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The border between Canada and the United States has no merit. It stunts our economies, impedes progressive change and pits two great countries against each other. makes the case for the unthinkable: a greater North American federation.
I l l u s t r a t i o n s b y P H .


S L E E P I N G W I T H A N E L E P H A N T D E P T.

Obama touched down in Ottawa for his rst international visit as president. All eyes are on Ottawa right nowyou dont hear that every day, a CNN anchor quipped. Discussions concentrated on trying to better manage the status quo between the two countries, including co-operation on clean energy, economic recovery and crossborder trade. The agenda reected what experts agreed was possible, but by skirting the extraordinary public force of the presidents appeal, it was less ambitious than what Obamas celebrity might have allowed. During his campaign, Obamas insistence on citizen participation was intended to empower Americans. His call to actionto renew American democracyelectried Canadians as well. Today, during a vicious health care battle and a resurgent culture war, American politics look rougher and less attractive than they did last fall. But on election night last year we cried for Obama. Was it simply a TV moment, or does the charge we felt reveal something serious, disruptive and American in public-spirited

N FEBRUARY 19, 2009, Barack

Canadians? Do we wait for our own Obama, or can we act on his example and be more active participants in North American democracy? In 1965, George Grants book Lament for a Nation made it respectable to look down on America. He mourned the slow and inevitable death of Canadian nationalism (what he called the memory of that tenuous hope that was the principle of my ancestors) and caricatured as treasonous sell-outs those who sought a larger arrangement with the United States. So here we are: a country that pays polite attention to regional separatists but hasnt, for over forty years, had even a whispered conversation about the merits of continental union. What would happen ifwithout waiting for our leaders to nd the political will we started thinking about how to create a union that would be more democratic, less complicated and more open than anywhere else on earth? There is always one moment in childhood, Graham Greene observed, when the door opens and lets the future in. We do all the things adults do; we are free. Lets take a breath and consider being North Americans.

Grant believed the end of Canada was only a matter of time. The end of the Canada that appealed to Grant, however, could birth a federation that appeals to us all.

are necessary to repel aggressors and recognize deep, if not permanent, differences. Yet, as screenwriter John Sayles warns, a border is where you end and somebody else begins. At its most basic, its where you draw a line. In politics, in the reach of emotions, in recognizing opportunities, borders authorize us to set limits. The Canada-US border blinkers our thinking, even when we believe were thinking big. Which is more ambitious: a Canada-wide electricity grid, or one that seamlessly integrates adjoining regions of the entire continent? Wouldnt linking Vancouver and Seattle and connecting the Great Lakes cities be more transformative than a high-speed rail line between Windsor and Quebec? If the Arctic were American, would managing the longest northern coastline in the world be a test of sovereignty? Even as a platitude, our border causes harm.

N MANY PLACES, national borders

Freedom to moveto change our dreams, where we work and where we livehas been the singular advantage of living in North America, while the border slows us down and clouds our prospects. The paperwork alone for maintaining todays border costs consumers and businesses over $10 billion annually. Twenty years of tariff-free trade have not radically deepened economic integration. Signicant gaps in investment per worker and wealth per capita persist between our countries; one study reported last year that Canadas per capita Gross National Product was $8,800or 17 percentlower than Americas. Canadians lose out, and the whole continent falls short of its intellectual and economic potential. There are proposals to improve this: shortening border line-ups, say,

imperialism and, earlier, Americas answer to George III. It allows for divided loyalties and the give-and-take of federalism. It is the heart of Canadas case to Quebec. We believe a national border between Quebec and Ontario would not serve either province, nor bring to life more freely our individual personalities. We believe federalism respects Quebecs determination to express itself in French, to act collectively, and to celebrate what makes the Qubcois different. We believe federal states are building blocks for a more peaceful, prosperous world. These principles run through Americas long history as surely as ours. If Canada is American, only slightly less so, why cant America be Canadian, only a little more so? Rather than being the steady friend for another century, rather than negotiating


by creating a security system to prescreen goods in Canada and co-ordinate the processing of overseas visitors, refugees and landed immigrants. The twenty- rst century question, however, shouldnt be how to make our border smarter but whether the border is necessary at all. Failing the test of necessity, it has no merit: it doesnt protect the environment, our economy or our security. It is articial, without architectural worth. It was drawn by a harried, retreating empire. And it perseveres on behalf of an unconscious, sugary sense of superiority: the more we think of ourselves as strictly Canadian, the better off everyone will be. Indigo, for instance, markets books with the assertion the world needs more of Canada. More seriously, our foreign policy is preoccupied with being at the table whether we have a unique point of view or not. The border, in other words, becomes our consolation prize for not being inuential in Washington. Liberal nationalismbasing the state and its future on the will of the peoplewas liberal Europes reply to

