What Will Canada Do When the US Tells Us “No”?

harper bushIt is hard to imagine that the US doesn’t have a plan to annex Canada. A nation that has no hesitation in trumping up charges against a country half a world away when it is perceived to threaten its energy security, and then bombing the hell out of it, killing and injuring hundreds of thousands of civilians and utterly destroying its infrastructure and social fabric, would not think twice about seizing control of a nation that offers it even more (and whose animosity would severely threaten its national interest).

There was a plan, in the years between the two world wars, to do just that. It was declassified decades ago and now makes rather quaint reading. But there is no question that there is an American “contingency plan” to annex Canada if need be, just as surely as there is one to bomb Iran as the next stage to secure the oil on which the entire American economy utterly depends.

There are reasons to believe that the US doesn’t expect it will have to do this. More than half of all Canadian business, by revenue, is foreign-owned, and the vast majority of that is American. The employment picture is probably comparable, although it’s hard to compute when franchisees of foreign companies are considered Canadian companies. Likewise, there are no records of citizenship or residence of land-holders in Canada, so determining how much land is in foreign hands is impossible to determine. But it is pretty evident that the Canadian economy is substantially foreign-owned and foreign-controlled. If we did something to displease our American owners, they could shut down our economy pretty effectively.

This sell-out has occurred over decades, with both Liberal and Conservative regimes dismantling Canadian ownership regulations consistently. Then we signed NAFTA, effectively ceding authority to write social or environmental laws any stronger than those of the weakest laws anywhere in the three countries. When you can’t write laws to protect your own people, you really have no sovereignty left. The right-wing Harper minority government has made no secret of its desire for full political and economic integration with the US, and the reaction of the Canadian people has been astonishingly blasÈ. Our economy is so dependent on the US already that the value of the Canadian dollar relative to the US dollar moves in lockstep with the Dow.

There is reason to believe that this control will not be enough to placate those in the US concerned with trying to sustain that country’s unsustainable economy, however:

  1. The US desperately needs the oil from Canada’s bitumen sludge mines (the so-called “tar sands”), the worst ecological disaster on the planet. These operations are currently uneconomic, and it will take huge improvements in technology, and the energy from whole farms of nuclear power plants and natural gas from Canada’s fragile arctic, to extract the oil from the sludge. It will also take staggering amounts of Canadian fresh water. 
  2. Speaking of water, the US needs Canada’s Western glacial water to replace the rapidly disappearing glacial water that provides people, industry and recreation with most of their water in most of the Western US states. Canada’s water is also running out, except in the Arctic, but the US shortage will be much more severe and come much sooner.
  3. Electricity from Canadian hydroelectric plants supplies a substantial amount of US electrical needs. But Canadians are trying to shut down coal-fired power plants and use hydro power to make up some of the difference.
  4. As global warming melts the Arctic, there will be huge pressure to plunder the hydrocarbons in that area. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the US thirst for oil, but the US is desperate for anything they can fill gas tanks with. Much of this energy is under Canadian waters, but the US has recently said it will not honour Canadian sovereignty over these waters, and considers them “international waters”. Burning this energy will, of course, accelerate global warming.
  5. Likewise, as the Arctic melts, the lucrative Northwest Passage will be open for shipping year-round. It is clearly in Canadian waters, but the US disputes this sovereignty.

None of this bodes well for the future of Canada-US relations, and as the US starts to run out of land, the hunger for more land will make the situation even more volatile.

This could all come to a head if Canada were to do (or try to do) any of the following:

  1. Restrict foreign ownership of land, resources or assets or shares of businesses in ‘strategic’ industries.
  2. Increase social or environmental regulations to the point the bitumen sludge mining operations or Arctic development became non-viable at any price.
  3. Restrict taking of water from Canadian waters, or sale of electricity to non-Canadians.
  4. Proclaim sovereignty over Canadian waters.

These are not especially grievous things for a country to do — most countries believe it is their right to do these things in areas of their own jurisdiction.

But not Canada. If we were to try to do any of these things, the US would simply say “no”. They would start by protesting, and suing us under NAFTA and other extraterritorial laws. And if that wasn’t enough they would do whatever it took to get the restrictions on their untrammeled access to our resources, land and waters removed. Whatever it took.

Harper rolled over on NAFTA already, settling for a fraction (still unpaid) of what the NAFTA courts said the US stole from us illegally. He has no intention of doing anything to impede Canada-US integration.

