By Sarah Lipkis
“When I have been in Canada, I have never heard a Canadian refer to an American as a “foreigner.” He is just an “American.” And, in the same way, in the United States, Canadians are not “foreigners,” they are “Canadians.” That simple little distinction illustrates to me better than anything else the relationship between our two countries.”
–Franklin Delano Roosevelt
And so begins Diane Francis’s new book, Merger of the Century: Why America and Canada Should Merge. Building on President Roosevelt’s idea, Francis argues that a merger would be in the best interests of both Canada and the United States. As a citizen of both countries, Francis worries that neither country is economically competitive in the global marketplace. In order to retain their competitive edges, Canada and the US must join forces, eliminating the border and establishing a new economic alliance with an improved political structure. World Policy Journal sat down with Francis in order to discuss this rather provocative idea.
Francis describes Canada’s lack of land development and the United States’ form of capitalism as hindrances to economic growth. Canada and the US are using a “bake-sale” form of capitalism, constantly struggling to create and maintain new enterprise. For this reason, both countries are stuck in an “Economic Cold War 2.0,” falling behind China, which is excelling at comparatively exponential rates. Because of Canada’s and the United States’ economic weaknesses, China is able to take advantage of both countries—creating viable corporations with sustained economic growth. Simply stated, “China is playing chess while we are playing checkers.” However, with the amount of resources that both countries would bring to the merger, the US and Canada could become financially viable players, exporting oil and natural gas to the developing world. Francis points out that, “the two would [subsequently] enjoy market dominance in key resource areas…”
Francis describes three models that could be adapted to fit a US-Canada merger. These options range from a traditional, economic merger, in which both countries retain their independence (European Union Model), to the extreme whereby the US and Canada would quite literally become one country. During the interview, Francis spoke at length about the European Union Model, defined as a “single market…that has erased borders to allow the free movement of people, goods, capital and services.” Though a complicated endeavor, Francis believes that, “step by step with compensation to Canadians for their over-contribution of assets,” an EU-like system would be feasible. Francis attributes the EU’s success to the elimination of the borders. Similarly, the US and Canada would need to eliminate their border in order for their EU model to be successful. Though economically linked, the two countries would remain politically independent. Francis adds to the EU model the notion of a binational (fourth) level of government. Congress and Parliament would elect members to maintain this fourth level. Similar to the Swiss system, this fourth level would monitor “common areas of interest.” She believes that a combined EU-Swiss model would allow for the US and Canada to retain their independence while remaining economically linked.
According to Francis’s more extreme model, the US and Canada would become one country. This newly formed country would have to adapt a new economic structure and create a government by picking the best parts of both systems. For example, Francis believes that Canada’s parliamentary system, which consists of a fused legislative and executive branch, would be the best option. Unlike the US government and Constitution that are “…. unsuitable with its perennial government shutdowns and debt ceiling brinkmanship,” a parliamentary system “keeps the lights on even if political shenanigans impede passage of a budget or the formation of a coalition.” However, according to Francis, the US excels at promoting interstate commerce. Unlike the Canadian government that does not have the ability to “stop Quebec from blocking power exports from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to the US,” the US government is able to “facilitate fair economic activities across state lines.” By combining Canada’s parliamentary system with the US’s strong system of interstate commerce, a political system could be created that satisfies the needs of both countries.
Furthermore, Francis points out that any type of merger would drastically change the political landscape. She states that a “United States of Canada” would move more towards liberal policies, essentially arguing, “if Canadians became partners with Americans, there might never be another Republican in the White House.” Though Republicans might find this problematic, Francis concludes that their dismay over “the addition of 34.4 million liberal-minded Canadians” would be mitigated by the fact that any type of merger would “enhance business, trade, economic growth, security and control over the Arctic shipping…” Canadians, on the other hand, would be less enthused about a merger. According to Francis, Canadians, though politically more divided, would put more consideration into the idea of merger, deciding whether economic benefits outweigh being autonomous.
Francis’ goal for writing this book is to start a conversation. By attacking the notion of Canadian and American exceptionalism, she hopes that both countries will realize that their future security is at risk. Aware that the proposal is controversial, Francis hopes that Americans and Canadians alike will begin to discuss the potential benefits of a geopolitical marriage.
Sarah Lipkis is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.
[Photo courtesy of Diane Francis]