Huron. What’s caused this sudden resurgence in what is becoming one of southwestern Ontario’s favourite past times?
Part of it at least is the fact that the deals really are that good. And the list of items that are that cheaper seems to grow longer every day. When one can grab a passport and magically buy milk, juice, chicken, light bulbs, hardware, furniture, and so much more for almost half price, even a room full of government economists should be able to figure this one out.
The high dollar, anti-cross-border’s favourite whipping boy, will of course be rolled out and publicly trounced as the demon that is driving Canadians across the border in droves. And its partially true, a “par” dollar does create some good bargains indeed.
That will be followed by the predictable chorus of requests that the government do something to stem this tide; lower the Looney, lower the amount Canadians can bring back without being hauled in to pay HST, create a blue ribbon committee to investigate; anything at all to discourage (read “punish”) Canadians from being able to shop where they clearly have shown they want to.
Is this really the best we can do? We can’t compete, so government please slant the rules in our higher-priced favour and force consumers to shop here? We’re Canadians; we don’t need the referee to bend the rules for us! We can compete on a level playing field, dang it!
There’s a crazy idea that the “high” Canadian dollar (and by high, remember we actually mean about even) isn’t the problem. It’s merely a symptom of a much bigger problem. And as any good Canadian doctor will tell you, you can’t fix an illness by treating the symptoms.
A big chunk of our lack of ability to compete may have more to do with some of the burdensome and costly regulations and policies we all love so much in Canada. You know the regulations, they’re the ones government denies are burdensome or costly.
A year or two ago I happened to bump into a couple of McDonalds franchise owners at a conference. I asked what I think everyone would ask, given that same opportunity: How come Chicken McNuggets are so much more in Canada? (in case you’re keeping score, they’re $5.99 for ten over here)
“You’ve heard of the milk board?” they replied. “Well there’s a similar government board that controls the price of chicken too.”
Are you kidding me?
Unfortunately they weren’t.
We all know government taxes are the reason gasoline is more expensive, most of us realize the milk board drives up the price of milk until we pay double the price of our Port Huron friends, and now apparently there is some type of chicken board doing the same thing too? I’m sorry, how’s the even, oops I mean “high” dollar responsible for this?
It’s not. And the reason Ontario has lost so many manufacturing jobs, and the reason we have gone from an economic powerhouse to a have-not province, is the same reason so many of our products are now over-priced: Big government isn’t the answer, it’s the problem.
In good faith we turned to government to fix a lot of these economic problems. We didn’t know they actually created a lot of them. You know the really scary part; neither did they. They don’t have a clue. If they did, do you think we’d be enjoying the $18 billion Ontario deficit on top of it all?
Where does this leave us? Well, not in a happy place. We need to stand up together and tell our government, at every level, we want real change. Canadians who enjoy the benefits of cross border shopping and the merchants and others who are harmed by it, need to band together and fight the real cause of our high prices, and not some band-aid solution aimed at symptoms.
That will end the high prices at home, and the cross border shopping.