But at some point Canadians will have had enough of Harper’s arrogance, just as they did with the previous Conservative administration of Mulroney, and turf him out of office. He is in power now only because his right-wing party competes with four left-of-centre parties who split the vote in our absurd first-past-the-post voting system. Most Canadians would be glad to see the end of him, and sooner or later they will get their way, and a party or coalition amenable to the majority will be elected. And that new government will almost certainly do one or more of the four things above. The US will then say “no” and do whatever it takes to have the restrictions blocked or removed.

What will we do then? I suspect we will do nothing. Four in ten Americans want to annex Canada anyway, according to a recent poll. In another poll, only 57% of British citizens would support action to defend Canada from US annexation.

Canadians are pacifists at heart. Most of us no longer believe the war in Afghanistan is worth continuing, and most of us always opposed the war in Iraq. We have among the most liberal immigration laws in the world, taking in far more than our share of refugees and immigrants (though now, under Harper, American war objectors are no longer accepted, but that will be a short-lived anomaly). We acknowledge, I guess, that our natural wealth was a fortune of birth, not something we really earned. It belongs to the world, to all of us, and if someone wants to steal it from us, we’ll just shrug and say “too bad, it was nice while it lasted”.

Americans, believers in manifest destiny, the private ownership of everything, might makes right, and the end justifies the means, can’t really understand this. They see it as cowardice, or complacency, tacit approval for their takeover of everything Canadian, and for their American worldview. They will turn the rest of Western Canada into a deforested and toxic wasteland, and Northern Canada into a melting, oil-slicked military stronghold. And we will let them, while convincing ourselves that It’s not really that bad, There is no other real choice, I don’tknow anything about that, or There’s nothing we can do about that.

That’s what empires do to colonies. And that’s what colonies do when they do it.

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13 Responses to What Will Canada Do When the US Tells Us “No”?

  1. On the other hand, if the U.S. annexed canada outright, they’d have to give us the vote, which would mean a permanent end to far-right Republican powre in the U.S.

  2. Doug Alder says:

    Dave you forgot to mention the pact that was signed last February – see U.S. Northern Command, Canada Command establish new bilateral Civil Assistance Plan at http://www.northcom.mil/News/2008/021408.html

  3. Jon Husband says:

    I don’t think the USA will have to annex Canada in the future. As you (and Doug) have pointed out, it already has, more or less. We’re just kind-of a 51st state, albeit one that thinks it doesn’t quite act “American” (though that seems to be changing reasonably quickly).Stephen … I’m not so sure. There’s no shortage of pretty far-to-the-right people in Canada.

  4. mattbg says:

    Dave, I agree with a lot of what you said, but toward the end it turns into the anti-American Canadian caricature.America produces some great minds and has many world-class universities. It has beautiful national parks — preserved by the government — and coastlines. It brings more of its corporate crooks up on charges than Canada does. It has more people of colour in its higher ranks of government, police, and military. It seems to me to have less systemic racism than Canada — if you work hard and are a visible minority, you are more likely to succeed in America than in Canada (but, if you don’t, you may be less taken care of). America is doing more toward alternative energy than Canada is. Partly because it doesn’t have a large per-capita endowment of natural resources relative to Canada, it is a more productive country than Canada is. As we saw with the Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant, and others vs. the human rights commissions, the US also has a freer speech environment than Canada and is more open to contrary opinion. We are no better than the US on environmental matters.And the above squashes a lot of illusions that Canadians have about themselves in relation to Americans. I think that a significant number of Canadians are starting to realize that they are not better than Americans. It’s happening slowly, but I see a kind of malaise creeping in that is replacing the spot that anti-Americanism used to hold — a holding of the tongue followed by a hint of defeat when they would otherwise have blamed Americans.To be honest, I see little difference between Canadians and Americans. In the cities, you can find lots of self-entitled, arrogant idiots, but also liberal intellectual types. In the rural areas, you can find lots of xenophobes. In the armpits of Ontario, you can find the real-world results of intellectual ideas that New York Times types played catch with to enhance their reputation by going where no-one has gone before — polyamory without consequence,for example — but that were adopted wholesale, but only in abstract, by people that didn’t get the joke. And, only half of voting Americans voted for Bush.We share status symbols, pop culture, literature. We perhaps don’t do things quite as big, but it’s always relative to the US and not on its own course.There are two major difference between us and them, though… healthcare, and more porn on public TV.

