DOING THE CONTINENTAL: CONCEPTUALIZATIONS OF THE CANADIAN-AMERICAN RELATIONSHIP IN THE LONG TWENTIETH CENTURY.

Author:SMITH, ALAN
 
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  1. AMERICAN POWER AND CANADIAN NATION-BUILDING

    In the course of its rich, lengthy, and complicated history, analysis and discussion of the Canadian-American relationship has moved through four main phases, each offering commentary on important aspects of that relationship, each reflecting changes in it, and each taking shape under the influence of a particular set of research methods, discursive practices, and conceptual tools.

    The first to emerge, and the longest in the field, arose out of the compulsion - felt by Canadians and Americans alike - to grasp and understand the situation created by the vast and obvious disparities between Canadian and American power. Some observers thought the nature of that situation so stark and clear that assimilating its meaning hardly required analysis at all: American strength was so patently superior that one had simply to register the inevitability of its triumph over all of the continent. Canadians, certainly, were not immune from this view: even before Goldwin Smith's celebrated dismissal of Canadian national pretensions in 1891, the New Brunswicker Alexander Monro had set out his strong conviction that, since "the United States and Canada belong as it were to each other," they "should unite." [1] In the main, however, insistence on the force and implacability of the American phenomenon was the property of observers at the heart of the United States' life itself. Taking their text from John Q uincy Adams' 1819 declaration that "our proper dominion [is] the continent of North America," and very much influenced by the doctrines of Manifest Destiny, commentators announced the imminence of America's northern triumph with emphasis and regularity: indeed, insisted Samuel E. Moffett in 1907, that triumph was no longer for the future; it was at hand; Canadians "are already Americans without knowing it." [2] So obvious and sensible did the American victory seem that even after the passing of the great age of nineteenth-century expansionism it continued to be proclaimed with force and enthusiasm. Mild statements of it left no doubt as to what was being avowed: Franklin Roosevelt's 1936 declaration that Canadians were at one with their neighbors in the American orbit, anything but "foreigners," differed from the Moffett pronunciamento mainly in its greater solicitude for Canadian sensibilities. Less modulated remarks lost even that point of distinction: former Undersecretary of State George Ball's 1968 dismi ssal of Canadian attempts to resist American influence (they were, in his well-publicized phrase, "a rear-guard action") sent its message with a directness that went well beyond anything Moffett had mustered. And when journalist Joel Garreau re-mapped Canada outside Quebec as a series of American regions projected northward, his work gave a verdict on the place and importance of Canadian national structures the frankness of which transcended anything either Moffett or Ball had dared put forward. Economist Sidney Weinberg's 1994 claim that the great free trade agreements of the 1980s and 1990s were at last producing a victory over Canada's "east-west imperative" -- this, as he saw it, was "an undeniable fact," the "long-term implications" of which "will surely affect the nature of Canadian society" -- thus stood in a long line of clear and explicit comments concerning the impossibility of Canadian resistance to the powerful forces shaping continental life. Possessing no character or identity to set it apart, l acking the strength to assert what claims it did have, Canada could quite simply do no other than accept with resignation and fortitude the domination of its great neighbor. [3]

    Plausible, compelling, and in harmony with the brute facts of the situation, the conviction that the United States was destined to triumph attracted no small measure of support. Yet for all the enthusiasm with which its adherents upheld it, it never managed to monopolize discussion. Alternative views of what the exercise of American power would bring in its train began, in fact, to appear by the middle of the nineteenth century. At their heart was the claim that United States' deployment of its strength need not be seen as involving an inevitable American victory over what lay north. Properly approached and assessed, American might could in fact be interpreted not as a threat to, but as a source of assistance for, Canada's growth and development.

