Start A Petition

The North American Union

World  (tags: USA, Canada, Mexico, North American Union, Bush, Neocons )

- 4103 days ago -
The editor-publisher of our local weekly newspaper, once my employer, this week wrote a column advocating the "Amero" -- a common currency agenda for Canada, Mexico and the USA.


We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.


Blue Bunting (855)
Thursday December 27, 2007, 3:51 pm
North American Union: Independent Canada, class leadership, and resistance to Empire

The editor-publisher of our local weekly newspaper, once my employer, this week wrote a column advocating the “Amero” -- a common currency agenda for Canada, Mexico and the USA. This newsman is not usually a political writer, yet maybe his ideas are more attuned with the common opinions of our town than mine are; I can never get elected to city council, despite four attempts. I don't “resonate” with the public in my electoral platforms, I have been told by the editor of the other newspaper. I oppose the idea of one continental currency (the so-called “Amero"), or of anything else that will submerge us more thoroughly into any form of union with the USA. So naturally the present project of Bush, Harper and Calderon for North American Union (NAU), or Security Prosperity Partnership (SPP), pushes my outrage button. Setting outrage on pause, I want to examine why Canadians should reject these schemes.

Canadian proponents of the Am-Can-Mex Union scheme are not bad people, but they have weak concepts of Canadianism. They are, in one word, unenlightened -- whether one means “enlightened” in its sense of educated and insightful, or in its spiritual sense of uplifted and un-self-centred. Yet their secular leadership is not without effect in our national politics, economics, schools, and media.

It is still within the power of Canadians to head-off the "deep integration" of their nation within a continental super-state, if we have the political will to act accordingly. So herewith, I will make an historical case against NAU and SPP. It is sometimes a harsh judgement of my fellow-citizens, but bear with me. I do believe in the basic wisdom of Canadians. We just need our consciousness focused.

My political analysis is fundamentally sociological, and takes for granted that there is a ruling class in this country, regardless of our democratic forms and fond notions of not having classes here. Here's my argument in miniature: in our history, the Canadian people as a whole have provided an essential social base for an independent, sovereign government in our electoral democracy. But not consistently, and only occasionally energetically, have we enforced upon our leadership classes how much we value national autonomy.

Therefore in the past our leadership has been able to move the tides of public opinion toward one or another of the two great powers in the “Anglosphere,” the USA and the UK. Because of our tenuous relationship, psychologically and culturally, with the overwhelming presence of these two powers, we've constructed only a fragile economic and political independence.

In sum, these two states, the UK and U.S., have exercised a fascination over our political and cultural imaginations. Our public opinion shows ebbs and flows in the feeling that the Empire and the USA ought not to absorb us into their orbits. Their gravitational pull is massive, our resistance, sketchy. Historical parallels do suggest themselves, as the conflicted relationship of Scots to English -- or, until 1989, East Germans to West Germans. Yet we are unique; the pressure Canadians have been under to fall willingly into the embrace of an attractive giant, and lose our identity, is not paralleled elsewhere that I know.

I conceive of a deep well of popular sentiment for this nation's continued uniqueness that will avert union with the United States. But sentiment weighed against self-interest is not enough to keep a nation in being. Quebec sovereigntists know this better than anyone, perhaps. When we are subjected to stresses of economic scarcity or military threats, we have historically sheltered with a stronger power, led there by our elites. The path away from these precedents is the same path that takes us away from our conventional leadership class and parties, to a novel form of internal democratic governance.

It is precisely the relationship, between our internal democratic functioning and the outside globe of foreign economies and polities, that has some people declaring Canadians uniquely post-modern in the 21st Century. B.W. Powe in his slim book, A Tremendous Canada of Light, argues for this evolutionary path to becoming a nation with qualities no other has. Another writer has referred to the “unbearable lightness of being Canadian.” Richard Gwyn, in The Forty-ninth Paradox, studies our relations with the USA and finds Canadians' distinctions from the Americans often subtle but not superficial.

Clearly, there is something about who Canadians are that provokes observers to puzzle over our qualities. Suffice it to say here that Canadianism is a much-remarked-upon thing.

More than our intangible Canadianism, our quasi-colonial and dependent subordination to other powers has gotten attention from critics of Canada both inside and out of the nation. Are we a colony, client, ally, satellite, partner, or equal, of the two great powers with whom we have such close connections? Any one of those words applies at different times.

