Canada and America

2006-01-09

I admit it: I'm one of the three Americans who take an interest in Canada. Maybe it's because I'm from a border state (Maine) or because I have quite a few relatives north of the border (all from the Dutch side of my family, not the French-Canadian side) and visited there many times when I was growing up. Heck, lately I've even been reading policy studies on Canada in the evening (mainly from the excellent C.D. Howe Institute), so you know I have an abnormally high interest in Canada for a Yank.

Our friends up north are having an election soon, but that's not what has triggered this blog entry. No, it's a post entitled Hockey and America by Tim Bray. Now, I have the utmost respect for Tim Bray as a technologist (e.g., he is one of the founding fathers of XML), but I must disagree with his thoughts on Canada and America. Reflecting on the World Junior Hockey Championship just concluded in the Great White North, he writes:

[O]nce you got past Canada and Russia, the other really good team in the tournament was the USA. And here's what's weird and disturbing: the mostly-Canadian audiences were actively cheering for anyone playing against the US, and occasionally booing the Americans. Granted, economically-literate Canadians are mad at the US for egregious NAFTA abuse, and we're terrified of the consequences of our neighbor's lunatic fiscal and trade deficits. And of course, from the mushy Canadian cultural centre, Dubya and the neotheocons seem like beings from an alien planet. While, like most Canadians, I disapprove of many actions of the current US administration, like most Canadians I also like most Americans. And it's just moronic to take out political gripes on a bunch of eager, dedicated, young athletes. But having said that, if there were any doubt that the USA has a major public-relations problem, booing hockey fans a half-hour over the border should dispel it.

The problem of Canadian anti-Americanism goes way beyond public relations. Instead it is, to put the matter bluntly, a childish indulgence on the part of Canadians. Canada is, for better or worse, joined at the hip to the United States -- economically, militarily, geopolitically, even culturally. Last I checked, 85% of Canadian exports (representing 40% of Canadian GDP) go to America, and that percentage has only increased since NAFTA took effect 12 years ago (preceded by the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1989). The United States is a geopolitical hyperpower without precedent in world history, and it's not always fun to be neighbors with such a behemoth, but with what world power would Canadians prefer to be neighbors? China? Russia? India? Germany? France? Brazil? America is the locomotive pulling the world economy and Canada, as a middling regional power, is pulled along for the ride. Granted it gets a bit hot being near the locomotive, but would Canadians prefer to be in the caboose?

Further, when you get right down to it, Canadians and Americans are distinctly similar, not different. Canadians share a number of core values with Americans: freedom, consensual government, open discourse, market economics, and much else besides. Both nations are fundamentally parts of the Anglosphere (well, Canada is "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state" as Lord Durham put it in 1839, but I'm talking about Anglo-Canada here). Despite the fact that Canadians like to emphasize the softer side of these values (as do, for that matter, lots of people from places like Massachusetts and Minnesota), they still share them with Americans. Demonizing America (not Americans, since most Canadians like American people and vice-versa) doesn't help anything, even if it feels good (I believe the social psychologists might be able to shed some light on the phenomenon, using their insights into "in groups" and "out groups").

Then we have what I like to call "Canada's dirty little secret": massive and continuing emigration from Canada to the United States. Even official Canadian documents recognize the problem:

Immigration plays a determining role in shaping future population and language trends in Canada, since without immigration, the Canadian population faces long-term decline. (Since the early 1970s, fertility rates have fallen below replacement. But even in the unlikely event that fertility rates rose to the theoretical replacement level, the historical pattern of emigration from Canada to the United States would still mean that the population would decline if immigration were halted.)

If America is such a horrible society, why have so many Canadians (including, by the way, my French-Canadian ancestors) been drawn south over the years, and at an ever-increasing rate since free trade was inaugurated in 1989? Traditional free trade theory posits that if goods are not allowed to cross borders, people will -- but in this case, both people and goods are crossing. Would it not behoove Canadians to ask why?

And let us not forget the ever-more-pressing issue of regionalism. One of the little-acknowledged implications of free trade between Canada and America is that Canada's provinces increasingly exchange goods, services, people, and ideas with their near neighbors across the US-Canadian border rather than with each other (B.C. with Washington and Oregon, Alberta with Colorado and the mountain west, Manitoba with Minnesota, Ontario with Michigan, Ohio, and New York, the Maritimes with New England, etc.). The result is a much more pronounced north-south orientation, superseding the traditional east-west orientation of Canadian society. And the result of that is greater regionalism. As Dan Dunsky points out in an article from today's Toronto Star, Canada is already three "solitudes" -- Quebec, the West, and the multicultural cities. (We might divide the country still further, since, for example, Alberta is quite different from its neighbors in B.C. or Saskatchewan, thus giving the lie to the idea of a monolithic Canadian West.) Indeed, I wonder how long Canada can last as a coherent political entity given the forces pulling it apart.

Anti-Americanism is a convenient hobbyhorse, which Canadian elites ride for all it's worth to inculcate a false sense of unity. Yet it strikes me that Canadians would do better to take a long, hard look in the mirror and think seriously about their true values, their economic and strategic interests, and their future rather than rail against America. It won't feel as good, but in the long run it will be a lot more productive.

(Cross-posted at Albion's Seedlings.)


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