Recently I’ve been reading more and more of Policy Options. I’m not a reading every issue (although I’m not trying to) but I am enjoying much of what I do get through.
Going way back to the February issue there was an article by Robin Sears entitled “Canada in North America: From Political Sovereignty to Economic Integration.” The piece was a hard assessment about the limits of Canadian sovereignty and economic independence in light of our geographical position next to the United States. He notes that our position is one where we must work with our American cousins and try to gain as much influence as possible – a bold statement these days – but one that remains true. Perhaps no more so today. When things are at their worst (and I’ll admit, they are) that’s precisely when we need a map for a better path. As Sears points out…:
Imagine the vision, the courage and imagination that it took in the harsh winter of European famine of 1947-48 for two powerless French statesmen to sit in a Paris café and begin to plan for a united Europe! …They reflected grimly on “the success of the victorious Allied powers” in Europe.
The continent was being savaged by Soviet armies in the east and staggered under starvation in the west. The only European unity any rational person could foresee was a shared visceral hatred of Germany and everything it had stood for. The miracle that was the Marshall Plan was still in the future. Germany was a decade away from its economic leap forward. England, torn by its loss of empire, with its special relationship with the United States and its eternal ambivalence about Europe, was unreliable.
The simple fact is, we are stuck on this north american rock with the a powerful neighbor who knows little about us, and cares less and less every day. The only thing that will be worse is when they suddenly do care about us – like our border after 9/11. Sears’ is at pains to find ways to foster political structures to promote cooperation between Canada and the United States and he’s right. We need them. Those who wish to die at the altar of sovereignty, preserving it absolutely at no matter what cost, will find that they have significantly less influence, not only abroad, but at home as well. Worse, sovereignty is usually not what they care about. In perhaps the pieces most biting line, Sears points out:
“Canadian nationalists trying to ring-fence our sovereignty are engaged in an especially ironic struggle, given their citizenship in the nation that invented the modern, more supple form of sovereignty: federalism. Those who are most determined to draw deeper lines in the ongoing crusade against American encroachment on our national sovereignty are often the strongest advocates of Canada’s leadership in the development of global governance through multilateral institutions. The contradiction reveals less about their convictions about sovereignty than about their plain vanilla anti-Americanism.”
The piece is interesting and worth reading on its own merits. But what makes it still more compelling is its author. So who is this man? Excellent question. First, despite the article’s bent, analysis and conclusion, he’s not a Conservative. No, for the uninitiated (like me) Robin Sears was the national campaign director of the NDP during the Broadbent years and served as Bob Rae’s chief of staff when he was premier. He was also Deputy Secretary General of the Socialist International. For those on the left whose only prescription to our geographic conundrum is to seal the border and throw away the key (a proposition that would see no end of pain for the Canadian economy) it is interesting to find those, on the same side of the spectrum, who disagree. I hope we see more of them… frankly the debate needs their perspective.