Canada's Three Solitudes

Par Dan Dunsky

Chronique de José Fontaine

EVERY COUNTRY has its problematic national story: race in the United States, class in Britain, empire in Russia. Canada's problem is its perpetual identity crisis, a collective neurosis bred of being a confederation of English and French peoples--what the novelist Hugh MacLennan once called the country's "Two Solitudes"--and the small neighbor to one of history's few great nations. Canadians alternately worry about too much American attention--of being overwhelmed by the United States--and, as suggested by the title of a recent book, Invisible and Inaudible in Washington (2000), of being ignored by the United States. (It didn't help that the New Republic once judged the most boring headline ever to be "Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.")
These twin pressures have always existed as an immutable fact for Canadians and likely always will. But American policymakers need to be far more interested in how Canadians deal with these questions, since their answers will largely determine whether Canada is likely to remain a trusted ally in the unpredictable post-9/11 world or become a dangerously exposed northern flank.
The United States cannot "wall itself off" from Canada. Traffic across the 5,061-kilometer U.S.-Canadian border, which Ronald Reagan once hailed as "a meeting place between great and true friends", cements the most comprehensive bilateral trading relationship in history. A truck crosses the U.S.-Canadian border every 2.5 seconds. Approximately $1.3 billion in two-way trade crosses the border every day--or $500 billion a year. More than 200 million two-way border crossings occur yearly, making the shared border the busiest international boundary in the world.
Nearly 25 percent of American exports go north to Canada. More significantly, Canada is now America's largest source of crude oil and petroleum products. This may grow more important, both because of continuing instability in the Persian Gulf and because, according to the Oil and Gas Journal, Canada now contains, at 180 billion barrels, the world's second-largest proven reserves of oil. "Anyone watching what is happening up north will recognize that, before long, Canada will inevitably overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's oil giant", said Utah Senator Orrin Hatch recently. While chastising Canada for "irresponsible" talk of favoring China with increased oil exports as payback for the ongoing U.S.-Canadian softwood lumber dispute, Hatch nevertheless said that "we in this country don't want to be on Canada's shit list, ever."
Despite the senator's fears, however, Canada has much more to worry about than the United States. Quite simply, the border is Canada's economic lifeline. Owing to the absence of a large domestic market and an abundance of natural resources, Canada must export to survive. And today the United States consumes fully 85 percent of Canada's exports, accounting for an astounding 40 percent of the country's total GDP. In addition, many high-value Canadian products and services--for example, Canada's contribution to the U.S. space program--are designed to piggyback on existing American initiatives.
The signing of the U.S.-Canadian free trade agreement in 1988 (and NAFTA in 1993) accelerated the vertical integration of Canada's economy with that of the United States. Some 50 percent of Canadian foreign direct investment (FDI) is now aimed at the United States, while more than 60 percent of inbound FDI is American. According to Export Development Canada, a federal crown corporation, "the import content used to make Canadian exports has been growing steadily and now averages around 35 percent, and in many manufacturing industries [exceeds] 50 percent." This integration has, in turn, increased Canadian productivity. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that Canada's primary national interest is located south of the border.
The shock on Canadian economic activity of the effective closure of the border after 9/11 demonstrated the country's vulnerabilities and highlighted Canada's interest in safeguarding its southern frontier. The nightmare scenario for Canadian politicians today is a successful attack on the U.S. homeland by a terrorist who enters through Canada.
FACED WITH this reality, Canada has strengthened its anti-terrorism posture. Over the past four years, in addition to specific action on the border, the country's Parliament has passed Canada's first-ever Anti-Terrorism Act, a Public Safety Act and a new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Further, the government has created the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Canada's answer to the Department of Homeland Security, and has undertaken a foreign affairs and defense review. Canadian law now defines terrorism and designates terrorist groups operating in Canada. It is now an offense to support terrorist groups or any activities related to such groups. And security, intelligence and law enforcement agencies have been given enhanced powers of surveillance, arrest and detention, including preventive arrests or arrests without warrants.
Canada has established common procedures with the United States for the screening of high-risk goods in third countries prior to their arrival at North American airports and seaports, and the Department of Transportation has plans to increase the use of biometric systems and radiological scanners at Canadian points of entry.
