No, Canada and the U.S. should not merge, eh?

December 19, 2013

Every decade or so, someone who knows little about history and culture proposes that Canada and the United States should merge into a single political entity.  The most recent iteration of this is Diane Francis’ essay in the Wall Street Journal.

What, pray tell, is her base argument?  This is clearly stated early on in the piece:

Such a merger makes perfect sense. No two countries on Earth are as socially and economically integrated as the U.S. and Canada. They share geography, values and a gigantic border. Their populations study, travel and do business together and intermarry in great numbers. If they were corporations (or European states), they would have merged a long time ago. And each has what the other needs: The U.S. has capital, manpower, technology and the world’s strongest military; Canada has vast reserves of undeveloped resources.

Well, let’s just take a look at each of these points and see what an actual analysis would give us.

“No two countries on Earth are as socially and economically integrated as the U.S. and Canada.”  Quite correct and, given her premise, quite surprising in that we are not the same country.  It is also irrelevant in terms of whether or not we should merge, except in that we get on fairly well.

“They share geography, values and a gigantic border.”  Again, true but, also, irrelevant.  I will also note that while we share many values, we are actually quite apart on many values as well.  For example, if such a merger happened, how would the US react to the simple fact that same sex marriages are not only legal, but totally accepted in most of Canada?  This is just one example of where our “values” are different.

Their populations study, travel and do business together and intermarry in great numbers.”  Again quite true and, again, irrelevant.  As a Canadian citizen who spent eighteen years married to an American citizen, I can, from personal experience, testify to the actual differences in values even when we “speak the same language.”

“If they were corporations (or European states), they would have merged a long time ago.”  Really?  Well, how’s that working out for the European Union?  Believe me when I say that most Canadians have absolutely no desire to live in a country where municipalities are allowed to go bankrupt because they financed their projects through debt (which, BTW, has been illegal in Canada since the 1930’s).

“And each has what the other needs: The U.S. has capital, manpower, technology and the world’s strongest military; Canada has vast reserves of undeveloped resources.”  Ah, and now we come to the crux of Ms. Francis’ argument: she wants to convert Canadians into their supposed “historic” role as hewers of wood and drawers of water, i.e. producers of raw materials for an “Imperial center.”  Well, she may want to look at how Canada reacted to that role back in the 1970’s.  I’ll give you a hint: not too well.

Ms. Francis’ lack of historical knowledge, especially in the area of political economy, becomes blatantly obvious later on in the essay.

Truth be told, the merger of the U.S. and Canada is already well under way. As many as one in 10 Canadians (more than 3 million people) live full- or part-time in the U.S., and an estimated 1 million Americans live in Canada. As of 2010, U.S. enterprises controlled about 10% of Canada’s assets, 17% of its revenues and 13% of its corporate profits, according to Statistics Canada. Canadians bought more goods and services from Americans than did the 340 million people living in the European Union—a population 10 times as large.

“Truth”?  Hmmm. In 1970, the U.S. controlled approximately 70% of Canadian businesses and approximately 60% of Canada’s assets.  Now the U.S. controls only 10% of Canada’s assets.  This may be a problem for U.S. firms, but it certainly is not a problem for Canadians!

The rest of Ms. Francis’ essay is similarly flawed; lacking in historical detail and replacing facts with crude economic arguments.  In many ways, her piece reminds me of the naive form of neo-Marxist economic determinism satirized by David Weber in the character of Reginald Hauseman in his Honor Harrington series.  This is especially apparent when she asserts that “Those who oppose such a merger are on the wrong side of history,” a typical form of Marxian rhetoric.

So, outside of Francis’ ignorance of history and culture, what else is wrong with her argument?

Let us consider politics.  Canada, unlike the United States, is a parliamentary democracy under the Crown.  Yes, Diane; we (Canada) live in a monarchy.  Because of Canada’s unique historical experience and situation, we have developed a political culture that can take into account the best of both our British heritage and, also, that of our American cousins. In effect, we have American individuality and freedoms supported by a British political framework that discourages a tyranny of the plurality.

By virtue of this, we are able to separate our Head of Government from our Head of State, something that the U.S. combines in their office of President.  This separation allows us to attack and oppose our Head of Government without it being a case of lèse-majesté, which it is in the U.S.  It also allows us much more political flexibility in the creation of political parties, and in both the expression and operationalization of political ideas, than that which is available in the Republic to the south.

What about her assertion of “social integration”?  Well, we share many of the same popular cultural values and icons, but we also have a completely different founding myth.  The United States was founded in a rebellion against the Crown.  Canada was “founded” in reaction against American territorial aggression and in loyalty to the Crown (tempered with a lot of self-interest).

All told, the United States has launched, or harbored, three main attacks on Canada.  First, in 1776 when Benedict Arnold launched an assault against Quebec City.  Second, in the invasions during the War of 1812. And third, in harboring the Fenians who raided across the border in the 1830’s-1850’s.  Both the Charlottetown Conference of 1864 and the Confederation in 1867 were made palatable by a well-founded fear of American invasion that only disappeared in 1885, with Ulysses Grant’s decision to ignore Louis Riel’s request for intervention in the Second Metis Revolt.

Why then should Canada accept a “quiet conquest” by the United States?  As Ms. Francis notes, we already have a solid friendship and large amounts of integration and co-operation.  Her argument is analogous to suggesting that best friends should marry simply because they are best friends—something that rarely works out well in the real life of either individuals or nations.

 

Marc Tyrrell is an anthropologist teaching at the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada). He is a Senior Research Fellow with the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies.

 

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