Our drift out of the tight British imperial embrace was, in retrospect, quite steady in the twentieth century. But I have not found that many Canadians foresaw that in their future in 1900. Though it is clear now that Britain is not privileged in our politics (beyond the personal link via the Crown), in cultural terms the break from the old mother country has been much less clear. To take only the most obvious example, in our news media the British scene is far more reported than any other foreign land's with the exception of America. In cultural consumption by Canadians, we see lingering fascination with things British; BBC-TV shows are popular here; so is British music.

Then there is “Our Neighbour to the South.” As anyone who knows a little Canadian history can tell you, it's never been easy for Canada staying sovereign and independent from the United States of America. Since their Revolution, against the Empire in which we stayed, Americans have always held our eye. It is as obvious today as any time in the past. We have agreed to their cultural presence here by our actions. Our purchasing choices tell us we do not object to America's economic dominance here.

I am going to give short shrift to the “French fact” in our history; I concentrate on the Anglophone sections of Canada. English-French differences assume large proportions in my story at points where domestic politics have an impact on our sense of self. The British knew the French fact was of weight in their calculations since 1763. From our schoolbook history we have learned that the presence of francophone Roman Catholics in Britain's empire was a matter of difficult difference for the imperial masters in the eighteenth century (although less of a problem than the millions of Irish-speaking Catholics England ruled from 1690 onwards).

We Anglos know that Quebecois nationalists constantly have criticized English Canadians for being so little distinguished from Americans. The words of Charlebois' lyrics, “nordern, easdern, wesdern, mais pas americain,” reflect a popular attitude in Quebec. But due to my own limitations I will not be offering comment on how the Francophones of Quebec have resisted the embraces of the U.S..

I am going to start with the American Revolution and the arrival in Ontario or Upper Canada of English Loyalists and the creation of a new colony in 1791. Loyalism was not anti-democratic, no matter what American historians have tried to establish as the consensus opinion in their Revolution's historiography. The United Empire Loyalists did not reject democracy; they rejected republicanism under a colonial elite they had good reason to mistrust as demagogues, not democrats.

The American Patriots employed terrorist tactics (tar and feathers, arson, assaults, murder) to empty the areas they controlled of anyone who were loyal to the Crown, and recently American historians have been writing to balance the old picture. It's not all heroic patriotic revolutionaries fighting aristocrat-kissers and king-lovers, though U.S. schoolchildren are still raised on this simplified myth.

American exceptionalism has been the theme of their historiography. In our histories, Canadian gradualism and moderation -- “the peaceable kingdom of peace, order and good government” -- is encountered quite often. But our histories have not had the unified theory of exception that the US has created for itself.

First nations peoples were also affected by the American rebellion Aboriginal residents of the USA were not of British stock, yet also came north to Canada when their fight against the Revolution failed: The Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy was broken by the American rebellion, with some nations for the Revolution, some neutral, and some pro-British. Britain's ignoble dishonesty toward its Iroquois allies in the war against the Revolutionaries is a blot on Canadian history also, since the promises to Joseph Brant and his Mohawk nation were broken. Ontario lands in native reserves along the Grand River were appropriated from the first nations by shoddy manipulations after 1783.

From 1791 to 1812, Ontario or Upper Canada, was an experiment in making a carbon copy of old England, and it failed. Too many people of nations other than pure English wanted to participate in the building of a new society. John Graves Simcoe, despite naming a river the Thames and his capital London, failed to force Ontario into the mould of merrie olde England. He wanted an aristocracy, a nobility of blood and privilege, to grow on our soil, but it stubbornly failed to take root in our democratic air. In New Brunswick, named after King George III's German homeland, another try at making a New World order, copied from the idealized English shires, failed. One could say that a negative sense of nationalism was incipient in the failure of social engineering by English chauvinist governors.

The War of 1812 has of course been turned by our nationalist historians into the great Canadian epic of a fight against expansionist aggression by the USA, and that is too simple a picture too. But it remains a substantial tale of how Upper and Lower Canada's populations showed, in action, that the American republic was not their choice for a model of governance. However, the victory in this war was not so much one for Canadians as for British imperial forces. The Yanks burned York in 1813 but then went home. For them it was the “Second War of Independence,” as the Brits burned Washington in reprisal. It was an impasse. They failed to annex Upper Canada; Britain gained nothing for its empire. We chose again to continue as colonies by not rising up and welcoming the American plan of annexation.

The Canadian war effort to defeat American invasion in 1812 and 1813, with significant help from Natives led by Tecumseh, did not demonstrate that we wanted subservient politics in a British colonial order. Solid proof that Canadians rejected a slavish obedience, to British monarchy and aristocratic government from overseas, came in 1837. In two insurrections, and a further one in 1838 in Quebec alone, William Mackenzie in Ontario and Louis-Joseph Papineau in Quebec were the political figureheads for democratic resistance in arms against the Empire. The new British Queen, Victoria, took seriously her responsibility to inquire into this revolt against her colonial government, and sent an aristocrat, Lord Durham, for that purpose. His Report is a seminal document in Canadian democrats' history.

