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America + Canada =

A More Perfect Union

Remarks by
Les Horswill

to the

Commonwealth Club
of California,
San Francisco

Monday, May 2, 2011

   
America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

Some years ago, The New Republic ran a contest to determine that year’s most boring
headline.
The winner, by a landslide, was “Worthwhile Canadian Initiative.”
I encountered this lack of excitement personally when the Utne Reader reviewed my
article on political union in the Montreal national magazine, Maisonneuve.
I had called into question the very future of Canada, the second biggest and third oldest
federation in the world. The Utne Reader grasped the logic and concluded, “Perhaps
the time has come to swap maple syrup recipes.”
Of course, I’m not here to swap maple syrup recipes. Nor am I here to seek temporary
refuge from socialized medicine or — another exciting election night in Canada.
I want to advance a new North American project, a new way of looking at how we live
together on this amazing continent.
You may recall Jonathan Swift’s brilliant satire A Modest Proposal. In it, Swift took on
the conventional wisdom of 18th century Great Britain. At that time, it was accepted
that, occasionally, Irish starvation was necessary — tragic, but necessary just the same.
When the potato crops failed, you stood back and did nothing. Eventually, soaring food
prices would result in increased food production, and sort out who — besides the
English — would get to eat.
Swift’s elaborate scheme to turn Irish babies into high-end food for the rich made a
brilliant obscenity out of an entrenched public outlook.
My objective, while more modest . . . after all, I am a
“I want to Canadian . . . is similar to Swift’s.
advance a new Certain things that others say “will always be with us”
North American can be swept away — like communism, the Berlin
wall, Apartheid, and more recently, autocrats in the
project, a new Middle East.
way of looking This talk isn’t about negotiating tactics or a draft
at how we live submission to the Canadian government. You are the
audience for this proposal.
together on this I want to encourage independent-minded citizens —
amazing in Canada and in the United States — to consider
whether our best intentions might better be served in
continent.” a new arrangement.

I want you to rule in what official opinion has ruled out.


America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

There are three main points I want to make this evening.


First, that the longest international border in the world is a major problem — for both of
us.
Second, that we can get rid of the border and unite Canada and the United States as a
democratic federation. Our federal traditions offer an equitable foundation for a political
union.
Third, that political and economic union between our two countries could unlock
enormous benefits, while allowing us to stay true to our values. That erasing the border
between us would make all of us more effective as North Americans and as problem-
solvers.
So, why is the border a problem?
From a distance, it is easy for us to see the border as a harmless element of the
Canadian narrative.
The border was negotiated for us by the British, and,
since our confederation in 1867, could not have been
defended by the English or by us. But just because “Political and
we haven’t fought over it for nearly two centuries
doesn’t make it noble. economic union
Stripped down and up-close, most people would between our
agree that it is an indefensible nuisance; it fails to
make life on either side safer in any measurable way.
two countries
Once merely the longest line on the map of the British
could unlock
Empire, the border quickly became an instrument of enormous
separate national policies. The vacuum-abhorring
bureaucracies of our two growing countries found benefits, while
many things for it to do. allowing us to
It collects tariffs. stay true to our
It enforces hundreds of subtly different laws and values.”
regulations, including, in case you were unaware, our
strongly divided views on the proper manufacture of
deodorant.
And — it’s not cheap.
The paperwork needed to operate today’s paper border already costs over 10 billion
dollars annually. If some four thousand miles of our land border were militarized, if we
found the 30 or 40 billion dollars of capital necessary to secure it completely, we would
only serve our competitors and amuse terrorists.
Its cost, today, does not lie only in what we know we pay.


America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

Because our two countries are separate, our continent-wide security, energy, and
environmental partnerships fail to realize their potential.
We can’t share a common currency, or secure the
“The paperwork freest possible movement of people and economic
needed to resources.

operate today’s Rather than separating forests, bush land, and


mountains, it separates us in our heads — in how we
paper border make a living, make decisions in politics, and confront
already costs the world. It is the first and last assertion of the
sovereign monopoly of each state to exercise
over 10 billion authority on our behalf.

dollars In many places, national borders are necessary to


repel aggressors and recognize deep, if not always
annually.” permanent, differences.

