The myth of Alexander the Great slashing the Gordian knot has inspired few bold solutions to other seemingly intractable human problems. Northern Italians turned that tight bundle of rope into an exquisite gold broach. Canadian constitutionalists treat it as a question: is the knot a federal or provincial responsibility? This week, in Windsor and in Detroit, some 250 Canadians and Americans are conferencing on how to live in harmony with the knot—the border that runs across the middle of our continent.
The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region Summit is supported by two national governments, ten sub-national governments, two think tanks, many active and retired border watchers, and a big proposition: As one region, the economy around the Great Lakes and the St Lawrence River would be the fourth-largest economy in the world.
They gather with the support of a discussion paper containing specific ideas that could drive further “collaboration” across the region’s border. Click on: http://greatlakessummit.org/
They even created an acronym—GLSLR for Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region—to help excite their thinking.
Representing public institutions and businesses that already benefit from the way things are, there is every reason to expect that their deliberations will be constructive, that they will see that thinking positively is half the battle. That is exactly the problem.
Their deliberations are based on a passive and blinkered view of our circumstances. Matthew Mendelsohn of the Mowat Center and John Austin of the Brookings Institute danced around the issue in an introductory piece in the National Post:
“Regions will be just as important as nation-states in ensuring the wellbeing of communities in the coming decades. The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region - made up of the eight states and two provinces (Quebec and Ontario) that surround these great waters - has everything necessary to succeed in this new world.”
“One obstacle to this vision materializing is an inability to imagine our shared future. Other cross-border regions are beginning to act and think collectively, transcending national boundaries to address shared problems, manage shared resources and take advantage of new economic opportunity.”
There’s no question that North American economic regions will determine our future security and prosperity. However, on this continent, a “cross-border region” is largely a word game, a shadow of the integrated economic regions we face in the European Union and within the great powers of Asia.
The GLSLR is today primarily a watershed, not a community of some 100 million people striving in the same boat to recover past glory and then lead globally.
Imagining a shared future within the status quo is neither a new nor a very ambitious idea. Indeed, trying to imagine a way around the great artificial problems we’ve inherited from nationalists and protectionists only delays the emergence of genuine continental community-building.
A comprehensive agenda for a Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Region would address (1) the absence of collective political accountability, (2) the drag on trade, investment, and people caused by two floating currencies, (3) the nuisance of the passport requirement, and (4) the continuing obligation on elected governments to think of their neighbors as foreigners, not fellow citizens with votes.
In politics, “collaboration” outside your national jurisdiction is practiced and praised but isn’t a primary activity. For nearly two decades, public figures have talked about building another bridge across the Detroit River. Yet, its best chance now rests on a Canadian offer of $550 million and a promise to the legislators of Michigan that it won’t cost them a penny.
The central and West Coast economic clusters of North America will largely determine the future health of this continent. Their prospects would be improved significantly if they could shed the “cross-border” caveat.