A Canadian Writer to His American Readers

I’ve been asked from time to time by readers and correspondents why a Canadian, who presumably has his own national issues to consider, should engage so intently with American problems and concerns. Some have even suggested or implied that I should just mind my own business; after all, what is a Canadian doing messing in affairs that do not involve him, like an ignorant  tourist or an intrusive foreigner? But the United States is my business, for decisions and events that occur there will substantially impact my life and the lives of my fellow citizens in innumerable and complex ways, and often not to our advantage.

It is certainly true that I write far more — and far more urgently — on American themes than on the various dilemmas that trouble Canadian political waters. This does not make me a disaffected Canuck, only someone who understands that Canada and the U.S. are intimately connected and that what happens in America also happens in Canada, often in greater measure. It seems obvious that, with its ballooning debt, redistributionist policies, fractured electorate, a governing left-wing party, and a disastrously out-of-touch president, a possibly lethal bacillus has infected the American body politic which must be addressed, resisted, and expunged if we too are not to succumb. This is why I am preoccupied with things American and tend to regard my contributions, such as they are, as a kind of antibiotic writing. We are too profoundly aligned for Canadians to think of themselves as immune to the American malady.

To begin with, our two countries share the longest border in the world. They are closely bound together through trade agreements like NAFTA and defense alliances like NORAD. Our auto industry, accounting for more than one sixth of the manufacturing sector, is effectively an American branch plant and our air force flies American jet fighters, very much to America’s financial benefit. We supply the U.S. with oil, timber, and electricity and reap a handsome profit in the bargain. Mutuality is the order of the day. Domestic cross-border traffic is robust. We vacation in one another’s countries and many winter-weary Quebecers, known as Snowbirds, have made a second home for themselves in Florida, not to mention a growing community of grateful retirees. In a very real sense, we are more than merely neighbors; we are more like partners, even relatives. Yankee-bashing may be a national twitch, but Canadians who dislike Americans are only engaging in a family feud.

But there is yet another reason for my political focus on the United States. Despite its current difficulties the United States remains at the center of the geopolitical universe. The American ship of state displaces more volume in the international medium on which it sails than any other, by a degree of political magnitude. When that ship begins to list or founder, one can expect a quasi-nautical calamity to swamp the world’s various shores — and Canada owing to its multifaceted proximity would be the first to suffer. More on this later.

The recent election of a conservative prime minister in Canada would not significantly offset the possible re-election of a radical socialist president in the U.S. There is, of course, the question of renegotiating NAFTA that arises every now and then and the threat of other isolationist developments that would hit the Canadian economy hard, cost jobs, and disrupt the intricate dimension of interlocking fiscal structures. But the damage can go deeper than this. The consequences of rampant inflation in the U.S., a possible debt default, and the ensuing social and political unrest would not only constitute a heavy blow to our export industries, drastically reduce our “market share,” and potentially deprive us of our largest trading partner, but conceivably lead us into another Great Depression.

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty warned American legislators that failure to deal with their deficit problem could set back the global economic recovery. “We think it’s important for the world,” he said, “and for Canada, that there be a plan in place.” Raising the debt ceiling, as it should go without saying, hardly qualifies as a “plan.” Neither does “quantitative easing,” a surefire way of turning dollars into Monopoly money. Investing in the Ecozoic sinkhole will deplete any remaining fiscal reserves. Pumping steroids into the economy in the form of “stimulus spending” turns out to be a placebo with no demonstrable results, apart from the fact that such expedients are ultimately counter-productive.

All these matters are serious enough, but the pressing issue has an apocalyptic side to it. No more than Americans, Canadians cannot afford to revel in isolationist fantasies, assuming that if we keep our economic house intact, pay down the debt, refuse to raise taxes, and shrink our exorbitant entitlement programs, all will be well. For as America goes, so do we. If it goes ill with America, it will infallibly go ill with us. We know what happens when a great ship sinks. It creates an immense vortex and whatever happens to be in the immediate vicinity is swallowed up along with it. Compared to the U.S., Canada is a very little ship indeed, more like a kayak floating beside the grandest liner in the world. It wouldn’t stand a chance.