Toronto jour­nal­ist makes du­bi­ous case for Canada join­ing the United States

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by John K. Collins

DIANE Fran­cis, a Toronto busi­ness jour­nal­ist and au­thor of such best­sellers as Who Owns Canada and Bre-X: The In­side Story, now is­sues a stir­ring call to arms for the in­tel­lec­tu­ally bank­rupt. Merger of the Cen­tury came out last fall, but it makes for in­struc­tive read­ing on a cold win­ter night in the new year. Fran­cis be­lieves that a na­tion is noth­ing more than a busi­ness. Cul­ture mat­ters, but money mat­ters more. “Ci­ti­zen­ship,” she writes, “is po­lit­i­cal con­sumerism and peo­ple (and cor­po­ra­tions) re­side where it makes the most sense or cents.” It makes sense for busi­nesses to merge when that would cre­ate ben­e­fits oth­er­wise not avail­able. There­fore, she ar­gues, Canada and the United States should be­come one sin­gle coun­try for the ben­e­fit of match­ing Canada’s un­de­vel­oped re­source po­ten­tial with Amer­ica’s money, mar­kets and work­ers. Fran­cis sees the race among coun­tries to ac­quire and hoard re­sources as a ze­ro­sum game. In­creas­ing pop­u­la­tions and fi­nite re­sources mean that “only the fittest, and fastest, na­tion-states will sur­vive.” Emerg­ing economies, no­tably a ruth­less China, ap­pear to be win­ning this Dar­winian race for re­sources. They have per­fected state cap­i­tal­ism by cre­at­ing state-owned cor­po­ra­tions that gen­er­ate over­whelm­ing power com­pared to (in Fran­cis’s opin­ion) the sep­a­rate pub­lic and pri­vate spheres of western coun­tries. If they are to sur­vive, Fran­cis ad­vises Canada and the U.S. to adopt the state cap­i­tal­ism model and, bet­ter yet, unite into one coun­try. If the sta­tus quo con­tin­ues, the U.S. will face in­creas­ing ad­ver­sity in the com­pe­ti­tion for re­sources and a poorer and de­fense­less Canada could be ex­ploited by China and Rus­sia Fran­cis pro­vides a bar­rage of de­tail in sup­port of her ar­gu­ment. Space al­lows for only a few ex­am­ples: Cana­dian pro­duc­tiv­ity is less than that of the U.S. Canada’s econ­omy is frag­ile be­cause it is based on re­sources and branch plants. It has al­lowed too many for­eign­ers to buy too many of its head of­fices and great multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions. Fur­ther­more, our smartest cit­i­zens move to the U.S. When our fed­eral and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments are not squabbling, they are pan­der­ing to Que­bec sep­a­ratists, abo­rig­i­nals and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists. Our in­vest­ment in the de­vel­op­ment and de­fence of north­ern Canada is ap­pallingly in­ad­e­quate. Un­like our po­lit­i­cal class, she is not afraid to say “Dutch disease.” She points out that our boom­ing re­source sec­tor has driven up the value of our dol­lar and dam­aged our man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor. Fran­cis does not deny that the U.S. has its flaws: Amer­i­cans’ be­lief in their na­tional ex­cep­tion­al­ism is self-delu­sional. Promil­i­tary boos­t­er­ism and flag-wav­ing is fi­nan­cially dam­ag­ing. Amer­ica’s health-care sys­tem is ex­pen­sive and in­ef­fi­cient. The right wing’s un­rea­son­able dogma that gov­ern­ments are bad un­der­mines the es­tab­lish­ment of Chi­nese-style state cor­po­ra­tions. Some of Fran­cis’s com­plaints about Canada have merit. How­ever, it does not fol­low that the only so­lu­tion is a merger with the U.S. ( leav­ing aside her in­cor­rectin def­i­ni­tion of a na­tion). She might well have ti­tled her book “Non-Se­quitur of the Cen­tury.” C In spite of the prob­lems doc­u­mented by Fran­cis, the World Eco­nomicE Fo­rum Hu­man Cap­i­tal Re­port for 2013 places Canadaa at a re­spectable num­ber 10 out of 122 as against the U.S. at num­bern 16. The Hu­man Cap­i­tal Re­port is a mea­sure of how well coun­tries de­velop the tal­ents, skills and ca­pa­bil­i­ties of their cit­i­zens. It is con­sid­ered the key in­di­ca­tor to a coun­try’s fu­ture. The World Eco­nomic Fo­rum, the OECD and the Con­fer­ence Board of Canada all agree that Canada’s pro­duc­tiv­ity could be im­proved if busi­ness spent more on re­search and de­vel­op­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, branch plants rarely give pri­or­ity to re­search and de­vel­op­ment. Canada is, by any mea­sure, a rich, pro­duc­tive coun­try. It is ab­surd to sug­gest that its only op­tion is an­nex­a­tion by its neigh­bour. It has no prob­lems that could not be solved if our politi­cians had the courage to put the in­ter­ests of their cit­i­zens be­fore the in­ter­ests of transna­tional cor­po­ra­tions. Not sur­pris­ingly, Fran­cis does not like the word “an­nex­a­tion.” She says that af­ter the Cana­dian fed­eral gov­ern­ment is dis­solved, the ex-Cana­di­ans would be paid for their as­sets and “must oc­cupy a spe­cial place set­ting at the board of di­rec­tors’ ta­ble.” While she does not ex­plain what she means by the “board of di­rec­tors’ ta­ble,” she does go into de­tail about how ex-Cana­di­ans would be paid. Fran­cis cal­cu­lates that ev­ery exCana­dian, on a slid­ing scale based on years lived in the coun­try, should be paid a share of the to­tal net value of ex-Canada. Fifty years would get you about $600,000 with which you could buy health insurance and re­tire to the sun­shine of Florida. Pierre El­liott Trudeau said that liv­ing next to the U.S. was like sleep­ing with an ele­phant: “No mat­ter how friendly and even-tem­pered the beast is, you are af­fected by ev­ery twitch and grunt.” A sleep­less night is cer­tainly no fun but, on bal­ance, it’s bet­ter than be­ing swal­lowed up by the ele­phant. Win­nipeg­ger John K. Collins is a re­tired

union ne­go­tia­tor.


Fran­cis ar­gues that Canada and the United States should be­come a sin­gle coun­try.

Merger of the Cen­tury Why Canada and Amer­ica Should Be­come One Coun­try By Diane Fran­cis HarperCollins, 403 pages, $32.99

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