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Media Bites: Could Canada and America Ever Merge?

09/30/2013 12:58 EDT | Updated 11/30/2013 05:12 EST

What's the most controversial political proposal you can think of? An idea so unorthodox, so contentious, so outrageous, so radioactive that you'd not only invite the torches and pitchforks merely trying to do it; you'd probably poison your political career for life just by suggesting it. Or not opposing it hard enough. Or just thinking about it too much.

Legalize all drugs? Bah, even Conrad Black favours that now. Re-criminalize abortion? Judging from their votes in the House, at least seven dozen Tory MPs are down, or at least think there's little electoral peril in coming off that way. Privatize the CBC? Impose two-tier health care? Nationalize the banks? Decriminalize kiddie porn? Yawn. A few quick Googles can find high-profile advocates for all of the above.

So here, let Diane Francis show how real radicalism is done. Diane's a columnist for the National Post (and this site!) who's recently authored a book touting the merits of Canada's most shocking and forbidden idea -- and I'm not talking in some weaksauce hey-isn't-Margaret-Atwood-boring Readers' Digest Top Seven List of Things You Can't Say Here kinda way.

Francis thinks Canada and America should merge. Into one country. Called the United States. As in, we Canadians should all become Americans.

If your blood is starting to boil, congratulations! This is what it feels like to encounter an idea that actually threatens and scares you.

Speaking of threatened, in Saturday's Post, editor Jon Kay has a long interview/book review with Francis, in which he -- without putting too fine a point on it -- says her idea is a big load of crap (or in Kay-ese, "perhaps a little too ambitious").

Pretty much every second sentence of Kay's column offers a snappy rejoinder to one of Diane's pro-annexation arguments. Sometimes Jon's concerned with "nuts-and-bolts" stuff -- Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country, is, he notes "written up like a business plan," and not all the fine print, such as allowing Canadians to keep their government healthcare or giving every Canadian half-a-million bucks in merger compensation -- comes off as the kind of stuff a sane acquiring party, in this case, the U.S., would readily agree to. Other times, his fears are more broadly chauvinistic and cliché -- "Wouldn't any incipient merger become politically unviable the first time some nutcase from Arizona headed north and shot up a Canadian Tire?" etc. More worries yet are patriotic and romantic --what red-and-white-blooded Canuck among us, he pines, could "be convinced to give up our flag, our monarchist traditions, the legal supremacy of Parliament, and our seat at the UN in favour of a cash payout from Uncle Sam"?

That last part is a bit of a stretch. One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War, the the stars-n-bars still flutter over the former Confederacy, and surely an ardent anti-monarchist like Kay knows that "monarchical traditions" hardly command a lot of emotional reverence in 21st Century Canada (ditto the UN, for that matter). And legally speaking, "supremacy of parliament" ended in this country when the Charter of Rights was introduced in 1982 -- a reform, incidentally, that was once derided as an "Americanization" of Canada but now only provokes outrage when someone forgets its birthday.

I'm willing to go on the record and state that by the time I die, say, the 2070s, I don't imagine North America will be governed in the same fashion it is today. Whether that means there'll be one giant country, or nine nations, or a North American Union of the sort that gives the Ron Paul people nightmares, I can't say, but one doesn't have to be as pie-eyed as Francis to view the status quo as unsustainable. Trade continues to grow and economic barriers continue to fall. Cultural distinctions blur as books, movies, television, and music are produced and consumed in a borderless market. Social media makes trans-continental friendships and relationships easier than ever. In short, the march of continental commerce and technology is trudging exponentially faster in one direction, and the result is an ever-quicker weakening of the protectionism, alienation, and distrust that have historically been necessary to justify dividing the peoples of North America into rival camps.

Kay's critique of closer ties, meanwhile, seems heavily bound up in decaying boomer political tropes about Canadian-U.S. differences that one would have to be pretty willingly myopic to assume will permanently define the characteristics of the continents' two countries.

Despite the best efforts of Ted Cruz and friends, for instance, it seems pretty obvious that by this time next decade, America will have a fairly entrenched system of universal healthcare that won't offer a lot of practical differences from what we enjoy in this country -- particularly as our cash-strapped provinces continue to ratchet back some of Medicare's more generous perks. Likewise, for all of Kay's dated fear-mongering about American "SWAT teams and sniffer dogs" descending on Whistler "pot parties," the fact remains that marijuana is actually more legal in the States than it is here, especially now that old man Obama's explicitly promised not to dispatch SWAT teams against users in states that have legalized the drug -- such as the one next door to Whistler. A prolonged period of Democrat-rule in the States overlapping with a long Tory reign in Canada is causing the politics of both countries to congeal in the centre.

Yet even the erosion of some of our more celebrated sociopolitical differences is hardly enough to make a conclusion as extreme as a wholesale Canadian-U.S. merger inevitable, let alone desirable. Even if the financial case for Francis' "business plan" is as economically air-tight as Jon Kay says it isn't, the constitutional logistics involved could prove daunting enough to make the union of East and West Germany look like a quickie Vegas marriage in comparison. In any case, to even begin contemplating an economic, geographic, constitutional, cultural, and legal initiative this enormous, it'd probably help to have a rate of public support higher than 19 per cent.

But then again, if the idea was popular it would hardly be radical, would it?

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