The End of Canada?
Post-9/11 security measures at the Canada-U.S. border have exacerbated Canadian fears that growing economic, cultural, and now military integration are eroding the defining facets of their country. Mel Hurtig said that twenty years ago, questions of military harmonization and adopting the U.S. dollar would have been "laughable non-issues," but are now openly discussed under the rhetoric of continental integration as begun under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Revealingly, Hurtig pointed out that that one-third of Canadians don't think Canada will even exist in 30 years. While Hurtig stated that it might be too late to save Canada, he expressed considerable faith in the ability of the Canadian public to retain their own vision of government as a provider and a protector of the public good.
In 1971, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau established the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) in response to public concerns over the growing levels of private foreign ownership in Canada. Since the abolition of the FIRA 1985 by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Hurtig argued that Canada has been up for sale. While not one sector in the U.S. economy is foreign owned, a total of 35 sectors of the Canadian economy are majority foreign owned and controlled. In 1998, corporate takeovers accounted for 96.6% of all foreign direct investment (FDI) into Canada, with only 3.4% for new business investment. He also highlighted the detrimental effects of transfer pricing, a widespread accounting practice whereby multinational firms (such as Coca-Cola, Safeway, and Ford) transfer their profits out of Canada before they are taxed.
Hurtig said that while most Canadians appreciate American dynamism, art, and culture, only a small percentage would actually like to live in the United States. In a comparative Canada/U.S. context, he spoke out strongly against U.S. gun culture and incarceration rates, poverty levels, racial segregation, lack of universal health care, attitude towards immigrants, lack of equal access to education, and attitudes towards religion. He pointed out that although the United States ranks first in GDP, millionaires, billionaires, and military expenditures, it is ranked 16th in overall standard of living, 18th in the gap between the rich and the poor, and 23rd in infant mortality rates when stacked up against 32 of the world's highly industrialized countries. Canadians, he argued, want to preserve their considerably better record. Canadians consistently list different priorities than Americans and are very concerned about preserving the features that define them. However, Hurtig claimed that the processes of economic integration are steadily eroding the social welfare system, as more economic sectors and cherished social services are laid open to privatization.
Hurtig argued that the differences between Canada and the United States have never been more pronounced than under the current Bush administration. He viewed U.S. politicians as completely unconcerned about offending Canada, pointing to the persistent trade disputes over softwood lumber, wheat, and steel. Hurtig traced much of Canada's present difficulties to NAFTA, which he argued was poorly negotiated by both Canada and Mexico. He pointed the finger at what he calls a growing Canadian plutocracy, similar to its American counterpart, in which corporate interests become indistinguishable from national interests through a convergence of media control and corporate campaign finance.
Hurtig saw no overt American plot to take over Canada, especially given the consequences of an additional 30 million social-democrats at U.S. polls. Rather, it is the ability of Canada to survive in any distinguishable form that is at stake. Among Hurtig's solutions for Canada is to reinvigorate democratic debate under the belief that further integration is not inevitable. He considers the WTO to be a less asymmetrical organization than NAFTA, and tempered by E.U. sensibilities. By moving away from NAFTA towards greater activism in the WTO, Canada would no longer be subject to the hazardous Chapter 11 investor-state disputes or the natural resource sharing component of NAFTA. He concluded that although the plutocracy may advocate greater integration, the Canadian public resoundingly does not, and would appreciate greater displays of reciprocal good will and mutual respect in the areas of trade and culture.
Drafted by Stefanie Bowles