Sleeping with the Elephant: Ending our dependence on the U.S. before it rolls over…

About twenty-five years ago Canada was ruled by a charismatic and media-savvy Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney. He was a man hand-picked for his ability to unite a somewhat reluctant progressive Conservative base in Québec with Western ‘provincialists’ and stand as a distinct yet casual alternative to the staunchly intellectual federalism of Pierre Elliott Trudeau. More or less exactly twenty years ago the sheen of the go-go eighties was gone, an economic recession was in full swing on both sides of the 49th and Mulroney, like his much-maligned American counterpart George H.W. Bush, was embroiled in scandal and generally poor approval ratings. Despite both men sticking to the fundamentals of their respective conservative ideologies for part of their terms in office, spending at the end of the Cold War era was exceedingly high, largely as a result of the late-Cold War NATO military build-up. It was almost as if while negotiating for peace the NATO allies, realizing that Gorbachev was keen to end the Cold War, decided to reward their government’s corporate allies with lucrative and utterly useless military contracts, building large quantities of state-of-the-art military hardware to fight a war already won. The point comes out loud and clear in Fahrenheit 9/11, when Paul Wolfowitz responds to Michael Moore’s statement of “Great job winning in Iraq & Afghanistan with Bill Clinton’s army” with a middle-fingered salute.

Perhaps it’s a cumbersome joke, and say what you will about Moore’s tactics and style, or lack thereof, but the point is valid. Dubya’s dad increased military spending and left Clinton with a military he didn’t really need to use. It would be the equipment procured during the mid to late 1990s that would be used to utterly devastate two nations and further de-stabilize an already unstable region. It’s that pesky old military-industrial complex rearing its ugly head at the end of the longest and perhaps most pointless conflict of all time, in an attempt to guarantee its survival post-war. And for an admittedly small number of international oligarchs and warmongers, the profits have been exceptional. To say the very least. By contrast, their relative success has left the people of the apparently first world with ineffective governments and ballooning debts. War begets more war, but doesn’t quite provide for a middle-class the way it used to.

Boris Yeltsin on a tank

As the geo-political, economic and military ‘threat’ of International Communism was snuffed out with Yeltsin commandeering a tank in Red Square during the August Putsch of 1991, political architects and engineers across the NATO spectrum went on a spending-spree, orchestrating in the United States and Canada a decade’s worth of post-Cold War debt. Both Clinton and Chretien were left large bills to pay off and a legacy of so-called economic conservatism, which in turn required major cuts to public spending in an effort to balance budgets. In Canada, Paul Martin’s economic plan set the tone for ten years of Liberal financial planning, leading to major cuts in provincial transfer payments for education and healthcare in order to pay off Mulroney-era debts. Clinton was faced with a similar problem, and both Canada and the United States were losing crucial middle-income jobs due to the economic transition that came with the end of the Cold War. All the while, the rich in our respective nations grew a great deal richer.

At the same time as the post-war economic transition was taking place, the political architects established myriad new economic free-trade zones (such as the EU, APEC, FTAA and NAFTA) in turn further weakening the industrial base of countless ‘first world’ nations and perpetuating a widespread transition to a service-sector economy for the middle-powers of the industrialized first world. While heavy manufacturing was sold-off to second and third world nations whose environmental and labour standards were considerably lower than our own, the middle-class became increasingly accustomed to getting less-bang for their tax-payer buck, not to mention the inherent instability in the service-sector job market. Unemployment levels rose simultaneously with the cost of living, and the idea of making a career at an individual employer was nothing more than a distant memory from a bygone era. The middle-class was handicapped from further expansion by removing the long-term guarantee of employment and all the benefits that came with it.