Yet, often they are drawn too quickly and stand too long.
A border authorizes us to set limits — in politics, in the reach of feelings, even in our
ability to see opportunities.
Our common border blinkers our thinking, even when we think we’re thinking big.
‐ If there were no border, would Canadians still prefer an east-west electricity
grid over better links with adjoining regions to the south?
‐ If there were no border, would we not jointly manage the longest Arctic
coastline in the world?
‐ And, would Canadian business leaders continue to believe, if they stopped to
think about it, that Canadian diplomats could do a better job than American
diplomats in opening Asian markets?
Consider the economy.
The border marks a persistent and significant gap in income and investment per worker.
It is estimated by the Ontario Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and
Economic Progress that Ontario’s GDP per capita trailed peer states by 13.5 per cent or
by $6,900 in 2009. Canadian workers lose out, and, as important, the whole continent
falls short of its intellectual and economic potential.
But why? Certainly not because of the quality of Canada’s work force.
Canadian and American workers are almost the same — with a few minor variations.
Canadian women are slightly more likely to be in the workforce, and Canadian men
slightly less so.


America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

And, according to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development


(OECD), our high school students are slightly more proficient in reading and
mathematics and science. If you only match the more fortunate — middle and upper
middle class white students — the numbers are nearly identical.
Also, our work incentives are in fine shape.
Of course, Canadian governments take nearly five percent more from a Canadian
worker’s income, but those payroll deductions pay for universal health coverage and
wider access to unemployment insurance.
Canada’s foundation for competitive growth — complemented by the highest per capita
rate of legal immigration in the developed world — is sound.
So what is Canada’s problem? Productivity. And the key to productivity is adaptability —
that is, the ability and readiness to move resources to take advantage of new
opportunities.
Unfortunately, our economy’s adaptability is constrained — not only by the border, but,
as well, by the uncertainties that flow from being a separate and a highly regulated
economy.
It is estimated, for instance, that our two governments
independently make some five thousand changes just
“The Free
to trade regulations, every year. Trade
The Free Trade Agreement of 1988 was not enough. Agreement was
A decade later, Canadian businesses were still ten
times more likely to trade with other provinces than not enough. A
with American states — regardless of geographical
distance.
decade later,
Tariff-free trade works better for larger companies,
Canadian
because they can more easily cope with currency businesses
fluctuations and non-tariff barriers.
were still ten
If we want to dramatically improve opportunities for
individuals and smaller enterprises, we need to times more
eliminate the legal, regulatory, hidden, and trivial
costs of not being fellow citizens.
likely to trade
The impact of the border does not affect just
with other
Canadians. provinces than
with American
states.”


It is responsible for tremendous drags on the creative use of capital, people, and ideas
in both our countries. Furthermore, as I’ll be arguing next, we won’t be able to fix that
simply by removing a physical border.

“The border is First, let’s consider using the same dollar.


responsible for Our currency — popularly called the “loonie” — is
tremendous strong, but is relatively new and carries little emotional
authority. Adopting one currency, the American dollar,
drags on the would make it easier for consumers to compare prices
creative use of and safer for investors to invest anywhere on the
continent.
capital, people, A larger currency area would also make it easier to
and ideas in handle volatile energy and commodity prices.

both our Currency union, however, is only possible if we come


together politically.
countries.”

The American dollar could not maintain its credibility under joint Ottawa-Washington
management. Monetary policy would have to be set by one independent authority:
realistically, an expanded U.S. Federal Reserve.
With full political and fiscal policy integration, the dollar and the larger economy would
face none of the strains that now bedevil the Euro zone.
Second, consider security.
The U.S. security parameter needn’t run between our two countries. However, it can
only run around Canada if Canadians are prepared to live with American security
practices — and can convince you that we’ll meet your concerns with the same zeal.
Canada’s government cannot tell Canadian officials to do whatever U.S. officials have a
mandate to do.
So long as we are separate, we’ll want our officials to answer to us for their treatment of
individuals and for Canada’s reputation abroad.
Third, consider also the border’s impact on other challenges of global importance:
environment, energy, and trade security.
It is clear that a shift to clean power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions won’t happen
effectively without significant North American leadership.
A Canada-US environment treaty could propose continent-wide initiatives. However, the
more ambitious its features and the more discretion assigned to officials, the greater the
vulnerability of Canadian interests — and, the greater Canada’s unwillingness, as a
separate country, to accept a comprehensive deal.

