Say I Do? The Potential Union of Canada and America


by Matthew Rae

The North American Union has been the perpetual boogeyman since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed in the early 1990s. It is not surprising that Diane Francis’ new book, Merger of the Century, has caused a heated debate to surface on the other side of the Atlantic. Outlets from Foreign Policy to The Globe and Mail have featured articles discussing the pros and cons of a potential merger of Canada and the United States, and the majority of these articles outline the flaws in her thesis. A complete political merger may be unrealistic in the near future, however, a customs and political union similar to the European Union is achievable.

The two countries have been moving toward a potential union since 1994. On 1 January, 1994 NAFTA came into force. This free trade agreement has led to massive benefits for both countries. According to the US Department of State, the volume of trade between the two states is valued at $1.6 billion per day. The State Department’s website also lists this trading relationship as the most comprehensive and largest in the world. Trade and investment could grow exponentially as a result of a closer union.

A customs and political union would have massive political, economic and physical implications. “Canada and the US would become an energy and economic powerhouse, occupying more land than…the [entire] continent of South America…equivalent to 12.25% of the world’s total land mass,” wrote Francis in the National Post recently. She continues to explain how this amalgamation would have a larger economy than Japan, China, Germany and France combined, and would control more oil, water, arable land and resources than any other.

This union would be built upon vast resources and wealth within Canada’s territory. Wayne Goodfellow, a petrologist with the Geological Survey of Canada, estimates the economic value of known reserves of metals and minerals at $3 trillion. He estimates that there is still between $9 trillion and $15 trillion in metal and mineral resources in Canada. These mineral estimates do not even address the proven oil reserves of 173 billion barrels with the potential to reach 315 billion barrels, according to Natural Resources Canada.

A US-Canadian customs is not inevitable, and there are concerns as to whether such a union is politically viable. Conrad Black of the National Post highlighted these concerns recently. Canada has moderate taxes, recent liberal and conservative governments have been fiscally prudent, and there have been no bailouts of Canadian banks. Black contrasts this with how the US has debased its currency, accumulated massive amounts of debt and destabilized the world financial system. By these measures, Canada is more economically stable than the US.

A criticism against Diane Francis’ thesis is the large difference between certain sections within Canadian and American societies. She did acknowledge the extreme difference between the Deep South and Quebec. The latter being stereotypically socialist, while the former is right-wing. Despite being extremely anti-English in the early 1990s, Quebec supported the original NAFTA deal, and Diane Francis argues that this demonstrates they may approve further integration. She also claims that the Deep South might support a merger because of the economic windfalls of such a deal.

It may be difficult to overcome the political divide between these two groups, but the public support amongst the general population is encouraging. In August 2011, an Ipsos Reid poll found that 70 percent of Canadians agreed to greater integration with the US, especially in areas of security. A study, entitled “Moving Closer or Drifting Apart”, conducted by Cameron Anderson and Laura Stephenson, two political science professors at the University of Western Ontario, found that 42 percent of Americans believed a political union was a good idea. The trend shows that both populations generally support greater integration.

This union could not only develop out of greater economic cooperation, but also security concerns. The rising threat posed to both countries’ security should not be overlooked as a contributing factor. At the end of 2013, the Canadian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister both made public statements about the country’s intentions to claim the North Pole in their submission to the Arctic Council. This claim is in conflict with Russia’s assertion the North Pole resides within their continental shelf.

Matthew Fischer of the Calgary Herald discusses how Canada may make grand announcements about the Arctic, but ultimately lacks the resources to reinforce them. Fischer says that, “there have been phantom projects to build ports and icebreakers and other ice-strengthened vessels that never get funded because Canada lacks the money or the resolve to back its northern claims.” Meanwhile, Russia is spending $4.6 billion to increase its northern port capacity and plans to build three nuclear-powered icebreakers at more than $1 billion each, driving home the fact that there is simply only so much a country of 35 million people can do.

According to the Department of National Defense and the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Navy is comprised of only 33 ships, and no operational submarines. Meanwhile, the US Navy has 283 deployable battle force ships, not including submarines and aircraft carriers, according to the Department of the Navy’s website. If Canada wants to maintain its grand claims over the Arctic it will need the American military to enforce them. A deal could be structured in such a way that the US receives a reliable supply of natural resources, and in return Canada would receive formal US military protection.

A union built on the exchange of natural resources for military protection would not be a drastic change from current behavior. The US and Canada have been cooperating in military matters for many years. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a Cold War relic, but established a precedent for military cooperation. Both the Canadian and American governments have moved forward by developing the Beyond the Border Action Plan in December 2011. This security perimeter aims to secure the Canadian-American border while facilitating legitimate trade and travel, according to the Public Safety Canada website. Considering the cooperation that already exists between them makes a merger realistic.

This closer union does not have to be a complete and sudden political union like the reunification of Germany. NAFTA could be renegotiated to ease the movement of capital and labor between the countries gradually. This would lead to greater investment in Canada’s resource and manufacturing sectors, and it would provide American businesses with new, safe investments. A military council could be established where both Canadian and American generals discuss security issues relating to their shared continent. It could be developed through the NORAD framework.

Diane Francis concludes her book with the following quote: “…such an undertaking requires the foresight [and] fortitude of those courageous Americans and Canadians who built railroads in the middle of nowhere and risked their lives by settling in desolate, dangerous spaces.” Whether or not these traits still exist in their descendants remains to be seen.

Diane Francis

Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country

Harper, 2013; 336 pages. € 20.15.

ISBN: 978-0062325013

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