These rebellions were caused by a constellation of circumstances in that time, and significantly the Americans did not attempt to invade Canada at this moment of British weakness. The rebels were not agents of an American imperialist design to overthrow the monarchy and join the Republic -- although later the USA would use such tactics to extend their reach in Latin America by backing rebels against Spain or Mexico. The events of 1837-38 were a home-grown Canadian phenomenon. Certainly they set up lasting resonance in our tradition of self-government.

Rebellion had a radical significance for democracy in Canada, even implicating liberty for the first nations peoples. The manifesto read out by Wolfred and Robert Nelson on their brief invasion of Canada from the U.S. in 1838, as part of the second rebellion against the British, contained a provision for electoral enfranchisement of Native men. But British power snuffed out the insurrections, using both British troops and colonial militia to do the brutal work of repression in Lower Canada..

Importantly, the major rebel leaders of 1837-38 were steeped in Franco-American Enlightenment ideals of liberty; those ideals were not forerunners of the Canadian way in politics, for generally Canadians kept more to the way of English and Scots politics than to European models. What the British did in their Parliament meant much more than what the French liberals or American republicans were doing.

The republicanism of Papineau and Mackenzie in 1837 aligned them in sympathy with foreign political tradition, and that path met a dead end here. By 1848, the Baldwin-Lafontaine political bloc found a compromise way to democracy for Canada. The notions of Mackenzie and Papineau -- that America's was a better empire to belong to, more welcome than Britain's -- had very few adherents. Canadian historians teach that the Baldwins and Lafontaine engineered local “responsible government” in 1849, a path neither republican in the way of America, nor subordinate to British notions of a natural aristocracy. Lord Durham assumed there would be two parties, determined by language, but was quite wrong. Liberal Anglophones and the “bleu” Francophones upset the calculation made in 1840 by Britain, of a race-based politics when the colonial office united Ontario and Quebec into Canada.

The social base for Baldwin-Lafontaine liberal politics was the middle class. There were economic liberals in the Canadian capitalists whose fortunes were made in commodities and land; their bourgeois retainer-classes in the professions of law, medicine, clergy, literature, education, engineering, banking, and the civil service, were liberal by ideological conviction. Liberals were autonomist, not anti-colonial. They admired English liberals like Joseph Hume, the Mills, Bentham, Cobden, and Bright.

But the small producers on farms, the habitants, artisans, or the urban working class - what party had they to represent their best interests? These classes at the bottom were not easy to see in the bloc supporting the liberal notion of democracy. They were not active politicians, merely followers.

In elections at this time, those Canadians not in the town-based middle classes voted for Baldwin and Lafontaine. They understood that their hard lives were not due to the Empire in which Canada was entrenched, but to domestic “bourgeois gentlemen” above them in the local social hierarchy. For the petty bourgeois, the farmers, the urban workers, no party representing their voice had yet come into existence. The national consciousness of these layers was not ideological but practical. This was the era of early machine industrialism in the English-speaking world, and workers were engulfed in the social changes this revolution wrought.

Once responsible government was negotiated by Baldwin and Lafontaine, the bourgeois elite of Montreal business issued an Annexation Manifesto in 1849, calling for the United States of America to annex Canada. A riot in Montreal resulted in a fire that burned the House of Assembly of the united Province. Why? Because the first act of the new Canadian semi-democracy was to compensate property-owners who suffered losses in the violence of the rebellions a decade before. The businessmen were enraged that “rebels were being rewarded for disloyalty” to Britain, they said. Their solution? Join the USA.

A pro-American business elite participated in this event. This class fraction thereby had shown its face clearly as a reactionary force, in revealing its rage against democracy. In Latin America, such an elite of propertied businessmen and mercantile interests came to be known as “compradors” when their politics were designed to collaborate with the power of great external capitalist states in America or Europe. Canada too has its comprador capitalist class fractions; they favour the NAU today. Since capital is international, this elite is not nationalist. They truly are foes of Canadian national independence.