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America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

On the other hand, a green strategy that answers to one electorate could be demanding
and politically acceptable. It could impress the rest of the world.
Finally, let’s not overlook energy and trade security.
Canada is by far America’s largest outside supplier of
crude oil and natural gas. Both Canadian producers “A green
and American consumers would suffer if we isolated
ourselves from global trade in fossil fuels.
strategy that
Nevertheless — as one country — we could tell the answers to one
world credibly that America needn’t depend on others
for vital supplies of energy; and that we can fuel electorate could
ourselves without incurring intolerable trade deficits.
be demanding
Keeping each country’s legislators out of trade
disputes would strengthen our common market, such and politically
as it is.
acceptable. It
However, restricting their legislative power isn’t
acceptable. While Europeans are trying to share could impress
legislative sovereignty, a super-national power-
sharing mechanism wouldn’t work for us. the rest of the
It would be answering to two federations, one with a world.” 
tenth the responsibilities of the other. The cleanest,
surest way for all of us to be treated fairly is by all of
us to vote in American elections.

Which brings us to the next point — the way ahead — a federal union.
Instead of creating yet another supranational political assembly to deal with all of the
obstacles created by the border, why not simply extend our reach as federalists?
If Canada is American only slightly less so, why can’t America be Canadian only a little
more so?
Liberal nationalism — basing the state and its future strictly on the will of the people —
was liberal Europe’s reply to imperialism.
It was your answer to George III.
Liberal nationalism is the heart of our case to the 7 million French-speaking citizens of
Quebec.
We believe federal states are building blocks for a more peaceful, creative, and
prosperous world. These convictions run through America’s long history as surely as
ours.


America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

Deals struck within one federation can produce more for us, can ask more of us, and
can last longer than any top-down contract between two separate countries.
Of course, the future will test the details.
But let’s step outside the old framework of nation-to-
nation bargaining. Let’s retire the old ten-against-one
“If Canada is board game.

American only Let’s envision a union — a citizen-with-citizen, ballot-


for-ballot union.
slightly less so,
The most important elements are straightforward.
why can’t
Washington would remain the federation’s capital.
America be (That shouldn’t inconvenience Canadians any more
Canadian only than it already does many of you.)

a little more Canadians would be able to run for and vote for
president, and they would enjoy proportionate
so?” representation in the House of Representatives and
the Senate.

We wouldn’t need to duplicate or compromise the basic machinery of our federal


government structures.
The never-ending business of nation building would carry on according to the rule of
law, the ballot, and the search for practical solutions by the politically ambitious amongst
us.
Success, of course, would require political nerve and new alliances. We would have to
call on our pragmatic and experimental traditions.
Americans would have to respect Quebec’s official language and Civil Code, and accept
the power of provinces over vital social programs, including health care.
Americans would need to accept that altering the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms would, in the first instance, be up to us.
In turn, Canadians would have to shoulder your global risks as well as participate in
your decision-making.
Canadians would have to accept that in some states you execute murderers and in
some states you don’t.
And if we wanted to send representatives to the Senate, we would finally have to find a
way to elect them.


America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

I’ve already gone over some potential benefits. Now, I’d like go a little further.
Together, we could, in one formal agreement, outdistance the sixty years of endless
negotiations that it took to create today’s European Union. No need for a fourth layer of
political intrigue and a maze of new public agencies — instead, we could create the
most open, most lightly managed federal economy in the world.
An economic union between the 1st and the 9th largest developed economies in the
world isn’t just a matter of adding up two sets of national statistics and giving our total
Gross National Product a further ten- or twenty-year lead on the Chinese.
Our union could radically improve North America’s prospects for the rest of the century.
Modernizing our infrastructure on a borderless, regional basis would stimulate internal
competition, improve energy efficiency, and strengthen the potential for partnerships in
research and development.
And, it would significantly expand trade.
Consider the benefits of intensifying regional enterprise. Vancouver-Seattle would be
the hub of the North Pacific. Montreal-Boston would give the northeast a better
competitive edge. And, the Greater Toronto Area would finally complete the integration
of the powerful southern Great Lakes region.
But the decisive benefit, I submit, would be new and
wider horizons for individuals.
“Modernizing
Canada covers half the landmass of the North
our infra-
American continent. Canada holds 34-million highly structure on a
educated mostly English-speaking people.
borderless,
Together, we would have a population of more than
400 million people by mid-century. regional basis
The post-war vision of managing from the center is would stimulate
very probably dead. The alternative is decentralizing
responsibility, and creating business and social
internal
conditions that empower individuals. competition,
Certainly, California demonstrates what can be improve energy
accomplished without a top-down plan. California’s
economic success, however, is also an example of efficiency, and
the power of the larger open American market and its
federal system.
strengthen the
potential for
Not to sound too Texan, but Canada — without a
border — could give America’s prospects for this partnerships in
century at least another California, without, I must
add, a dangerous deficit. R & D.”


America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

Now what about the impact of union on the political landscape?