As the industrial base of the United States was whittled down, leaving little more than the military-industrial complex, new enemies would need to be found in order to perpetuate federal funding and stimulus spending. Let’s not be naïve here, very few of the American military corporate beheamoths would have survived this long after the Cold War, let alone the Second World War, without direct government financing. If you’ve ever wondered why a war takes ten years these days (and leaves a country in arguably worse shape than before the intervention took place), it’s because it is economically viable to do so, for it stimulates perhaps the last of the major blue-chip enterprises in the United States. And those enterprises, like it or not, do indeed provide a great deal of jobs; but of course, it is not economically viable to induce war without the potential for some sort of post-war economic gain. This is perhaps what fundamentally confuses the American public opinion on war they’ve not suffered through a war in the modern sense, in which civilian targets are bombed to terrorize populations into submission. What befell the civilians of Europe (on both sides) during the Second World War did not happen to the civilian population of either the United States or Canada, and we stand together alone in the pantheon of victors in this respect. And make no mistake, the post-war threat of nuclear annihilation does not compare to what was experienced by Britons, Germans, Russians and Japanese who witnessed their cities literally wiped off the map in nightly mass-slaughters. As Robert S. McNamara stated in Errol Morris’ brilliant and disturbing 2003 documentary The Fog of War, ‘there must be proportionality in war, it should be a guiding principle’.

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we as Canadians must ask ourselves whether it is still in our best interests to do business with the Americans. Or perhaps, whether it is still wise to export roughly 85% of what we produce to the United States. Or maybe whether or not we wish to continue participating in NAFTA, which as far as free-trade agreements are concerned is far from fair, and has left us at a disadvantage, politically and economically. I bring this up because typically, I can imagine free-trade agreements being made between strategic allies, between nations on amicable terms, between common interests. As we move forward, we should consider whether or not we wish to continue sleeping so comfortably with the elephant.

There is an elephant in the room at the agora of nations, and it is so fittingly a GOP elephant. Putin has wasted no time, calling the United States a parasite and pariah. Harsh words for a former KGB hard-liner with a penchant for brutally murdering his political adversaries, but the point remains. You need look no further than Obama’s hands-off approach on crucial civil liberties issues and the typical rhetorical drivel being spewed forth like so much Santorum from the mouths of Republican frontrunners. The Americans aren’t becoming a problem they are in many ways the problem, and I feel strongly Canadians haven’t considered the full ramifications of our relationship.

How soon until we get sucked down along with them?

And is it possible we’re missing out on establishing new economic relationships with the future world powers, such as the BRIC nations? Is it not so much more financially responsible to diversify our export partners and ensure Canada can independently produce what Canada needs? Or are we to be the raw-resource supplier of the United States? That position doesn’t seem terribly sovereign.

What’s ironic here is that in our modern history our nation was economically and industrially strongest back during the Cold War, specifically the forty-year period immediately following the cessation of hostilities in 1945. During this era Canada was one of the principle economic engines supporting the reconstruction of Europe and the initial militarization of NATO, and it was largely the legacy of C.D. Howe’s efforts to ensure high wartime industrial output that allowed Canada to be so incredibly productive post-war. In essence, this is state-sponsored economic planning socialism you might call it though it wasn’t back then because the threat of Nazism and International Fascism was palpable and the planning was well hidden under the veil of a state emergency. Point is that the federal government of Canada retained a significant industrial, energy and transportation capability after the war, which were still active crown corporations well into the 1980s. This clearly socialist inspired economic plan reached its zenith full vertical integration during the reign of Trudeau, and its raison-d’etre was in part to ensure that Canada could maintain a necessary wartime industrial base. Since it became clear that war was winding down these crown corporations were sold off, and a great number of jobs went with the privatization. Some of these corporations have managed to thrive since, but a major source of stimulus spending for heavy industry disappeared altogether when the Mulroney conservatives decided the federal government shouldn’t interfere with the private markets. A sizeable chunk of Canada’s agricultural, financial and industrial autonomy was lost with the NAFTA accords, and given Mulroney’s reputation, it really makes you wonder whether it was merely international cronyism and graft under the guise of newfound cooperation. Either way, twenty years later and Canada’s economy grows at a snail’s pace because we’re still sleeping with the elephant, and our leadership is too spineless to dare wake.

Buying our way out of NAFTA may be quite the wake-up call for our befuddled Southern cousins; but our sovereignty depends on it.

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