As a long time supporter of progressive political policies in Canada I was perplexed and dismayed by the results of our recent federal election. My consternation led me to write the article that is attached to this letter. The essence of my analysis is summed up in the opening comments:
The 2006 federal election has set the stage for a possible dismantling of Canada’s distinctive social and economic fabric. The newly evolved Conservative Party, in many respects a chilling echo of the USA’s Republican Party, is poised for a two-stage attack to reshape Canada in line with its Canadian version of America’s neoconservative ideology.
The purpose of this letter is to urge the NDP and the Liberals to begin the process of forming a coalition and, if this turns out favourably, to consider the prospect, under the right conditions, of eventually merging the two parties into a centre-left Liberal Democratic Party.
For years the minority of Canadians on the political right languished in the wilderness because of a split in their political movement. However, after a series of misadventures, they finally coalesced into a single party–albeit with some alienation and disaffection in their ranks. Basically, their strategy worked–and although they received only 36 percent of the vote, they now form the government.
While in a minority position, we can rest assured that the Conservatives will not introduce any of the hardcore measures that form the basis of their raison d’etre — measures that would change the face of Canada. For this they require a majority. Their strategy will be to survive a few months in a non-controversial manner to gain the respect and confidence of the public to enable them to get a majority in the next election.
At present Canada has a dysfunctional political system in which the views of the majority of Canadians cannot be represented by a single political party. Although almost two-thirds of Canada’s voters opposed the policies and platform of the Conservative party, it is the Conservatives who have formed the government. The majority vote was split amongst three parties, thereby thwarting the predominant will of the people and making a mockery of democracy. And this may very well continue into the future, especially if the Conservatives get a stronger foothold in Quebec. Furthermore, if the NDP should get progressively stronger, it will guarantee a split vote, and we may have an unending series of Conservative governments–until there’s nothing left of Canada except a northern tier of quasi-American states.
Of course the majority of Canadians would abhor any such a development–to have a minority right-wing faction force us to become part of the American Empire. But Tom d’Aquino’s “deep integration” strategy would lead to just such a thing. And we already have Michael Wilson, a proponent of this policy, smugly in office on the front lines, as Canada’s ambassador to the USA.
So what do we do? How do we prevent the Conservatives from forming a majority government? In the best interests of Canada, it’s up to progressive-minded citizens to urge the NDP and the Liberals to form a coalition, and eventually perhaps a complete merger of the two parties. It’s only then the progressive majority in Canada would be in a position to vote for a political entity that would reflect their views, values, and interests.
Undoubtedly, there are going to be strong opponents in both parties to any such suggestion. However, in the long run this would be in the best interests of both our country and the two parties. For the NDP, being the smaller entity, there’s still the vivid memory of how the Progressive Conservatives were subsumed by the Reform/Alliance zealots. There’s also the practical worry that such a political realignment might result in a horse and rabbit stew, strongly smelling of Liberal horse. However, at this stage, for either party to be an effective political force, they need one another. And stemming from this, both parties are in a position to exact compromises.
In a coalition, both parties would retain their individual identities, but would have to agree on a common platform or agenda, not necessarily on all matters, but on some basic, fundamental issues. They would also have to agree on an election strategy, whenever an election might be called. The strategy should be a straightforward matter, and once agreed upon, it could be the driving force to hammer out a platform, and thereby create a coalition.
A meaningful strategy, equally in the interest of both parties, would be an agreement to run all the incumbent candidates, Liberal and NDP, without opposition from the other party. Such a strategy would guarantee the reelection of every single member–surely this should be an enticement for a coalition! As for the seats held by the Conservatives, party strategists should be able to work out which party would have a better chance of winning, and then run just one candidate for that particular party. Such a maneuver would wipe out a great many Conservatives everywhere, except in Alberta, although even there they should lose some seats in Edmonton. Obviously, this would be a winning formula for a substantial majority government.
The issue of a common platform could be a major divisive matter, and this could either make or break the prospects of a coalition. The resolve of a unified NDP could possibly create major strains within the Liberal party. The Liberals have never been a homogeneous party–many on the left were not much different from most NDPers, while many on the right were almost Conservative clones. In all likelihood, most progressive-minded small “l” Liberals would not be inherently opposed to an NDP coalition or even a merger. However, to accommodate some NDP basic positions, many on the right with strong corporate ties, would probably be prepared to bolt the party and join the Conservatives (like David Emerson), rather than agree to a coalition, let alone a merger.
