Vive Le Canada

The Federal Election and the U.S. Factor: Part Two
Date: Monday, June 14 2004
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The Federal Election and the U.S. Factor: Part Two

Stephen Harper is on the record for demanding "shoulder to shoulder" support from Canada of the U.S. War on Iraq. But now he has another story. He merely, he says, asked for more cooperation from Canada.


In leaving himself open to the charge of lying, Harper is high-lighting an old, bright thread that runs through Canadian history. It is the thread of Annexationism (countered by anti-Annexationism, often spoken of as anti-Americanism). I referred to that thread in the last column as beginning to be woven in the United Canadas in 1849 even before Confederation made Canada a nation.

Very soon after Confederation the handwriting was on the wall. From at least since the War of 1812 (which they could never stomach having lost) the US made huge and ridiculous border, fishing, frontier, and reparations claims, even demanding of Britain that Canada be traded to satisfy U.S. grievances. The cases were all purposefully inflated, based on intricate arguments, and usually near-nonsense. (They were rather like the US claim that it went to war in Vietnnam over the sinking of a US vessel in the Gulf of Tonquin - an event that never happened.)

In 1871 the US Civil War over a few years and Canada united in Confederation, the British and the US met in Washington to attempt to heal some wounds. Much British sympathy (and some in Canada) for the Southern cause had increased US dismay. John A. Macdonald, Canada's first Prime Minister, insisted upon being a part of the negotiations, despite advice from his nearest advisors and despite the fact that Canada did not have treaty-making powers. Those powers didn't come formally until 1931.

John A. used the new telegraphy to report to Ottawa daily. Whenever the British gave in to U.S. demands, Macdonald tried (often successfully) to attach a sunset clause. The US got fishing rights in Canadian waters, for instance, but only for a certain number of years. And so it went.

Instead of being attacked for selling out, Macdonald was praised on his return for defending Canada as well as any human being could have done.

He came back a sadder and a wiser man. The 1871 Treaty of Washington, as it is called, wrote more handwriting on the wall. Macdonald learned three things. The first was that the U.S., would stop at nothing - even war if possible - to get power over Canada. The second thing he learned was that Great Britain was already embarked on its attempt to forge a "special relation" with the USA. (Tony Blair's leaping into the Iraq War with the US is the present example of that "special relation".)

Knowing in their bones, even in 1871, that the new imperial power would be the USA, the British decided partnership was better with the USA than rivalry. As a result, Canada's needs often became secondary to the policy of appeasement of US bad temper. The British were, however, interested in 'containing' US power, and so they danced a nearly hundred year dance of balancing Canadian needs with US demands. That is why Britain is accused by some in Canada of having sold out to the USA whenever convenient - an accusation which is only partly true.

I said John A. Macdonald learned three things from the Treaty of Washington events. The third thing he learned shaped Canadian history dramatically and has figured openly in Canadian political life thereafter. The third thing was that a portion of Canadian businessmen and politicians wanted (and want) to surrender Canada to the USA. They were not feeble - in financial power or intelligence, and they were motivated by a mixture of avarice and economic dogma. They were tireless and deceptive. Their presnet day representatives are found in the C.D. Howe Institute, the Fraser Institute, and the CanWest monopoly media empire. Their political supporters in our time are Brian Mulroney, Mike Harris, Gordon Campbell, reston Manning, Stephen Harper, Peter MacKay, and Ralph Klein - to list only some. We think of all of them 'conservative', reactionary, right wing.

But immediately after 1871 the sell outs were Liberal. It was taken for granted for nearly a hundred years that sell out of Canadian interests was always led by Liberal interests. Even today the Liberal Party harbours a sellout faction. That needs a column of its own - and will get it next.

But in closing this one let's look, briefly, at a great, liberal sell out of John A. Macdonald's time who is written into Canadian history. Goldwin Smith wrote what has become the classic Canadian annexationist book, Canada and the Canadian Question, published in 1891. Originally an Englishman (with an established reputation as a "Manchester" - free trade - Liberal), he settled in Torotno in 1871, the year of the Treaty of Washington. His life in Canada was spent, in a very large part, working for annexation. Wealthy (by marriage), established on a large property (where now stands the Art Gallery of Ontario), he propagandized, organized, conspired, and campaigned in every way that a "gentleman" could to deliver Canada into US hands.

He didn't like British imperialism and wanted rid of it, and so - blinding himself to US imperialism - he supported that, instead. He believed free trade would end war, even while the US was using war as a way to force its policy of free trade. When Smith died in 1910, after nearly 40 years as a public man and benefactor of the arts in Toronto, his burial was attended by a only a sprinkling of mourners, the larger population of Toronto seeing nothing to mourn in his passing.






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