It is a compelling theme, that Canada can seize initiative from the United States in the 21st century, but is it just a pipe dream?
To read the scenarios described by Brian Lee Crowley and his associates, one could begin to believe these denizens of a right-leaning Ottawa-based think-tank are on to something.
First of all, picking Sir Wilfrid Laurier as the prophet is a stroke of genius. He is an attractive figure — handsome, charming, the first French-Canadian prime minister. To the extent that he is known he is probably remembered as the leader who opened the 20th century (actually in 1904) by forecasting that it would be Canada’s century.
He turned out to be a better prime minister than a prophet. However, he gave Canada inspired leadership for 15 years (1896-1911). He didn’t just occupy the office but presented a coherent political platform that quite fearlessly took on the challenge of leading a country in the shadow of the United States, a country fast becoming one of the more powerful in the world.
Crowley, Clemens and Veldhuis spell out in detail the program Laurier articulated — and which cost him defeat in the election of 1911. Their argument is that Laurier was right, but ahead of his time.
Persuading the voters that free trade with the U.S. and an array of other reforms were the keys to Canadian progress was just not realistic in Laurier’s time.
A century later, they claim, Canada’s time has come.
Two main conditions make this the time for “moving out of America’s shadow.” One condition already exists; namely, that the United States is on a downhill slide.
The other, in the form of tax reform and tight-fisted fiscal policy, is an option just waiting for Canadian governments, both federal and provincial, to execute.
What the authors call the Redemptive Decade, the period from the Mulroney government’s negotiation of free trade (1988) to the Chrétien-Martin balanced budgets, showed that Canada could have opportunities to outshine the Americans.
The authors stress that particular policies are necessary but not sufficient to thrust Canada into a leading position in North America. The other piece is that Canada must “complete, to the extent that we can, the taming of our neighbour.”
Where once generations of Canadians had feared that free trade with the U.S. would produce integration with our behemoth of a neighbour, we found we could have the open tariff arrangements and still maintain our Canadian identity.
More economic integration with the U.S, not less, is the prescription of the authors. We already have a partial framework, with arrangements like the International Joint Commission. As Crowley and colleagues declare, “Canada will need to follow Laurier’s example of self-confident engagement with the Americans.” We need to deal in “big ideas,” they say.
Then, in a few pages, they state “what to ask for.” These sought-after conditions include a perimeter border with a common tariff surrounding Canada and the U.S. This could minimize the host of frustrations that now plague the existing U.S.-Canada boundary — and increase the American sense of security against terrorism. Another could be a joint committee of Congress and Parliament, with equal members from each and power to handle continental issues. Through the prime minister, Canada could have regular summits with Congressional leaders. A new court with equal Canadian representation could have more clout than the present mechanism for resolving trade disputes.
Crowley and company make passing reference to “a host of other issues.”
Chances are another book is in the works to amplify the frame of reference just sketched.
Ron Kirbyson is a Winnipeg writer and teacher.