Those on the political left of the Liberal party may be faced with a considerable dilemma–should they persevere in trying to form a centre-left coalition or merger and try to bring the less doctrinaire right-wing with them–or should they maintain the status quo and go along with the right-wing upper echelon, strongly beholden to the corporate sector. If they choose the coalition/merger route, they’d be assured of forming a majority government, which could very well usher in a whole new political structure in Canada.
On the other hand, if they stay with the status quo, further vote-splitting in subsequent elections would bring in Conservative governments–with dire consequences for Canada. The Liberals would not only remain as an opposition party, but driven by the right-wing, they could easily replicate the American experience where the Democrats have morphed into a Republican-lite caricature. And being in opposition, like the Democrats, they might try to emulate the Conservative success, thereby creating two wings of virtually the same party–exactly as in the USA.
In drawing up a common platform, there should not be much difficulty in matters such as the preservation and improvement of Medicare, the retention and upgrading of the CBC, the establishment of a national childcare program, a pharmicare program, and other such social policy matters. There are two other crucially important issues–issues of enormous consequence to Canada–that must be included in the platform: first, the abrogation of NAFTA, and second, the rejection of “deep integration” with the USA. The significance and current status of both these matters are little understood by the general public and, I venture to say, the parliamentarians. Yet the urgency of these matters is a major reason for the formation of a coalition. Lest there be any doubt about this assertion, the rest of this letter is devoted to a careful analysis of these two issues.
NAFTA and its precursor, the Free Trade Agreement (FTA), remain contentious, controversial, and desperately in need of an objective reappraisal. It was John Turner, a true Canadian patriot, who fully understood the dangers of the original Free Trade Agreement, and fought it heroically, while Ed Broadbent apparently never understood the long term consequences, and conducted an election strategy that ensured a Mulroney majority government and the enactment of the FTA. Since then, to put it bluntly, the NDP has been squeamish and chicken-hearted in dealing with the problems of NAFTA–afraid of an electoral backlash. However, with the prospect of a coalition government, where the NDP would be a participant in governing, it would be incumbent on them to stiffen their backbone and include the abrogation of NAFTA in their platform and to press left-wing Liberals to join them in this venture. There is a specified procedure for abrogation, whereas there is no provision for renegotiation, which is not what we would want in any event. Abrogation of NAFTA would have majority support from the Canadian public.
The FTA and NAFTA, through clever propaganda, were forced on the Canadian public by the corporate elite, led by Tom d’Aquino, the head of Canada’s 150 most powerful corporations–under the banner of the Business Council on National Issues, now renamed the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE). Underlying the public relations flim-flam, the corporate rationale behind the FTA was not about trade (most goods were already freely traded) but its prime function was to restrict the power of Canada as a nation state to be able to intervene in the economy, especially in the matter of energy resources and social and economic policy. Chapter 11 of NAFTA was the frosting on the cake, which allows corporations to sue the government if they think there is a restraint of trade or if our government should ever have the audacity to interfere with corporate profits, regardless of damage being done to the environment, human health, or the economy. Despite the constant corporate/media chest-thumping about the benefits and wonders of NAFTA, a closer examination of the data tell a different story. Of the great surge in exports and imports, government studies credit NAFTA with only nine percent of the growth in Canadian exports and two percent of the growth in imports from the USA–over 90 percent of the increased trade was the result of Canada’s cheap dollar and the US boom, and it had practically nothing to do with “free trade.” Per capita growth in Canada between 1989 and 2002 was 1.6 percent a year, but in the eight years preceding the FTA, it had averaged 1.9 percent per year. Although US direct foreign investment surged during the free trade era, it resulted in the takeover of more than 10,000 Canadian firms, with 96.6 percent of the investment going towards the takeovers, and with many of them being financed through borrowing in Canada–so our own capital was being used to buy us out. When it comes to foreign ownership, it’s at legendary levels and far exceeds that of any other country. As for jobs, the FTA/NAFTA period created less than half as many full-time jobs as during the previous thirteen years. In fact, because of the trade agreements, Canada lost 280,000 of its best jobs, forever. An objective accounting shows that the promised benefits of the FTA and NAFTA were never realized.
But it’s in the energy sector that the FTA/NAFTA chickens have really come home to roost. As I pointed out in my article:
With the Free Trade Agreement and later NAFTA we’re locked into exporting 70 percent of our oil and 56 percent of our natural gas, and with the proportionality provision, the amount of our exports can only go higher–in perpetuity. Our reserves are quickly depleting and because of NAFTA we have absolutely no control of our own resources. This is insanity. To defend Canada’s interests, our federal government should renegotiate NAFTA to eliminate the proportionality clause (Mexico never agreed to this), and if the US should refuse, we should give the required six months notice and abrogate NAFTA, since the US ignores its rulings anyway. This would once again give us control of our energy resources and our economy as well.