Historically, Canadian government in the United Province, which married Ontario and Quebec from 1840 to 1867 in accord with Lord Durham's recommendation, was always finely attuned to the economic requisites of sharing a continent with the terrific dynamism of American capitalism. The drain of new immigrants from Canada to the U.S. in short order after their arrival here showed just how the American dream and its successful realization pulled many people from north to south, not east-to-west. The USA was an autonomous capitalist republic suffering under much less of capital dependency on Europe than Canada did, and its economy developed more rapidly into affluence for middle-class people than could happen in the colonies north of it.

We needed to trade with the energetic giant on our southern borders, with no tariff walls or monetary barriers, said our business leadership. Canada went off the British imperial currency system of pounds and adopted the US system of decimal dollars in 1854. This move was part of a decisive free trade arrangement - the Reciprocity Treaty -- between the colony and the republic. It is clear the proposal for a so-called “Amero” today has deep historical roots in the political economy of our nation-state, premised on promoting the doing of easier business with America for our elites.

The Canadian Dream for immigrants here was not the hard-working, enterprising, upwardly-mobile, nothing-into-something, self-made, social-climbing rugged individualist. That was the American archetype stamped on the character and culture of that nation by its literary, journalist, and political elites. In the Canadian Dream were certainly included elements of self-betterment and liberty, but it was not vividly drawn yet in our national culture. What our Dream ought to be, did not have the consensus that America's so obviously possessed. Britain still held centre stage in our cultural life in the 1850's. Being an “English gentleman” was the middle-class aspiration here, not getting rich.

Our next great leap forward toward national consciousness was Confederation of four colonies into a Dominion in 1867. It is worth noting the external determinants of this federal union. Confederation in Canada had as much to do with events and attitudes in America and Britain as with home-grown political initiatives. Certainly the Laurentian thesis of Donald Creighton still holds substantial persuasive power to explain the federation of Britain's North American colonies. Creighton credits our federal project to a business class in Canada that wanted political union for their own economic, capitalist objectives which happened to serve other classes as well. John A. Macdonald's party, called the Liberal-Conservatives in the 1850's, served that business-class interest, the class that wanted union of the colonies for the goal of effective exploitation of its commodities by rail and canal building, and heavy capital investments.

That class also wanted Canada to acquire the Hudson's Bay Co. Territory, and negotiations to that end were begun before 1867, and the British government was not averse to this enormous transfer of real estate to Canada. But in the same year, Britain missed a golden opportunity to purchase Alaska from the Russian Tsar. America carried off the prize for a mere $7 million US dollars. We bought Prince Rupert's Land from the HBC for one million British pounds in 1869.

The horrors of the American Civil War, just ended in 1865, had formative impact on the content of the Articles of Confederation for the new Dominion of Canada. Weak “states' rights” for Canada's Provinces were in this 1867 design, because Canadian thinkers believed the American Civil War originated in too-powerful states' rights. The federal government was conceived as inheriting all the residual powers of the Crown not specifically assigned to the provinces. The British North America Act, our constitution, was formulated by J. Macdonald, George Brown, G. Cartier, D. Magee, J. Galt (all Canadians) and their Atlantic-region colleagues at conferences from 1864 to 1867.

Domestic political economy in the united province of Canada determined that there would be strong support among the business class for the federal union project. But also, the authority of the British government, which during the 1860's was in an anti-expansionist phase under the influence of the “Manchester School” of political economists (Cobden and Bright) made a decisive difference.

Britain ensured that New Brunswick and Nova Scotia was led into federal union with the much bigger colony of Canada. The Atlantic colonies did not have a sure sense that their best political option was to grow bigger on the global trading stage by joining Canada. In Atlantic regions, “Canadian” had meant resident of Ontario and Quebec for generations. After 1867, the psychological project of federal union was to inspire a single, political, nationality for all regions.

In the event, two colonies -- PEI and Newfoundland -- opted out. In New Brunswick the colonial governor intervened obtrusively to get the pro-Confederation party elected to power. In Nova Scotia, Joseph Howe, a popular leader of noteworthy accomplishment in the fight for democracy there, opposed Confederation and tried to pull his colony out of the union soon after it was legislated in. But Britain would not reverse the act.

From 1867 “Canada” means something new in politics. It is not fully sovereign nor independent, yet has rights of domestic legislation, although Britain's parliament retains extraordinary constitutional authority to veto Dominion statutes contravening British law.

The United States of America ended the 1854 reciprocity treaty in 1867 despite Macdonald's wish to continue it. After the great world market depression from 1873 to '78, he and the Conservatives invented a protectionist, high-tariff National Policy, cleverly crafted to serve some sectors of Canada's capitalist business class. We would be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” no more, said Sir John. But only a heartland in the St. Lawrence urban belt from Windsor through Hamilton, Toronto and Kingston, to Montreal would truly escape from the commodity harvesting economy. That was the metropolitan artery of Canada; all else would be hinterland. The National Policy was not sufficient to place Canada on a foundation of autarky, such as America, France, and Germany were pursuing in the 1870's through to Word War I.