partnerships that are lopsided or incomplete, lets address Canadian sovereignty head on. A union of the people of Canada with the people of the United States could solve problems that two unequal powers cannot settle as partners. North Americans would be better equipped to ful ll their responsibilities by having an equal say within one federal union on issues such as the environment, energy, security, market economies and democracys future. Instead of demanding more of our diplomats, we should extend our reach as federalists. Democratic problem-solving involves compromise. However, deals struck within one federation can produce more for us, can ask more of us and last longer than any top-down contract between two separate countries. The future will test the details, of course. But rst, lets step outside the old framework of nation-to-nation bargaining and winners and losers. Lets envision a citizen-with-citizen, ballot-for-ballot union. Washington would be the federations capital. Canadians could run, and would

vote as equals, for president, and they would enjoy proportionate representation in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Success would require rare political nerve and new alliances. Our pragmatic and experimental traditions would have to prevail. For example, Americans would have to respect Quebecs ofcial language and Civil Code, and understand that provinces exercise great tax and program responsibilities; American federalists shouldnt object if our provinces continue to collaborate, share revenues, preserve same-sex marriage and support artistic excellence and bilingual services. They would need to agree that altering the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would be up to us. Why would they do this? Because theyve done it before. Several times, when America was threatened and divided, its leaders convinced the states and Congress to extend statehood across the west and more recently, thanks to Eisenhower, to Alaska and Hawaii. Todays leadership could as effectively assert: A vibrant North America is more critical than ever to Americas well-being and national security; by inviting Canadians to become full-edged Americans, Canadas fabulous potential can be assured and we can properly enjoy the benets of its success. Americans would have to see that extending the federal ballot serves their interests better than bullying diplomacy. The idea would, of course, need to earn support in Canada. Books could be written debating its worth and predicting the reactions of Quebec sovereigntists and aboriginals. Before determining whats politically feasible, however, we should recall that most of Canadas history happened only recently. Our federal constitutions are difcult to change, but they have been changed, and profoundly. With the Charter, for instance, the rights of individual Canadians now supersede the supremacy of Parliament. The option of a North American federal republic could likely trigger another referendum on separation, and sovereigntists would have every right to put forward the stark alternative of a separate Quebec. But federalism with Canada has already won twice. Logically, then, federalism with Americawith an equal say in the most important, profoundly federalist, legisla-

tures in the worldmight be as inviting and even more inspiring.

federation ought to provide greater leverage in Washington without betraying promises made to fellow Canadians. Federation need not include a special signing bonus for Canada. The Republic of Texas was annexed in 1845, and Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949; both joined


the billions we spend on a border we neednt maintain, we could better afford to meet our resource management and environmental responsibilities in the north. After nearly ten years of free trade (before the border thickened after 9/11), the intensity of Canadian trade was still more than ten times greater between provinces than with American stateswhatever the distance. Firms with over ve hundred

rency. On both counts we could do better with the American dollar and the international and American talent and investmentthat would follow. Within an economic union, guaranteed by political union, the global appeal of both markets would reinforce each other. Abroad, Canadian traders dont enjoy any strategic advantage by not being American. Despite the rudeness of the Bush years and Chinas appe-

larger body politics because they could not see how they could survive independently; and memories and resentments linger. But Canada is a highly valued military ally, can carry its public debt and already has an enviable social safety net. Using federal principles to assign responsibilities and the ballot to ensure theyre exercised fairly, the terms of union could clarify what actually unites Canadiansfor instance, portable universal health insurance. Moreover, by saving

employees still account for two-thirds of our exports to the United States. Obviously, they cope with currency uctuations and other non-tariff barriers to cross-border trade. However, entirely eliminating all the legal, regulatory, hidden and trivial costs that come from not being American would improve opportunities for individuals and smaller Canadian enterprises. Traders that pay high wages and want to grow need a sophisticated home base and a relatively stable cur37

tite for our resources, Americans exported nearly ten times more to China than we did in 2007. The highs and lows of the Canadian dollar havent given us an advantage in creating new value-added industries. The strength of the American economy and the global trading system it supports, not the Loonie, have been central to the growth of our resource exports. Intensifying regional enterprise, over time, would be of Canadian and continental signicance (this is the