Obviously, there would be some northward movement in the politics of the new union.
It doesn’t follow, however, that advantage would shift permanently from Republicans to
Democrats — or favor New England, for instance, over Alberta. Political parties may
pray on our feelings, but they aren’t sentimental; they care more about votes and
centers of power than about who got to America first.
In a close election today, Floridians and Californians
“Political parties in the United States, and British Columbians and
generally aren’t Ontarians in Canada, can determine which national
party wins national office.
sentimental;
When they win — their country carries on. When they
they care more lose — they carry on.
about votes and That is all that individual Canadians and Americans
centers of would have to accept about each other to make a
united North American federation possible.
power than Canadian politicians would probably take a little time
about who got to build their reputations before running for national
office. However, the next class of presidential
to America candidates would certainly have to make it their
first.” business to be credible north of the 49th parallel.

So far, I’ve argued that the border is pointless and destructive, and that union
would benefit us all.
But I am not pretending that this would be easy. There are very self-important
arguments in the way. Let’s take them one at a time.
We are divided from you by a proposition parading as a fact.
The proposition? That Canada has a unique role in the world.
Our confederation was born to sustain this proposition — to resist any future re-
integration of our two societies after the American War of Independence.
Well, it worked. We focussed our energies east to Europe, and west to the Pacific. We
are apart from you; we act separately.
But was it necessary and are we really different today?
In fact, nothing about our separation from you was inevitable.

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America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

For nearly two-thirds of Canada’s existence — or roughly until the 1960s — anti-
Americanism had little to do with Canada.
We were British subjects and we shared Britain’s dogged condescension towards you.
What a slim majority of our forefathers wanted was to protect — and pass on to their
children — their identity and sensibilities as British loyalists.
I say “a slim majority” on purpose. Canada’s survival as a British dominion was never a
sure thing.
Since the Napoleonic Wars, Britain’s strategic priority in North America has been to
maintain good relations with you, not to develop a model society in Canada.
In 1849, John Abbott — a young Montrealer who would go on to become Canada’s
second prime minister — signed a manifesto calling for Canada to be annexed by the
United States. (I should note that he later described it as a youthful error.)
About 40 years later, Goldwin Smith, a renowned
British-Canadian scholar living in Toronto, concluded
“Since the
in his book Canada and the Canadian Question that Napoleonic
Canada was artificial.
Wars, Britain’s
He argued that his liberties as a British subject living
in Canada might better be served in a political union strategic priority
with the United States.
in North
In 1888, The New York Times ran the headline
“Canadian Annexationists: Ontario towns in the
America has
vicinity of Detroit crowded with them.” been to
And, in 1891, in the first of many national elections on maintain good
the issue of economic integration with the United
States, the Liberal Party of Canada ran on a platform relations with
of reciprocal free trade and actually won Loyalist
Ontario by five seats.
you, not to
At that time, the surging American union would
develop a
probably have taken us in with barely a shrug. model society in
Political integration is not something we have to do. It Canada.”
can only be sold as the best next thing to do.

Unlike the Republic of Texas in the 1840s and the Dominion of Newfoundland in the
1940s, Canada and the United States are financially and politically viable.
It is not something events will force on us. But today, even as a positive proposal it will
be challenged by a new homemade Canadian nationalism. Now we both live in
countries with leaders who tell us we’re the best.

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America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

Canada is no longer any empire’s hinterland. Rather, it is an urban mecca for


individuals — and their languages and cultures — from around the world. The same
liberal causes that shaped America now thrive in Canada.
Women, immigrants, visible minorities, language minorities, provinces, gays, and
lesbians enjoy legal equality before the courts and in Canada’s constitution.
We have followed your lead and now have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that can
overrule our legislatures and governments.
We think — wrongly — that our head of state is our elected national leader, not an
Anglican sitting on the British Throne.
And in our western provinces — just like in your western states — we have political
movements that favor recalling politicians and holding plebiscites on new taxes.
In fact, our original rationale for an independent Canada has been turned inside out.
The argument of our grandfathers that America and its revolution were too liberal for us
has been replaced by our assertion that we are now too liberal for you!
Other obstacles are, in my opinion, chauvinist myths.
When some Americans compare themselves with Canadians, they talk about our
reliance on government and our tendency to embrace the word “compromise.”
Canadians have been called “European social democrats.”
And yet, up to the late 1980s, the top ten per cent of our income earners captured a
significantly higher share of our national income than their fortunate counterparts
captured in the United States.