Autarkic economics were not in Canada's range of options during this period. Our industrial workshop and bank was effectively in the UK, not in Canada. Britain was still our investment source second to none, and our development as a commodity colony still depended on British capital. From Confederation, a long history of compromising our independent economic policies had begun. We would import high-value-added industrial machinery, from the UK or maybe the USA -- but have some second-tier industries in food processing, textiles and lumbering.

We bought the West in 1869 without asking the people there what they thought of the transaction, and Riel's Red River rebellion taught Canada some humility about such rash arrogance. But it did not teach us enough generosity; for we cheated the Metis of the lands promised in the settlement of the conflict.

Manitoba became the fifth Province, but Riel would lead another rebellion in 1885 in Saskatchewan due to the injustices of Canada toward Metis and first nations peoples there. By that year Macdonald's “national dream” was realized when the trans-Canada railway was complete, and troops rushed to fight Riel and crush his rebels.

By 1905, the West would become two new provinces by the decision of the federal government, but with a major change to the constitutional powers of provinces. Ottawa kept control of natural resources - by the BNA Act a provincial power - until 1930 in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Central Canadian treatment of the west as a resource colony was evident in this.

It is a telling point that in the East, there was little sympathy for the natives; an editorial cartoon showing Sir John A. leading “civilization” behind him and confronting a first nations chief, was quite popular and often reprinted. “Canadian” meant white, in the East. In BC, when that province joined as the sixth province, natives outnumbered whites at the time of union but they had no franchise by which to indicate a choice.

BC also had a brief spell of secessionism after joining Canada, and just as had happened earlier in Nova Scotia, this attempt to leave Canada got nowhere. BC stayed in; we had a Pacific coast.

During the end years of the nineteenth century, the United States of America had less of a siren call for Canadians due to the successes of the Empire and our own preoccupation with peopling the west and defeating two rebellions led by Louis Riel. Riel's execution revealed too a serious cleavage in the body politic of Canada; with Anglo-Saxon Protestants and francophone-nationalist Catholics inhabiting two solitudes, there was a chasm that occasionally a politician like Macdonald chose to exploit. That split in our political classes, bridged by the Conservative-Bleu alliance, was actually an asset in the assertion of Canadian differences, for it set us apart from America and Britain where minorities were not significant. The UK did not have aboriginals (unless the Celts were that?) and the USA turned immigrants into Americans fairly quickly. Canada had to deal with more issues of integration.

Late in his career, Sir John A. Macdonald was content to wave the old flag of the empire, with reflected glory in the high noon of England's imperialism under Queen Victoria. Britain's success in building empire was “ours” too. Imperialism was a form of Anglo nationalism for a decade or so.

Wilfrid Laurier, the first great Liberal leader of Canada, earned his reputation as a champion of liberty by his passionate defense of Louis Riel but had to wait ten years to defeat the Conservatives - after John A. had died. Laurier made his policies more continentalist and less imperialist than the Conservatives' steadily pro-British stance; his attempts to disentangle Canada from British imperial defence (e.g., The Boer War, his Naval Bill) cost him support among staunchly royalist WASP's but made him many friends among moderate francophones. When America fought Spain (1899 - 1900) Canadian opinion was pro-American, but mildly so. Spain was seen as an archaic fading power.

Laurier also presided over the opening of the prairie West and its peopling by European immigrant farmers, a social base that had no special love for the British Crown and Empire. By 1911, Laurier's plan for an extended Free Trade treaty with the USA, that collapsed under American protectionist pressures, were reasons for his ultimate defeat by the Conservatives. The latter party was content to follow well-worn policies of United Empire (“imperial federation”) and tariff protectionism, and won elections thereby.

Measuring the public opinion of Canadians outside the ruling class and its bourgeois allies is not easy for this period. Trade unionism was a growing phenomenon, with our struggles having much in harmony with the struggles of unionist in the UK and the US. No Labour Party got a start here, however, as it did in the mother country. We were still vastly a rural, agrarian people before World War I.

World War I (WWI), while accounted a victory for Canada, was not a war we went into by choice. Because our King declared war on our behalf with no reference to our parliament, since our foreign relations remained under British imperial control, we sent our soldiers to die...60,000 casualties, or 10,000 more than America lost in that war, from our population of 8 million.