basic principle behind Cascadiathe integration of the British Columbia and Washington State economies proposed by business spokesmen every decade or so). Vancouver-Seattle would be the hub of the North Pacic, and Montreal-Boston would give the Northeast a better chance to compete in new sectors, such as culture, tourism and business services. The Greater Toronto Area would complete the integration of the southern Great Lakes. Coordinating infrastructure on a borderless regional basis would stimulate business reorganization, internal competition, energy efciency and partnerships, for instance, in research and development. (A promising amount of exchange is already taking place between the giant medical centers in the US and research facilities

cap-and-trade regimes are gaining appeal. But without political representation in Washington, the more complex an agreements features, the more discretion assigned to ofcials, the greater the vulnerability of legitimate Canadian interests. A green strategy that answers to one electorate could be demanding and politically acceptable and, so, could impress the world. It is reasonable to expect some move northward in the politics of the new federation. It doesnt follow, however, that advantage would shift permanently from right to leftor favour New England, for instance, over Alberta. Americas political parties arent very sentimental; they care more about votes and centres of power than about who got to America rst. Our representatives would probably take some time to build their reputa-


here.) Calgary and Edmontons place in energy investment and innovation would improve within a continental framework. In boom times, western resource exports wouldnt disrupt the currency; risky long-term projects would only face one set of national policies and regulations, their success contributing directly to Americas prosperity. The recession has led to a renaissance in government intervention. However, this will not be enough to reverse the decades-old movement away from state-directed investment and toward free trade. But those making the case for positive, activist government would have greater leverage in one set of federal democratic institutions; North America, as one mixed economy, is big enough to inuence progressive economic change in areas like nancial regulation, worker rights and skills training, and the environment. Environmentalists insist that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will require signicant government intervention and North American leadership. Continent-wide strategies like

tions before running for national ofce. However, their advisors would pick up the game in a matter of weeks. Certainly, the next class of mainstream presidential candidates would have to make it their business to be credible in Canada.

wed us to the worlds next great loser? In statecraft and in business, Americas freewheeling era is over: it can no longer afford any margin of error. War, recession and huge decits have hurt its credibility. Despite all this, the US is still the wealthiest and most productive economy in the world. It enjoys about one-fourth the population density of both the European Union and China. Culturally, it is still a noisy, growth-oriented problem-solver. It has the capacity to keep growing, while its principal competitors are contending with rapidly aging work forces and the perils of longterm absolute population decline. By managing our human and strategic assets in a larger federation uniting two of the worlds top econo38


miesNorth Americas global inuence could be extended for generations. Everyone wants America to be a better team player. We know that decisive progress by the G8, the G20 or the UN Security Council will require leadership from the United States. But America cant be a problem-solver if it turns inward. Americas failure to support global prosperity and Western values would do us great harm, and the rest of the world little good. Canadians should therefore want to do everything they can to strengthen North Americanot only Canadas place within it. Many will ask: whats in it for America? Cant they just insist on whatever they need from us? Democratic union certainly wouldnt appeal to bred-in-the-bone Yankee imperialists, but it should enjoy support of Eisenhower Republicans and Schwarzenegger Republicans, as well Roosevelt Democrats and Obama Democrats; all of whom respect the diversity that comes from big federations. (Its also worth recalling that throughout the nineteenth century Americans argued about the risks as well as the benets of adding one state after another. Except for the South, on the matter of slavery, each time they chose to water down their inuence in order to expand the union.) Thoughtful conservatives and liberals also know that no alliance between two proud nations is as certain or as comprehensive as common citizenship; both look for ways to renew Americas promise. The dynamic potentialand strategic securityof our two countries can best be realized through political integration. Trigger-happy analysts may laugh, but we neednt be quiet and wait to hear what they think. We are no ones colony anymore.

shortchange less radical options? Ofcials in both countries will say they have continental ideas to ease us along, when the political climate is right. Indeed, most every quarter, a think tank, retired negotiator, or chief executive forwards elegant partnership proposals on everything from climate change to monetary union to border security. However, since free tradeindeed, since the whole world was freed up at the end of the Cold Warnothing of great signicance has