Today, private home-ownership is higher in Canada;


“But surely it is corporate taxes on capital investment are two-thirds
circumstance, of yours, and our federal debt to GDP is approaching
40%, while yours is passing 60%.
not personality
With regional subsidies and financial transfers to
traits that make provinces, Canadians have practiced unabashedly
us different. what’s called profitable federalism.

You have more At the same time, legend has it that our nationhood is
evidence of our self-denying ways.
to be immodest Canadian nationalists have been hard on those who
about — and, have tried to be closer to you simply to make more
money. Indeed, the Free Trade Agreement was
more to fear.” promoted as merely a bearable necessity to avoid
protectionist actions by your congress.

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Complacent pieties like these should be set aside in this demanding world. Our
populations keep growing and so do their needs. Our economic and personal security is
not what it was. Collectively, our room for error is shrinking. And — when we see a
chance to better ourselves and be stronger, we should take it.

Canadians who argue that union is naïve suggest that


“Freedom to
Americans are more ruthless in pursuing what they move was the
want.
singular
They insist that Americans prefer bullying to power
sharing. Yet, as we both know, the ability of your advantage of
government to get allies to go along with American
priorities is never certain.
North America.
Nevertheless, it is often insisted that you ask others to
Mass
be brutally realistic, while seeing your own good education, your
fortune as God-given and not for sharing.
much-maligned
But surely it is circumstance, not personality traits that
make us different. You have more to be immodest
melting pot, and
about — and, more to fear. highways of
Alexis de Tocqueville — who is widely credited for homesick
inventing the idea of American exceptionalism, of
possessing something literally beyond the reach of adventurers
others — also said this:
kept us young.”
“I see certain institutions work here that would predictably work havoc in France; while
others that suit us would have evil effects in America. And yet, unless I’m sadly
mistaken, man is not different or better on one side of the Atlantic than on the other. He
is just differently placed.”
Canada and the United States are differently placed, in large part, by an indefensible
line on a map.
Before closing, I want to raise two pervasive concerns: what’s so great about
change, and why invest in a greater America?
These are questions for both of us. America is not compulsively innovative, and Canada
is not utterly risk averse. In politics, in neighborhoods, and in the workplace, change can
make enemies and cause pain.
However, if short-term happiness were the overriding motive of public policy, our
forefathers might have settled for a string of unitary states.
If cultural homogeneity were the goal, both countries would be less urban and less
wealthy.

13   
America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

Freedom to move was the singular advantage of North America. Mass education, your
much-maligned melting pot, and highways of homesick adventurers kept us young. That
advantage needs to be re-asserted.
Not building new walls will not be enough. Tearing down old ones is our task.
As our labor forces age and incomes rise more slowly in historical terms, political
conditions necessary for creative change will meet ever more determined resistance.
The border between us is one of those points of resistance. Fortunately, it can come
down.
Forty years ago, Walker Percy captured the fragility of American exceptionalism in his
novel Love in the Ruins.
His protagonist asks: “Is it that God has at last
removed his blessing from the USA and what we feel
“Will America now is just the clank of the old historical machinery,
the sudden jerking ahead . . . as the chain catches
turn isolationist hold and carries us back into history with its ordinary
catastrophes?”
now simply
Percy’s image of the peevish Yankee looking for
because the cover enthrals those safely away from the action.
world is still Their response, however, is pure bravado.
being shaped America’s steady leadership and competence, in this
by others as new century of remorseless change, will still be relied
on by Canadians, whether they call themselves
well as by you?” “citizens of the world,” or, more accurately, fellow
North Americans.

Will America turn isolationist now simply because the world is still being shaped by
others as well as by you?
Your history is reassuring.
America was, for a while, isolated and to some extent protected by two oceans. But
American statecraft, enterprise, treasure, young service men and women, and universal
liberal values have kept America engaged in the world ever since. America is now at the
center of every drama of consequence on the globe.
The flash points may be on other continents, but their resolution will include America’s
moral and material interests and, in good measure, will turn on how America conducts
itself.

Of course, you could choose to carry on without Canada.

14 
America + Canada = A More Perfect Union 

However, for America to shun the chance to better manage — and thereby more fully
realize the potential of North America — would be unprecedented, an historic loss of
nerve.
Canadians and Americans hold grudges. We stereotype and often dislike our fellow
citizens.
But within both federations — borne along by the same stream of western values — we
have shown that we can make political decisions and accept one another as political
equals.
If renewal is necessary, and the Canadian border isn’t, then a world of possibilities and
responsibilities opens up.

– 30 –

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