Similarly, after 9/11, public pressure to rebuild the Canadian armed forces grew dramatically. In its 2005 budget, the federal government pledged an additional $11 billion to the armed forces over five years, a move supported even by the New Democrats, Canada's dovish social-democratic party. This marked the first substantial increase to the defense budget since cuts in the overall federal budget during the 1990s reduced military spending by some $25 billion.
And though Canada chose to sit out the Iraq War, Canadian special forces joined American units in Afghanistan in 2001 and later assumed the leadership of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In the summer of 2005, the Canadian military enhanced its Afghan force and set up base in Kandahar. Using language Canadians had all but forgotten, Major General Andrew Leslie, former commander of Task Force Kabul and deputy commander of ISAF, predicted that Canada may be in Afghanistan for a generation: "There are things worth fighting for. There are things worth dying for. There are things worth killing for."
In sum, Canada has indeed acted to improve its overall security posture since 9/11. In keeping with the Canadian realist approach to bilateral continental relations, Canada has endeavored to safeguard its economic interests by satisfying American security concerns, which, according to former Canadian Ambassador Allan Gotlieb, "opens doors [in Washington] like no other key."
But if self-interest was clearly at work in Canada's post-9/11 security decisions, it is less clear whether the Canadian and American governments share the same global outlook. Whether Canada is a trusted ally of the United States--insofar as the latter has defined its global roles and responsibilities--is a more difficult question to answer. For in many disturbing ways, Canada seeks to unify its chronically fractured sense of nationhood in opposition to the United States.
BY AND large, Canadians like Americans. A recent comprehensive study of the country's attitudes reveals that 70 percent of Canadians "value and respect the United States and its citizens", while only 15 percent admit to not liking or respecting "anything that the United States and its people stand for." The problem is that, today, Canada's political reality reinforces the minority anti-American sentiment.
Traditionally, Canadians distinguished themselves from Americans on the basis of having a different political system. Canadians, said the great literary critic Northrop Frye, are Americans who rejected the revolution. However, over the last half-century, as centrifugal forces threatened to tear the country apart, opinion-makers began to distinguish Canadians from Americans on the basis of having a different value system.
Alarmed at the rise of nationalism in French Canada, and fearful that as the British Empire receded from memory the United States would replace Great Britain in the affections of English Canadians, a new breed of federal politicians and bureaucrats attempted to erase Canada's very real divisions (and centuries of history) by appealing to a largely rhetorical set of "Canadian values" shared by all from sea to sea. Only by appealing to these values, Canadian nationalists believed, would Canada overcome its cultural neurosis and emerge as a single, unified state capable of resisting the inevitable lure of the United States.
So, where Americans were religious, Canadians were now secular. Where Americans were a martial people, Canadians were now pacifists. Where Americans were conservative, Canadians were now liberal. Where Americans were greedy capitalists, Canadians were now empathetic social democrats. And these beliefs--reinforced by a large contingent of nationalist and anti-American media--rubbed off on the population at large. Today, Canadians consistently tell pollsters that they are more tolerant, more respected by others, better educated and friendlier than Americans. Oh, yes: and more modest, too.
This pattern shows up in international matters, as well. Canadians are confirmed multilateralists (except when they seize Spanish and Portuguese fishing trawlers on the high seas, bomb Kosovo without UN authorization, and unilaterally claim a 200-mile marine exclusive economic zone). Canadians are a "moral superpower" (except when it comes to official development assistance, where Canada's contribution ranks among the lowest of wealthy nations, despite the prime minister's pledge that "our foreign policy must always express the concerns of Canadians about the poor and underprivileged of the world"). Canadians are environmentally conscious (except that they consume more energy per capita than all OECD countries except tiny Iceland and Luxembourg and have no feasible plan for implementing their Kyoto promises). Canadians believe in international law and normative foreign policy (except when government agencies look the other way as their own citizens suspected of being terrorists are "rendered" to Syria or Egypt). And on and on it goes. "A country that seeks great changes and lacks the willingness to run great risks dooms itself to futility", the 17th-century English statesman Lord Clarendon is said to have remarked. He could well have been describing Canada today.
This need to present a unique set of Canadian values is not without consequence. Consider just three recent episodes involving the governing Liberal Party. First, the communications director of former Prime Minister Jean Chre tien called George W. Bush a "moron", and the prime minister at first declined her resignation. Then, an MP was caught on camera saying "Damn Americans! I hate those bastards." And, in an "open letter" to Condoleezza Rice, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy called the United States a "virtual one-party state", devoid of the checks and balances the country "once espoused before the days of empire." This, from someone whose own party has governed Canada for seventy of the past one hundred years!
