To our benefit, if not always his, Conrad Black’s entrepreneurial spirit long ago overcame his Tory pretensions. Along with dusty newspapers, he shops for countries, ideas and political heroes; he changes loyalties and passports. Recently, he’s taken a second indulgent look at his bronze Canadian homeland.
In the May edition of the Literary Review of Canada Black offers a new way for ambitious Canadians to settle for an independent Canada. Under the headline “Debunking American supremacy” he asserts:
“In fact there is only one reason for Canada: a better competitive society to live in than the United States. If we cannot do that, we should extract a payoff from the Americans for the treasure house of our resources and close the deal.
“But we can do it.”
There’s a rationale for Canadian independence utterly outside Canada’s self-deny narrative. Indeed, it resurrects a liberal utilitarian idea that long ago was overwhelmed by ethnic tribes and nationalist romantics everywhere. Rather than merely a refuge for Catholic authoritarians and British traditions too precious to surrender, Canada, Black crows, has simply turned out to be a better bet.
Basing Canada—or any democracy—on superior trade and wellness statistics, however, is pretty fragile. He makes no case for Canada as a political entity except inertia and his critique of the US is as old as the sore losers of the American War of Independence.
Black confides “the correlation of forces has changed” in Canada’s favor. “The great United States became a ponzi scheme itself and the present president . . . the most incompetent holder of that office since James Buchanan.” On the other hand: “With China and India—almost 40 % of the world’s population—having become countries of aggressive economic growth, Canada’s status as a resource-based economy benefits from a seller’s market and has become a position of strength.”
Black’s love of history and its exotic footnotes disguises an impulsive arbitrary mind.
When he gave up on Canada (literally and rhetorically) in the mid Nineties, Canada’s public debt/deficit to GNP ratio was about what America is facing today. Maybe, in ten years, he’ll also regret much of what he’s saying now about America.
Last year, the US restored its position as the world’s second biggest exporting nation, three-quarters of it earned from manufacturing. The Governor of the Bank of Canada Mark Carney pointed out recently that only 10 per cent of Canada’s exports go to emerging economies and our non-commodity export market share in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) has been almost halved over the past decade.
Black sees strategic significance in the fact that the share of Canadian exports destined to the US has declined slightly as globalization intensifies. (Last year, Canada’s share of merchandise exports to the US fell from 75.0 % to 74.9 %.) Most strategic thinkers and self-styled realists don’t skip over a glass three-quarters full when assessing immediate and future circumstances.
However, even if you accept for a moment that the US is in peril and that resources can sustain the Canadian economy and that resource markets will magically favor sellers for decades to come, Black offers no sturdy or honorable reason to persist with Canada.
Why should Canada’s resource winning regions stick with Canada anyway? According to Black’s nationalist rationale, why shouldn’t western Canada go off and be a winning society on its own? The truth is that western Canada on its own—or, for instance, the northwest US states and British Columbia, so-called “Cascada”—would be a less safe, less influential and less interesting place to live.
The regions that make up our two countries need a strong United States federation if they are to prosper in the world. Democrats, idealists and entrepreneurs will live more fulfilling lives participating in its fateful decisions than looking for statistically attractive shelters on the margins.