Canada desperately needs an independent energy policy to ensure a security of supply for Canadians. The USA and most countries have such a policy, but NAFTA effectively prevents Canada from doing this. In negotiating a coalition, it would be grossly irresponsible for the NDP and progressive minded Liberals not to include in their joint platform the abrogation of NAFTA. This would signal a bold new course for Canada’s development strategy. Since NAFTA was the progeny of the corporate elite, they would undoubtedly go into hysterics. This should be countered by a sound body of evidence that NAFTA endangers our energy security and that it restricts our ability to participate in markets elsewhere than the USA. Despite all the predictable wailing Cassandras that the economic roof would collapse on Canada if it rid itself of NAFTA, it’s reasonably certain that not too much lasting economic damage would ensue. NAFTA was the corporate elite’s god that failed–it failed them and it failed Canada. Nevertheless, it’s almost certain that Liberals of the political right would join the corporate elite to try to block the inclusion of the subject of NAFTA in a joint platform.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the corporate/political right would derail any attempt to deal with NAFTA. Consider that last summer, Lloyd Axworthy, a powerful minister in the Chretien Liberal government, had this to say in a widely published article on Canada-US relations:
Let’s begin by seriously considering an end to NAFTA and reliance instead upon the World Trade Organization to regulate the terms and provisions of free trade. Not only would this offer us the protection of a trade body that has some teeth in its regulations ones not rooted in US domestic procedures and laws–it would also free us to engage in a much more innovative and active global strategy. The emergence of new economic powers like China, India, Brazil and South Africa provides markets hungry for the resources and know-how that Canada possesses. Our NAFTA connection impedes our ability to take advantage of this potential. . . . It’s time for new policies and tough action to shift our trade and security strategies away from a preoccupation with continental matters to a more global footing.
In actuality, NAFTA is institutionally dysfunctional, and there is ample evidence that it is no longer in Canada’s interests to be a participant in it. However, to calm the hysterics of the economic elite, the inclusion of NAFTA in a coalition platform should stipulate that initially the government would undertake a comprehensive assessment of its costs and benefits and the advantages and disadvantages of terminating it. An objective review would undoubtedly provide irrefutable evidence that NAFTA should be abrogated. This study would then effectively counter the certain massive propaganda barrage by the economic elite to derail the decision to terminate NAFTA.
A further crucial issue that must be part of a coalition platform is the matter of “deep integration” with the USA. Although not known to most Canadians, the previous Martin government, without consent from Parliament, and probably with only the briefest of obfuscating mention to the Liberal caucus, has already signed a statement of intent in a trilateral agreement with the USA and Mexico to supercede NAFTA with what has been called by its proponents a “deep integration” policy with the USA. Without any fanfare, the first stage of the “Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America” was signed by President Bush, President Fox, and Prime Minister Martin on March 23, 2005 in Waco, Texas. The second stage, with work-plans on its further implementation, was signed in Ottawa on June 27, 2005 on behalf of Canada by Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan and Industry Minister David Emerson. Its full implementation would apparently take effect after signing further agreements in 2006 and 2007, so this is now in the hands of the Harper government. It appears that if these further agreements are not signed, this calculated endeavour to change the very nature of Canada, without any public disclosure or debate, would die as unfinished business. To make sure that this happens, the issue of “deep integration” must be in the platform of a Liberal-NDP coalition.
The background of this lamentable saga reflects very badly on Canada’s business entrepreneurs, and equally so on our right-wing politicians, be they Liberal or Conservative. Seeing that NAFTA wasn’t working in the way they envisioned, instead of directing their attention towards a global trade strategy, they remain obsessed with the American market. This is the market of a declining economic power that is rapidly losing its technology-based competitive advantage. In the meantime, Canada sends only six percent of its exports to the world’s most rapidly growing markets. Surely it should be evident that Canada’s future well-being will depend on companies with a global strategy, not a strategy based solely on the USA. It’s the abysmal failure of imagination within our economic elite that has led to the frightening concept of “deep integration” that if not stopped will lead to Canada’s demise as a country.
It’s beyond the scope of this letter to deal with the “deep integration” issue in the way that is warranted, but some highlights of the proposal must be presented. It seems that the CEOs of Canada’s major corporations have finally realized that the USA will never surrender power over its trade protection laws, and that there is no permanent solution for some of our trade disputes short of Canada’s political union with the US. Knowing that Canadians would resoundingly reject any such annexationist attempt, they have resorted to subterfuge and obfuscation to try to carry out a policy that would have almost the same net effect.