  5. I am a U.S. citizen. There’s a global corporate oligarchy that owns the U.S. as much as it owns Canada. These are the foreigners you speak of, who own so much of Canada. Yes, many of those corporations are nominally American; but realistically they exist in their own realm. In this sense, Canada already is annexed into the U.S., which itself has been annexed by the country of Richistan – to reference Robert Frank. Don’t blame the U.S. We are ALL becoming serfs to these new feudal lords.

  6. Amy Lenzo says:

    Powerful post!But I’d like to see more finely drawn distinctions in your analysis, Dave. With respect, “Americans” and “Canadians” are very broad terms, too broad to mean much about real people in this context, or to offer us any hope of addressing the important issues you’ve discerned. I think we’d be better off finding common ground between those of us – on both sides of the border (and beyond) – who share concerns & attitudes about stewarding our precious natural resources and are dedicated to lives and practices that foster respect and love. We’re all going to run out of water if we and our governments keep making the decisions we’re making now, and who dies of thirst first doesn’t seem to matter so much in the big picture.

  7. R. Sherman says:

    With all due respect, we don’t want your country. We’ll buy your assets and that’s fine with us.If we ever wanted to annex your country, you could bust out the warplane from the warplane museum, send out the RCMP and then surrender the following day.Regards.

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Stephen: They manage to find ways to disenfranchise other minorities, so we might find we didn’t get to vote either.Matt: Read Fire & Ice to see the differences. Matt/Brandon/Amy: I’m not knocking Americans, most of whom I really like and who are honest, earnest and well-intentioned. It’s the American political and economic system I fear. It’s a Frankenstein machine, out of control of the people. This machine has a talent for chewing up and spitting out nations that get in its way, and Canada is increasingly in its way.

  9. Dave,No offense taken by me. I just think that the issue is bigger than “U.S. vs Canada”. On the other hand, the US political system and military ARE under control of the Corporate Oligarchy. That’s scary. Eisenhower was prescient.

  10. mattbg says:

    I went and looked up “Fire & Ice”. It’s written by the head of a polling company. There must be something better…? There’s probably something more accurate. There’s surely something more meaningful.I am just going to end up disliking Canada even more if I read it.

  11. That’s a bit of a two dimensional way of looking at things, isn’t it? The usa has a long atlantic coast, a long pacific coast, and plenty of natural resources. I don’t see any trends in motion anywhere in the media or in public opinion which would lead to what you are concerned about. The international situation is far more complex than you make it out to be. Just like you separate the people of Canada from the government which has finagled itself into power, you ought to separate the people of the usa from the government which leads it. Yes, because of lack of principle of the folks who run our mainstream media machine, the usa has become a place where people frequently discuss things and think about things in hyperbolic and unrealistic ways. And yes, people were quite apathetic about involvement in politics during the 1990s. But there are trends afoot which show quite a bit of a change both with broadcasting (the internet is supplanting the centralized media), and people are getting a lot more interested in political involvement. People in the usa are generally oblivious to the goings-on in Canada, because events up there are not covered by those who run our television and newspapers and magazines. Same thing is true when it comes to events in Mexico. Now, there is quite a bit of political controversy regarding the usa-Mexican border. That’s quite a sad situation, generally. But that trend is isolated within a context and a narrative which is completely different from the one which we have about the Canada/usa border.I don’t think you have anything to worry about up there.

  12. Jill Stewart says:

    You are right. I don’t understand how somebody can believe US have some aggresive plans against us (except the South Park of course :)) Your economy doesn’t need soldiers standing on the resource sources, peaceful economical cooperation is much better for both partners! US wouldn’t get nothing by attacking us. As a West Toronto realtor I am meeting many Americans, who are moving to Canada, and I think our nations are one of the best “friends” on Earth…Jill

  13. Interesting comments! I heard once from a Canadian key note speaker at a Hospice conference:Canada had the opportunity to take the best from 3 superpowers and build a utopia:British manners French cultureUS know-howAnd somehow the telegraph message got garbled and Canada thought God said: come up with French manners, US culture and British know-how.Although I think that story is sort of funny, I also think that Canada has the capacity to rethink itsself and make itse’f up all over again. I guess the US does as well, but I don’t really have much hope for us in the US. I do have hope that our Canadian friends can reject what they can, withstand what they must, and never give up the fight. The US gov’t would have to walk over a lot of US citizens (including me) to do anything stupid (more stupider?) to our closest friends in the hemisphere. We’re not above it.

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