Heading into last month’s Cancun summit between the three North American leaders, an opinion poll showed Canadian sympathy for the US and its president at a historic low.
According to the Globe and Mail/CTV News poll, 69 per cent of Canadians believe Bush’s election was a bad thing (well duh!)
The first question that springs to mind is, what are the other 31 per cent thinking?
Did they really understand the question?
That would mean slightly less than one in three Canadians can still look at the situation in America and around the world and fail to conclude that George Bush has been a walking, talking disaster. It’s something to think about when you’re among a large group of Canadians.
Still, 69 per cent is a pretty clear majority. In a democracy, you might almost expect such a strong current of popular opinion to have an effect on the behaviour of government.
Don’t count on it.
Curiously enough, the more Canadians prefer to distance ourselves from US policy, the more we tend to elect leaders who want to snuggle up a little closer to Uncle Sam.
Where we once had Paul Martin, who snuggled but didn’t tell, we now have Stephen Harper, who once described Canada to an American audience as a “Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term.”
You won’t be hearing any more talk like that from the newly minted moderate Harper.
As a businessman, he’s learning to package his message.
Now he seeks a “more mature relationship” with Washington.
Now he’s “ensuring that Canadian business has a say in how we make our market more competitive,” and “demonstrating a common will to tackle issues that are central to the quality of life of Canadians and all of our continent’s citizens.”
Be not deceived. Under all the bafflegab, and despite its various changes of initials, the free trade agreement is still about giving away what the majority of Canadians hold dear. Number one on Harper’s own list of achievements in Cancun is, “The establishment of a North American Competitiveness Council … so that businesses themselves have a say in identifying and targeting those initiatives that are most relevant to creating a more competitive market.”
In case you don’t already know what advice this council will offer, it will be the same advice the business elite has been offering Canada for years.
Here it is: deregulate.
Become less Canadian, less Northern European, and more American.
Take away the power of federal, provincial and local governments to legislate controls over business.
Make it as difficult as possible to harm competitiveness by protecting the environment, labour laws, or health and safety standards.
In effect, hand your national sovereignty over to corporate interests in the name of competition and prosperity.
Be certain that this council will advise the opening up of Canada’s Northern European health care system to a more “competitive” American model.
It will recommend caps on minimum wage laws and employment insurance, and oppose “protectionist” policies toward water and natural resources.
But being business people, the members of the council will not advocate for an open abrogation of anyone’s national sovereignty. They will advise packaging, good public relations, and branding.
Canadians are not, for the most part, interested in parcelling off our country’s sovereignty.
Consider for instance the decades of sustained panic we’ve endured over the Quebec separatist movement, and the possibility that Canada might have to give up at least a share in its authority over that piece of the national real estate.
We’ve been staunch defenders of our Arctic sovereignty over the years too, though its basis in international law is sketchy at best.
On the other hand, we’re all in favour of security and prosperity, and those are the brands being peddled when Bush and his buddies get together.
So for instance the “trilateral framework for regulatory cooperation” won’t be sold as a mechanism for getting troublesome regulators out of the path of profits, it will “help reduce redundant certification and testing requirements.”
The issue of national sovereignty has been all but absent from the reporting on tri-party integration talks.
When Bush, Fox and Harper get together, the story is all about “improved quality of life” for “all of our continent’s citizens” but the real question for North Americans is: Just what are those three amigos bargaining away?
We’ve heard the rhetoric about security and prosperity, but what is the cost? Will our respective countries retain sovereign rights over our resources, our water?
Will we have the right to enact environmental legislation? Even in its earlier incarnation NAFTA handed corporations the right to sue any government whose environmental or labour laws did harm to their bottom line: ban some harmful chemical and risk being sued by the company that manufactures it.
The FTA approach to continental prosperity is clear: cheap labour from the south, and cheap commodities from the north, the lowest possible corporate taxes and the least possible regulation.
It’s not the approach favoured by the majority of Canadians, but not to worry. It’s all in the name of prosperity.