The project was launched by the C.D. Howe Institute and the CCCE, led by Tom d’Aquino. After some quiet lobbying and political maneuvering, they established the Task Force on the Future of North America–an unelected body representing no one but major business interests. In April 2004 they released a 35-page report, New Frontiers: Building a Canada-United States Partnership in North America. This report ostensibly speaks for Canada and Canadians, but ordinary Canadians have had no input into it–it’s a document produced by and for the economic elite–it doesn’t have a shred of democratic credibility. As expected, the report had a major impact in Washington. Without any negotiations or even a request for negotiations, Canada’s quisling economic elite suddenly offered the Americans huge concessions on security and total access to all of Canada’s resources, including water–far beyond anything covered by NAFTA. Naturally, President Bush almost immediately made a request to sign such a treaty. Without Parliament’s knowledge, let alone its debate and consent, Prime Minister Martin, solely at the behest of the business community, dutifully signed on March 23, 2005, as mentioned above, a statement of intent to proceed with the “deep integration” project. The CCCE’s Task Force’s report, New Frontiers, serves as the basis of the ensuing June 2005 report, Security and Prosperity Partnership in North America
If the Harper government proceeds to finalize this Liberal-initiated treaty, the following are some of the ramifications that could take place.
Following 9/11 the Bush administration made it clear that security issues would trump trade for the foreseeable future. Because of Canada’s independent policies and regulations, big business interests feared that this would affect cross-border trade. In their deep integration strategy they linked economic prosperity and security, and set out to convince the US government that with such a policy the Canada-US border would eventually represent no greater threat than the borders that exist between American states. This policy would give Americans new rights of inspection at the Canadian border, including a blending of Canadian and US immigration and customs databases. This would provide US border agents with access to the immigration and tax records of Canadians, as well as information on work records, property owned, and investments. Moreover, the pact calls for “seamless North American” immigration and refugee policies–hence it would now be America’s policies that would define such matters for us. This is only a part of the surrender of sovereignty that would be required.
When it comes to defence and military matters, there is no mention of Canada’s traditional role of peacekeeping. Instead we would be expected to make massive new investments in the military to ensure the “interoperability of Canadian and United States armed forces on land, at sea and in the air.” Clearly this means that defence and foreign policy would be blended to meet America’s expectations, so that we would be ready and willing to be a part of any future “coalition of the willing.” This has ominous implications for Canada considering that the US has now adopted a “first strike” position (even with nuclear weapons) and reserves the right to attack any country it sees as being hostile, regardless of UN Security Council decisions.
To open up the market to freer trade and to maximize “economic efficiencies,” Canada would be obliged to replace all domestic regulatory systems relating to standards, inspection and certification procedures with a “tested once” principle–of American design. The rationale for this being that since our economies are now so integrated, our domestic laws are redundant. A crucial matter for the CCCE is the hope that because of these concessions of Canadian sovereignty, the US would agree not to apply “trade remedies” within a “de facto integrated market.” Despite the CCCE’s supposed expertise, it would be sheer delusion to think that the US Congress would ever surrender power over its trade protection laws. Consequently, so long as Canada is politically not a formal part of the USA, there is no guarantee that trade penalties such as the infamous softwood lumber case would not be reenacted if there were a complaint of “unfair trade practices” by an American industry. As Lloyd Axworthy said in the above mentioned article, “. . . listening to the chorus of continentalist claptrap promoting more US-Canada integration” is not going to resolve our trade problems with the USA. We have to confront these problems for what they are, and the WTO would be a far better means of protecting our interests. To surrender our sovereignty and the integrity of our country in the hopes that the “Americans would be kind to us” is delusional in the extreme.
But there is more to come. With respect to Canada’s resources, the goal is to create a “resource security pact based on two core principles: open markets and compatibility of regulatory frameworks.” To carry this out the CCCE calls for a “major initiative aimed at removing the threat of trade disputes and in particular resolving once and for all the controversial issues of resource pricing and subsidies.” If this were done Canada would have to abandon all remaining regulatory mechanisms under which it claims sovereignty to its oil, natural gas, electricity, coal, all minerals, including uranium and primary metals, as well as its forest products, agriculture, and water.