Again, there is an orthodox consensus among older historians of Canada that somehow the battles of WWI “forged Canadian nationhood in blood and fire” -- but this line, so beloved of the Canadian Legion, is highly tendentious. It forgets that World War I also saw riots in Quebec against conscription that caused civilian deaths, when the army fired on francophones opposed to the draft. WASP's loathed the disloyalty of their compatriots in Quebec; the feeling was mutual for opposite reasons. The Unionist government in Ottawa used force against the draft resistance, fanning pro-British opinion against the Francophone minority who felt less supportive of the war against the German Empire in Europe.

WWI did not cement the unity or nationhood of Canada; it revealed shaky foundations to our unity. Immediately after the war, the “Red Scare” tactics used by the Conservatives against east Europeans in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919 played on ethnic hatreds rather than promoting unity. Canada's lack of national unity, measured as a psychological state in its citizens' minds, might have been promoted more effectively if our elites did not resort to divide-and-rule tactics when it suited their interests to do so. Riel died because Macdonald wanted Ontario Orange votes as much as because Macdonald thought it was justice; he played the Orange card cynically against Roman Catholic minority opinion, and his party did the same in 1919 by fanning hatred for foreigners in Winnipeg during the Red Scare.

A significant result of WWI is observed in what happened to our diplomatic patterns after 1919. The idealism of US President Wilson, declaring that WWI was “to defend democracy” and the “rights of nations,” and his vision of an international order based on law in the League of Nations, was a stirring agenda. Canadian progressives, especially in the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, would adopt this vision to be a worthy plank in a national foreign policy, and after WWII. we became champions of the United Nations as a peacekeeping force for good in the world. This is just one example of how Canadians have derived some of our characteristics as a nation by adapting a theme from American political culture. We must not forget that America was at first inspired by the UN vision, before its superpower chauvinism turned some against that prospect of a world ordered by justice, not force.

Given our common origins as immigrant societies in the New World, it would be surprising if Canadians and Americans did not share some qualities. We feel our newness in the world of old, bad empires, just as the Americans did. But America also had an agenda to sell to immigrants. Does Canada? I will repeat my earlier point: if there is a Canadian Dream, it has not been nearly so well-articulated as the American version. Margaret Atwood has suggested that our dream is about endurance and survival against great forces, as much as it is about “getting ahead” on the American model.

The Great War left Britain much poorer, and the USA moved to take up the role of capitalist banker to the world. In 1922, for the first time, and thereafter never reversed, the total sum of capital investment in Canada from American sources surpassed the British sums. America began to replace Britain as the world's greatest investor nation after WWI, since the Allies were debtors to the USA, and Germany could never repay what was demanded of it by Britain and France in the peace treaties.

Another noteworthy event of 1922 was the Chanak Crisis, when the Empire wanted its Dominions -- Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa -- to contribute troops to defend the Treaty of Sevres in Greece's war with the Turk Republic; Canada's Liberal Prime Minister, William Mackenzie King, rejected the plea to send forces. Canadian independence in foreign policy was being asserted in this crisis. In 1931 Britain recognized the Dominions' right to an independent foreign policy through the Statute of Westminster. From this statute, the formal independence of Canada as a state equal to others as a sovereign nation is conventionally dated.

Economic catastrophe in the Great Depression temporarily turned Canada back toward Imperial unity for a common customs union, when America again was protectionist from 1929 to the next war, but this imperialist phase was temporary. We went to war by our own parliament's decision in 1939, one week after Britain declared war and two years before America did. English Canada apparently embraced the war as a necessity; in Quebec feeling was not nearly so decided. But before the conscription crisis revealed the deep anger of francophones against the war's impact, the appearance was that we were united. This was the very time when a future Prime Minister, P. E. Trudeau, would be able to view the war as “a settling of scores” by the old tired powers of Europe, and to pay little attention to it according to his published memoirs. His one speech at the time (during a Montreal mayoral contest) contained the dramatic words, “Let the Revolution begin!” Here was a man whose radicalism could have a stage to play on after 1968.

During World War II, Prime Minister King believed our nation played a significant role in the ABC alliance - America, Britain, Canada. King was a colourless man, whose success at leading Canada for so long has moved some historians to judge our sense of identity quite harshly, for who but Canadians would elect such a mediocre personality for so many years? I like to think that our support for Trudeau showed that we were not always bland.

In 1945, we had the opportunity to be a nuclear-armed power with the US and UK when the Manhattan Project produced the first atom bomb. It is a Canadian distinction that we said no to that temptation. But we did become a member of NATO, the only small nation in the New World to do so, with Britain, the USA and France, the world's nuclear powers in 1949. We aligned with the Free World to oppose the Soviet communist bloc. We also entered the NORAD treaty with America; from that day to this our military and defense policies have been predictably close to American and British lines. They have empires, we don't.

