In days of yore, you had to get out the scissors if you wanted to keep some piece of journalistic brilliance. You’d cut out the article and keep it in a file until it was nicely yellowed, and read it again in despair at how you still weren’t able to nail a subject as well as the writer had. Then you’d buy a new filing cabinet.
(It was Alan Bennett or someone like him who said the difference between American and British writers was that when an American gets his book advance he goes out and gets drunk and laid. A British writer, on the other hand, flings caution to the winds and buys a new filing cabinet. This is sad but true. I have excellent filing cabinets.)
Three years ago, I cut out a long article headlined On Thinning Ice from the London Review of Books, even though almost everything in that publication is stellar enough to preserve. The piece summed up the global warming crisis so eloquently yet with a reassuring calmness — this is the hallmark of the LRB — that made me feel I had finally mastered the subject. I was surprised to see that the author was a Canadian professor of global politics and international law at the University of B.C.
That was my introduction to Michael Byers. He has just published a book called Intent for a Nation: What is Canada For? It is described as “a relentlessly optimistic manifesto for Canada’s role in the world,” and it stands alone, mainly because most Canadian political writers are either Bush adorers, and one is embarrassed for them, or gloom merchants. Mustn’t grumble, they say. The Americans will take over. It’s inevitable. Doomed, doomed, doomed, they intone.
For them, Canada’s glass is not just half empty, it is entirely empty with a dry crumbly residue at the bottom of the glass. Whereas writers like Naomi Klein and this Michael Byers see Canada’s glass as very much half full. Our problems are this, this and this, they say. So let’s concentrate on fixing them.
We need Canadians like this speaking up or we’ll expire as a country. Byers points out that geographically, we are the second-largest country in the world, we have 33 million educated, humane citizens from all corners of the Earth who manage to get along, we have two official languages, ample natural resources, good infrastructure, national health care that is a well-organized single-payer system, rich agricultural land, perfect east-west placement between Asia and Europe and next door placement to our biggest trading partner, the eighth-largest economy in the world, balanced books âe¦ oh, the wonderful things about this country never end.
But here’s my favourite: we are not just big. We are rich.
And not only that, we are popular. The world likes Canada and Canadians.
Plan afoot to blend with U.S.
This is why I don’t understand the subterranean effort that has been quietly going on for years to make Canada the 51st state. Not many people know about this plan — and yes, that is intentional — but you will eventually hear a great deal about it. It’s called the Security and Prosperity Partnership, although it’s also referred to as “deep integration” and “Fortress North America.” It’s run by Canadian and Mexican politicians of a timid bent, imperialist Americans, and various business groups, including the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations.
It consists of a plan to blend everything that is Canadian into the churning mass that is the United States.
According to the plan, which ramps up every time the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. meet, pretty much everything that is ours will vanish. Canada will no longer have its own foreign policy, regulations on health, food, transport, law enforcement and intelligence, its own energy, its own water, its own labour standards, you name it, Canada will lose it.
Although I am adamantly opposed to the SPP, I think I understand why corporate Canada (not that there’s much of it left now) and Prime Minister Stephen Harper love this so much. If you think countries are defined by economics and if your attitude is that Canadians are basically Americans at heart, then a de facto national surrender of Canada does make a sort of sense.
If you think that the United States is an empire in decline, thanks in great part to Bush — an American who has done more to damage his own country than any American citizen in history — and if you admire the values of Canadians and feel a kind of energetic pride about this country, then SPP is a disaster approaching. It’s a train wreck about to happen, a hurricane about to hit. I refer to it as the Surrender Power Project. Surrender is anathema to me; I can get quite overheated and Churchillian about it.
And this is why I so admire Prof. Byers. He isn’t passive. Some of us seem to think Canada is nothing more than the U.S.’s shy cousin. These are the people who say “Everything changed after 9/11” when in fact everything was the same except more so. In the U.S., vans turned into Hummers, shopping became a quest rather than a hobby, xenophobia expanded until no one dared leave the house, and the nation that lost the Vietnam War was talked into another military catastrophe.
I think Canada’s path should lead us away from American values, economics and political plans. Why don’t Canadians have the self-confidence to stand up and say this?
Prof. Byers wrote another eloquent piece in the LRB, Too Close to the U.S.A.: Michael Byers writes about Canada’s reluctance to stand up for itself.
Unfortunately, the piece ran on, um, Sept. 6, 2001.
This is not just ironic, it’s hilarious. But that doesn’t make it wrong. It simply means that the message needs to be restated. I do urge Canadians to read Intent for a Nation. Wrap an arm around yourself and find your backbone. Speak up for Canada.