Instead of trying to extricate ourselves from the proportionality provision for oil and natural gas in NAFTA, “deep integration” calls for the extension of this provision to electricity exports as well as to all minerals and water. To include electricity in this would probably mean the necessity of privatizing the provincially owned hydro corporations. As for water, the economic elite see it as a commodity, so why shouldn’t it be sold just like a sack of potatoes. In the words of Oscar Wilde, there are “people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Currently under NAFTA there are exemptions for culture and agriculture. With the elimination of these restrictions in agriculture, there would be an abrupt end to the Canadian Wheat Board and all marketing boards. As for culture, what there is of it in Canada would be promptly smothered by the American behemoth. Say goodbye to the CBC, the National Film Board, and Canadian owned media, television and cable, and whatever else we consider to be culture.
There are other matters, but by now it should be quite evident what “deep integration” would mean for Canadians. One final aspect however reveals a rather peculiar perverse arrogance on the part of our “superior economic elite” — a plan to infiltrate the minds of our children. To fully carry out their silent coup d’etat, they believe it’s necessary to create a new generation of Canadians who would be truly “continentalist” in their thinking, and this should begin in our school system. They plan to somehow hijack the education system to be able to implant in the minds of our children the idea that they are not “Canadians,” but actually “North Americans.” In their report they say, “Participants agreed that progress on this front will require effort within the education system [including] supplements to the standard curriculum.” A Canadian participant in the original Task Force agreed to “work” on this idea. A further point worthy of mention, a “North American” passport would be required to erase any vestige of Canadian identity–this of course would wind up being an American passport. In the haunting words of George Orwell, “Everything faded into mist. The past was erased, the erasure was forgotten, the lie became the truth.”
It must be understood that to turn over the control of our economy and to surrender so much of our sovereignty, but without any serious political voice in Washington, would essentially leave Canada almost in the position of Puerto Rico. It must also be understood that this was not an American initiative–it was a totally home-grown initiative by our quisling economic/political elite. Which Canadians took part in this, aside from Tom d’Aquino and his business cohorts? How about high profile Liberal John Manley (until recently a leading contender for the Liberal leadership) who was co-chair of the CCCE Task Force. There was also Michael Wilson, Mulroney’s finance minister and the godfather of the FTA–now Canada’s ambassador to the USA. So the Task Force was politically ambidextrous. And there was Tom Axworthy–remember him from Trudeau days? One wonders what Trudeau would think of this. There was also Pierre Mark Johnson, a former Quebec premier, now subsumed in the corporate world. But how about Paul Martin, Anne McLellan, David Emerson (now thankfully a Conservative), and other high profile Liberal cabinet ministers? They went along with this, either knowingly or duped, and by pure stealth signed the first stage of the infamous document and have gotten Canada entrapped in it. It’s now in the hands of the Conservatives–who were in complete agreement with the project. In fact, the train for “deep integration” has left the station, heading for Washington to deliver us as a colony, with the Conservatives riding in the first class section. After all, almost everything in their platform is included in the Liberal-enacted “deep integration.”
So in what way is the right-wing of the Liberal party different from the Conservatives on this particular issue? There’s no difference from what can be seen. And where was Jack Layton and the NDP on this matter in the last election? Did anyone hear a peep from them on this? In fact, if it hadn’t been for the Council of Canadians hardly anyone would have known what happened, particularly since the media was strangely deadly silent on this matter. And yet “deep integration” promises to be of far greater consequence to us than the FTA or NAFTA. And if the Conservatives aren’t stopped from signing the remaining sections of this project, it will become a binding treaty on Canada. If the right wing of the Liberal party should decide to support the Conservatives on this–and form an overarching right-wing coalition — we may as well put the lights out for Canada.
Considering this matter alone, it is of the utmost necessity that the NDP and left-wing Liberals form a coalition, and include the issue of defeating “deep integration” as one of their prime planks. They should realize that Canadians are now more conscious and more proud of their unique heritage than at any time in the past 50 years. If a Canadian political party ran on a platform of “deep integration” with the USA, it would be routed even worse than the Mulroney-laden Conservatives in 1993–this time getting zero seats.
Faced with the critically important necessities to abrogate NAFTA and to block the enactment of the “deep integration” project, together with the urgency to prevent the Conservatives from getting a majority in the next election, the NDP and the Liberals must form a coalition with all due haste. Canadians who truly believe in this country must act in this country’s interests. Now is not the time for narrow partisan politics. Now is the time to set a new course for Canada. Now is the time to establish a centre-left coalition to enable the majority of Canada’s people to have an effective political entity to reflect their views, beliefs, values, and hopes for the future.
JOHN RYAN, Ph.D., is a retired professor of geography and senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org