But we are complicit in the high development of the Anglosphere's economy. Those empires we don't build ourselves by force, are still doing good work for our economic prosperity. Canada has been an enormous beneficiary of the forceful tactics of the Pax, whether Pax Britannica or Pax Americana. We too have ridden the tide of prosperity originating in the era of Euro-American empire-building since the days of Columbus. Canada's capitalists, while relatively weak, invest within the boundary of capitalist economies, a frontier created where Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan and the USA, have sent military and naval force for the last 500 years.

Our affluence and colonial under-development are related causally. But that is a fact capitalism's apologists never accept as truth. One thing missing and never stated in their vision of Western history is this: the advanced development of the globe's first-world nations in North America, Europe and Japan is historically dependent on the fact of capitalist progress happening first there. Modern capitalism and science empowered the first world to exploit weaker and less-modern nations by colonial and imperial policies of economic inequality. The victims of our imperial economic power know well that we underdeveloped them. The world system does not work by accident; the strong make the rules.

If Canadians are not empire-builders, nor victims of them, what then is Canada? The doctrine of “middle-powermanship,” articulated in the 1950's and 60's in our External Affairs bureaucracy as a role for Canada in world politics, has great meaning for us to this very day. The premise was simple: Canada, while not possessing large population, is as affluent, progressive, and developed as the U.S. and Europe's larger democracies (the OECD), and we have the assets that economic modernity and advanced science and education create for a state; therefore, we can contribute uniquely to world peace by sending development aid to de-colonized poor nations, i.e the Third World, and upholding UN missions with our troops. The diplomatic face of this middle power was to be a mediator between states in conflict while being clear in our commitment to the “Free World” against states behind the communist “Iron Curtain.”

Now the narrative enters years in my own lifetime. The 1960's were a time of strong anti-American feeling in Canada due to the unpopularity of the U.S. intervention war in Indochina, and opponents to that war in this country had enormous sympathy with the movement against the war within American society. The “New Left” on American university campuses had an exact counterpart here. Large numbers of draft-dodgers entered Canada then, and even more women from the U.S., all fleeing a nation they felt had lost its moral compass. But a major Canadian media voice, Gordon Sinclair, gave a much-repeated address on radio entitled “Americans are a great people” -- which recording was suddenly replayed repeatedly in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. In the same decade conservative political scientist George Grant wrote his seminal book, “Lament for a Nation” describing what he saw as the decline of Canadian independence in its economic, cultural and international stances.

Anti-Americanism was paradoxical in the late 60's and early 70's, when so many from that country also disliked the USA, and when its rock music and styles of radical protest had become the language of the young in Canada and all over the western world. Our sense of moral superiority to the USA got swollen to new dimensions from the death of JFK until the disgrace of Richard Nixon.

Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, due to his unique style, iconoclasm, intellect, and media charisma, gave Canada a reason to congratulate itself for having a leader so unlike the stodgy types governing the U.S. and UK. He was a radical in form but not in substance; the content of Trudeau nationalism, his metrification, his investment review board, bilingualism, multiculturalism, and the NEP, did not signally liberate Canada from American cultural and economic dominance. And bringing the Constitution to Canada from Britain in 1982 did not signal we had parted company with British loyalties. In that same year Britain fought Argentina in the Falkland/ Malvinas island war, and Canada was massively pro-British in public opinion.

All through the era of America's military forwardness in the underdeveloped world, its interventions in Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East, since Korea and including Iraq, we Canadians have not found a unified public voice to respond to the acts of our superpower neighbour. Among ourselves, we simply have too many interests in rivalry to be able distil a one-pointed consensus opinion on these uses and abuses of power by the overwhelming friend-next-door.

According to Canadian historian Jack Granatstein, anti-Americanism in Canada waned throughout the Reagan and Clinton eras. Canada's Left disliked Reagan, yet we signed a Free Trade Treaty in 1988 -- and Jean Chrétien did nothing to renegotiate Free Trade despite saying he would in his 1993 red book.

Most rejoiced at the collapse of what Reagan called the Soviets' “evil empire.” In 1991 we joined the war against Iraq as a UN mission and there lined up with the USA and UK. There was no groundswell of public opinion opposed to our intervention in the Gulf then; in 2003 public feeling did apparently sway P.M. Chretien to keep us out of the Iraq war when America and Britain went in.