OES THE CASE for political merger

been negotiated to further integrate our two economies. Why cant our leaders matchand trumpWestern Europes vision of mutual prosperity? Canada has no serious alternativewe export ten times more to the United States than to Great Britain and the entire Euro currency union. And if America turns protectionist, familiar alternative markets likely will as well. Tariff-free trade has not fully integrated the continents economic resources, and our biggest economic challenges and moral obligations have no borders. However, there is something more formidable than nationalist anti-Americanism in the way: without political integration, deep integrationenvisioned in agreements like the Security and Prosperity Partnershipwould effectively transfer Canadian decisions to Washington while leaving us behind. Other alternatives to continental union also fall short. Adopting one currency, the American dollar, would improve investor condence and the consumers ability to compare prices facilitating the more productive use of capital, labour and management. It would be easier to absorb volatile oil and commodity prices. However, the American dollar could not maintain its credibility under joint OttawaWashington management. Monetary policy would have to be set by one independent authority: realistically, an expanded US Federal Reserve. Preventing Congress from favouring American industries would strengthen markets, but has proven to be impossible. Further, a European-style, bi-national power-sharing mechanism wouldnt work. It would be answering to two federations, one with a tenth the responsibilities of the other. And it isnt necessary. The cleanest, surest way to be treated fairly by American legislatorsand ofcials, for that matteris by having a vote in American elections.


we are? John A. Macdonalds mission statement (Peace, order and good government) and his railway didnt subdue the American or liberal spirit in Canada. New Canadians and old stock now overwhelmingly favour the core values of a pluralist republic. Along with Americans, we prize social mobility and equal treatment over tra-


dition. Historians can say our rst prime minister made us. But it would be trespass for loyalists to claim that were still his, or that a century-old vision de nes our future. Giving up the British Crown would hardly hurt. According to a 2007 Dominion Institute survey, only 8 percent of Canadians now accurately identify Queen Elizabeth II as our head of state. Big federations work by trying to right the present, relying on reason-based dialogue. It is vital to know who is in charge. Canadians require a voice-over to explain why the prime minister is ddling with his hands while someone else is reading his speech to Parliament; this supports neither accountability nor voter participation. Effectively, we already live in a presidential democracy. Canadians think they elect their leaders and have no desire to be re-educated on the matter. In politics, in neighbourhoods and in the workplace, change makes enemies. However, if happiness were the overriding motive of public policy, our forefathers might have settled for a string of semi-autonomous states instead of a confederation. If communities and businesses were discouraged from using new technologies and uninterested in abandoning less productive activities, Cape Breton would still be home to thousands of coal miners and IKEA wouldnt be furnishing millions of young families on four continents. If homogeneous community were the end point, both Canada and the United States would be less urban and less wealthythere would be more of us in the countryside generating less wealth than we do in cities and in industrial centers. Canada would certainly be less like its neighbour, and its presence in the world would be that much smaller as well. Maybe Canadians do compromise a lot and more readily turn to government for help. Certainly Americans are often ruthless in pursuing what they want, and cut bait when something isnt working. But, above all, it is circumstance, not personality traits, that makes us different. They have more to be immodest about and more to fear. American optimism, isolationism, arrogance and generosity reect American circumstances. When the country honours Lincoln, America is very attractive. Its true that in America, ideal39

ism is easier waved as a ag than practiced. Can idealists be at ease anywhere? American miners, peace activists, civil rights workers, and feminists believed they had to raise hell. They knew of no place where real change was easy. We know its not easy today. Union wouldnt make dangerous opinions less dangerous or Canadian idealists less unhappy. But within the worlds only democratic superpower, their victories would make a greater difference.

Protestant supporters: You can be just and generous because you are strong. Canadians, like Americans, are capable of excess. We arrived with baggage from every corner of the world; we hold grudges. We stereotype, distrust and often dislike fellow Canadians, whom we know only slightly better than Americans. But within both federations, borne along by the same stream of Western values, Canadians and Americans can make political decisions and respect one other as political equals. If federalism can work across our own disputatious continent, it can also work from our north to their south.


L H lives in Toronto, where he comments and consults on politics and government. He returns to writing after a wide-ranging career in public service. He is currently completing a book on Canadian nationalism and the promise of North America.

The case for continental union does not begin and end with Obama. The project will not likely have time to prove its value while he is president. But he reminds us of our duties. He sees that government must be up for big ideas and he fears the politics of identity that would close us in. If renewing Americas promise is necessary and the Canadian border isnt, then, for us, a world of possibilities and responsibility opens accordingly. Older generations urge young people to get involved in politics and dream big; at the same time, we act as if Canada is big enough. But the best of young Canada knows that public life next door is desperately more important. In democratic politics, it is vital to keep looking for ways to assert oneself. To be effective citizens today, surely, each of us must also be effective North Americans.