More seriously, despite the promising reaction to the terrorism threat, the prevailing Canadian-values and anti-American paradigm has influenced government policy on security issues. The most recent example is Canada's confused decision on ballistic missile defense (BMD). The government of Paul Martin had given every indication that Canada would sign on to the development and deployment of BMD, even ensuring that NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canadian air defense system, would be used as a key component in the program. However, the opposition--and, again, elite opinion--relentlessly attacked BMD as America's "missile defense madness", as "the weaponization of space", and as something that would "harm Canada's international reputation." Canadians, who had not been asked to contribute financially to the development of the system, and who could one day be protected by it, had been favorably predisposed to join. After the onslaught of negative attacks, however, they changed their minds. The government, fearing that as many as twenty members of its own caucus would vote with the opposition, decided to opt out of the program.
TO UNDERSTAND how this anti-American bias is being strengthened by Canada's current political reality one must begin with Lord Durham's observation in 1839 that Canada was "two nations warring in the bosom of a single state." Some 165 years later, Canada remains a country where, in the words of historian H. V. Nelles, "unambiguous unity and a singular identity" still largely elude its inhabitants. Except that today, Canada is really three nations: Quebec, the West and the multicultural cities.
Quebec is already separate within Canada. To the average Quebecer, the Canadian federal government is essentially irrelevant. Quebecers make almost all their own political and social choices, and international markets are as influential an economic force in the province as is the rest of Canada, perhaps more so. Quebecers are more left-wing and statist than their English-Canadian counterparts and more culturally confident, too. The province has a thriving French-language magazine, book, film, web and TV industry that utterly dominates public tastes, as opposed to the American products that resonate widely in the rest of Canada. No serious people today think that Quebecers want to return to past political arrangements or that Quebec nationalism is a waning fad. The province has never signed the 1982 Canadian constitution (though it is bound by its provisions) and support for independence hovers around the 50 percent mark. Quebecers regularly elect secessionist parties to represent them in both the provincial assembly and the federal House of Commons.
More than one-third of Western Canadians (encompassing the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) believe it is time to consider separating from Canada, according to 2005 survey data. Western Canadian alienation is nothing new, but it has lately taken a different form with the rise of the Canada's new Conservative Party, which dominates the region and is now the country's official opposition. The Conservative Party's intellectual roots owe more to the American conservative movement than to traditional Canadian Toryism: It is the party of smaller government, social conservatism and rural populism. Alberta, the engine of this new West, is Canada's wealthiest province, home to the country's galloping oil and gas industry, and enjoys a faster population growth than any other region. Nearly 60 percent of Albertans supported the Iraq War, while fewer than a quarter of Quebecers did.
This leaves Canada's increasingly multicultural cities. Five cities are home to 43 percent of Canadians, and Toronto alone accounts for 17 percent of the country's total population. Canada's cities are also the primary destination for immigrants and refugees to the country. About 20 percent of Canada's residents--and half of Toronto's--are foreign-born, compared to 11 percent in the United States, 5.6 percent in France and 4 percent in the UK. Cities are therefore the testing ground for Canada's multicultural experiment. However, multiculturalism rejects the idea that a single set of organized cultural beliefs and political principles are foundational to the nation's public life. So multicultural Canada cannot demand, as other countries can and do, that new arrivals adapt to the country's traditional cultural and political forms because, as the minister of citizenship and immigration has said, "we've developed, as a Canadian value, an appreciation of diversity--if not a complete nurturing of that diversity." Furthermore, multiculturalism has today become primarily an anti-Western impulse, specifically one that sees the United States as the locus of all manner of evil in the world. Therefore, large segments of Canada's urban areas should be seen to be, in effect if not in intention, hostile to the Western political tradition in general and to American ideals in particular.
In truth, Canada is now a country of three solitudes--four, if Canada's ever more assertive native population is included--where each has increasingly little in common with the others. Quebec's secessionist political parties obviously do not believe in trying to bridge these gaps. Significant portions of Canada's Conservative Party probably do not believe in doing so either, though the party will not acknowledge this publicly. This leaves the federal Liberals as the only major party attempting to be pan-Canadian in its appeal. And their only way of appealing to these disparate groups is by reference to the mythical "Canadian values" described earlier.
However, Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system and demographic reality (highly urban Ontario and Quebec represent 60 percent of the country's population) reduces Liberal pan-Canadianism to vote-getting among multicultural city-dwellers and non-secessionist Quebecers. So a typical Liberal election campaign preys on fears of the country's disintegration at the hands of Quebec's secessionists and the loss of its unique social character and diversity at the hands of the Conservatives and their "hidden agenda" of "U.S. style" policies. Ergo, the Liberals believe they are the only thing holding the country together and preventing its inevitable drift into the American orbit. Thus does the Liberal Party confuse its interests with those of Canada's citizens and use electoral politics to heighten anti-Americanism and Canadian regionalism. After all, a (small) majority of Canadians supported the Iraq War until well after the invasion. But Quebecers didn't. Neither, we may safely assume, did multicultural, urban Canadians. After months of delay, the federal government decided against joining the war because the UN hadn't authorized it.
Over the next few months Canadians will head to the polls to elect a new government. (The election was promised last June when a corruption and cronyism scandal over the misdirection of tax dollars to promote national unity in Quebec threatened to topple the Liberal government.) During the campaign, Liberals will tell Canadians that Quebec secessionists are out to destroy the great Canadian dream and that Conservatives will destroy Canada's unique social character and open the door to the country's "Americanization."
The election will most likely result in another Liberal minority government: Canada's regionalism--its solitudes--will see to that. However, given the Liberal electoral playbook and their probable parliamentary alliance with the leftist (and vocally anti-American) New Democrats to stay in power, don't expect Canada to ally itself too closely with the United States on any matter that doesn't directly affect Canada's economic interests.
PAUL MARTIN, the current Liberal prime minister, is fond of saying that Canada "will set the standard by which other nations judge themselves." Politicians are often called upon to say silly things, but it is generally a good idea not to let rhetoric stray too far from reality. But contemporary Canada--with the exception of its competent economic management--leaps precisely that gulf between rhetoric and reality, overcompensating for deep feelings of inferiority. It's a leap that too many Canadians have grown accustomed to hearing and by now enjoy believing. And it will persist until the status quo of Canadian federalism changes: either by devolving much, much more power to the regions and allowing each to make its own political, economic and social choices, or by breaking apart. Either way, the narcissistic and corrosive platitudes of "Canadian values" and "national unity" should cease.
There is no shame in fundamentally altering Canada's political arrangements. Unlike the United States, the country was not founded on an ecstatic commitment to a great cause but on the more pedestrian grounds of being a good idea. Such pragmatism should welcome change, if change is best. Canadians should be mature enough to question whether the country created in 1867 is still acting in the best interests of all its citizens in 2005.
Just as few predicted the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the breakup of Canada also seems far-fetched. Nevertheless, American policymakers should consider the possibility. In 1999 President Clinton said the United States "valued our relationship with a strong and united Canada. We look to you; we learn from you. The partnership you have built between people of diverse backgrounds and governments at all levels is . . . what democracy must be about, as people all over the world move around more, mix with each other more, live in close proximity more."
But what if the "partnership" Canada has built no longer supports America's global roles and responsibilities? What if the essential condition for Canadian unity is an anti-American value system built into the national political process? In that case, it is unclear that Canada is a long-term ally of the United States out of anything more than economic necessity. In that case, is it still in America's interest to support Canadian unity?

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José Fontaine355 articles

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Né le 28/6/46 à Jemappes (Borinage, Wallonie). Docteur en philosophie pour une thèse intitulée "Le mal chez Rousseau et Kant" (Université catholique de Louvain, 1975), Professeur de philosophie et de sociologie (dans l'enseignement supérieur social à Namur et Mirwart) et directeur de la revue TOUDI (fondée en 1986), revue annuelle de 1987 à 1995 (huit numéros parus), puis mensuelle de 1997 à 2004, aujourd'hui trimestrielle (en tout 71 numéros parus). A paru aussi de 1992 à 1996 le mensuel République que j'ai également dirigé et qui a finalement fusionné avec TOUDI en 1997.

Esprit et insoumission ne font qu'un, et dès lors, j'essaye de dire avec Marie dans le "Magnificat", qui veut dire " impatience de la liberté": Mon âme magnifie le Seigneur, car il dépose les Puissants de leur trône. J'essaye...

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