Then came 9/11; once again some anti-American emotions were stirred -- witness the controversial and much-publicized judgement by Ms. Sunera Thobani against American imperialism -- alongside much sympathy for our neighbour. The war on terror has a supporter now in our present Prime Minister.

In Iraq, George Bush II has reinvigorated dislike of his nation abroad, and likely driven it to new heights. Our involvement in Afghanistan has become more thrusting and reminiscent of European imperialists of former times, thanks to P.M. Harper's notions of our global responsibilities to be a promoter of freedom, democracy, law, and nation-building there.

We are no longer seen as disinterested and high-minded by weak nations, thanks to Harper's determined alignment with the NATO great powers USA and UK. Canada might break out of its orbit around these two big suns -- or not. Whichever occurs is not going to happen by accident, but by our choices. In the words of that obsessive revolutionary, Lenin, “What is to be done?” No Revolution; it's not Canadian. Here are my conclusions about our limited choices.

One, we ought not assume Canadians have higher moral qualities, and we will prove more equal to “responsibilities” that fall on a great world power of the stature of Britain and the USA than their citizens have demonstrated. The easy assumption of moral superiority by Canada, a power of modest means which will never be put to the test of carrying a quasi-imperial global role, is unjustified.

Two, there won't be a cultural transformation of sufficient depth to set Canadian society radically apart from American. With all that we share culturally with Americans, there is not much chance that our cultural identity alone can put our distinct political state on a dependable foundation. Our political culture is vibrant, but again it is not adequate alone to found a reliable basis for independence.

Third and last, economic determinism will dictate our absorption into the USA in the absence of a political will opposed to that fate. Concentrated will-power is required to break the political and economic dependence on America that compromises our autonomy.

This is a call to collective activity among us, when we are by habit not used to acting that way. Our Canadian individualism is just as strong as the American variety, and is not conducive to great national undertakings where mass consciousness is required. Yet collectivism is required now to preserve our autonomy.

Do we have a vision of our future? Ask, what is “the American way of life”? To me it means: materialism and consumerism; irreligious or un-spiritual secularism; self-absorbed egotism of its citizens; celebrity-fascination; a dominance attitude toward nature. Positively, it means optimism and innovation, a “can-do” attitude, libertarianism and democracy. These are not markedly unlike Canadian ways. The New World experience of immigrants here and in the USA has been to constantly exceed the material standards-of-living of the generation preceding. “More is better” might well have been the motto of people living in Canada and the USA.

There is a prospect of the death of sovereignty by the thousand cuts of our daily lifestyle choices, leading us to lose ourselves in comforts at the price of self-determination. The maintenance of Canadianism is not a simple political and economic project. It is more profound, and requires people who will think deeply, and act on what they value in Canadianism. It will require energetic engagement, more energy than one can see in our participation rate in elections or political parties. It's not typical of us to be a politicized people. But if hockey were politics, our national will for independence would be assured.

Is continuance of economic integration with the USA prerequisite to maintaining prosperity? If so, Canadians are prejudiced against disengaging from America. We share American preoccupations in lifestyles, if at a slightly-less-frantic pitch. I see little proof Canadians desire to change. Ease is a predictable feature of middle-class lifestyle in the affluent West. This is the post-modern, post-scarcity society, and is not a quality of North American people alone. This post-modern society derives from materialist excess, a plethora of goods and services never manifested before in history. Did I say “progress”? No. Planetary degradation is the price we pay, and the poor nations pay more.

If one also wonders how much Canadians are willing to sacrifice to a higher ideal than wealth, one can look at how we are trashing our land and water in Alberta to develop the tar sands. When we stop that, one might believe we want a Canada unlike America and well separated from its economic power.

A European poet has lamented that “Canada is a hotel” -- colourfully making the point that our attachment to our home and native land has a large element of calculation in what the place can do for us. This is a place to pursue the good life, not asking any effort by us to maintain the building. But if our hotel were invaded by looters who had been let in by the management, we would band together to resist them. We would not lose the hotel floor-by-floor... would we?

Don't lock your room door, visit the neighbours. There's a reason we are all in the same building. It's our job to figure it out.

Or, log in with your
Facebook account:
Please add your comment: (plain text only please. Allowable HTML: <a>)

Track Comments: Notify me with a personal message when other people comment on this story

Loading Noted By...Please Wait


butterfly credits on the news network

  • credits for vetting a newly submitted story
  • credits for vetting any other story
  • credits for leaving a comment
learn more

Most Active Today in World

Content and comments expressed here are the opinions of Care2 users and not necessarily that of or its affiliates.

New to Care2? Start Here.