    For one group of commentators, transforming the American challenge into the means of its own modification and removal involved a heavy emphasis on the good that could come to Canada from virtually unlimited access to the republic's economy. Enjoying access to American markets, able to draw on its capital, and in a position to profit from its expertise, Canada would find itself benefitting from American strength in ways that would be altogether at the service of the great nation-building project which had become so central to its life and survival. Building on arguments first put forward in connection with Elgin's pursuit of a commercial treaty with the United States in the 1850s, partisans of this view made it their chief business to insist that advocacy of closer Canadian-American trade relations was perfectly compatible with -- and would indeed serve -- Canadian survival. "We have our history, our traditions, [and] our aspirations," the Liberal politician Sir Richard Cartwright told the New York Board of T rade in 1890, and each of these possessions would be helped and strengthened by implementation of the tariff reduction scheme he and his party had in view. [4]

    With the proliferation of Canadian-American ties in the early twentieth century, stress on the positive nature of the relationship between nation-building and American power moved into a new phase. The kind of viewpoint embodied in O.D. Skelton's 1902 declaration -- it was, as he put it, simply "impracticable" to think that Canada could "neglect the U.S. as a factor in [its] future, pile up tariff barriers, and deepen national prejudice" [5] -- attracted growing support. Although attempts to act on that view in the general election of 1911 famously failed, [6] the conviction that nation-building had to involve working with, rather than against, the grain of American strength continued to grow in force and presence. Arguments that Canada's external orientation had to reflect the importance of the U.S. in its life played a critical part in the moves towards establishment of Canadian diplomatic representation in Washington which were completed in 1928. [7] Skelton's appointment as undersecretary of state in 192 5 did much to entrench the 'American' view at the center of the policy-making process. And with the very extensive work done in the 1930s to amplify the idea that the relationship between Canadian nationality and the country's position next to the United States was positive, it became more fully imbedded than ever. The organizing principle of the Carnegie Endowment Series on Canadian-American relations (1936-1945), and the cardinal idea of the policymakers promoting freer Canadian-American trade in the 1930s, it received classic expression in J.W. Dafoe's 1935 essay, Canada: An American Nation. [8]

    None of this meant that anything perceived as an extreme statement of the claim that Canada was on intimate terms with the United States was any more acceptable than it had been in Goldwin Smith's day. Historian Frank Underhill's 1940 statement in favor of Canada's increasingly North American character and orientation was notoriously controversial, and even in the post-war period, policymakers -- as those who favored comprehensive free trade between Canada and the United States found out -- had to be very careful how far they pushed the idea. [9] Steady insistence on the point that Canada couldn't maintain itself -- couldn't, indeed, really be a nation -- without a close relationship to the United States nonetheless remained very much in evidence. As the diplomat-historian Hugh Keenleyside recalled it, the conviction was widespread that "industrial cooperation" would lead, not to dependency and subordination, but to "the exact opposite." [10]

    As postwar growth in Canadian-American trade and investment became an established feature of the landscape, economist Harry Johnson insisted with characteristic vigor on the absolute compatibility of national survival and close Canadian-American association. Indeed, he argued, nothing could be clearer than that Canada's well-being depended on getting the prosperity that could only come from access to American markets and capital: "I believe that closer integration of the two economies into one continental economy would be beneficial to both countries and would involve no loss of any Canadian nationalist objectives worth pursuing." [11] With the revival of the idea that institutionalized economic integration was the goal to pursue, the argument that even formal association was compatible with -- and, indeed, would serve -- national integrity moved strongly to the fore. Defenders of the trade arrangements embodied in the Defense Production Sharing Agreement of 1959 and the Autopact of 1965 were careful to stre ss their nation-maintaining utility, and as the case for more general free trade strengthened, those making that case developed the view that more comprehensive measures -- they would accelerate growth in national prosperity -- could not help but serve national maintenance, too. Economists R.J. and P. Wonnacott were strong partisans of that view, and it was central to the powerfully argued free trade case of the 1980s. Indeed, asserted the makers of that case, the free trade measure proposed would consolidate national survival in a number of ways: by enlarging

    government revenues, by enhancing regional prosperity, by creating the sorts of economies of scale and competitiveness that would allow penetration of foreign markets, and by...

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