"The first casualty when war comes is truth," said much-plagiarized early 20th Century progressive California Gov. Hiram Johnson. Liberal Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien might have other ideas.
Chrétien spent late November and early December trying to dismiss a report by one of his own government agencies -- Statistics Canada -- that validates an empirical truth. Canada is in recession. Drops in Gross Domestic Product in the third quarter brought an end to the economic expansion that lasted from the early 1990s until halfway through this year.
According to financial reporters Jacqueline Thorpe and Ian Jack, the data can be further unpacked. Economic output between August and September suffered, "the steepest monthly fall since March 1986." And while economists fiddle with explanations to account for the data, the cause is bleeding obvious to the average Canuck: September 11.
In the wake of the day's events, the northern border was not locked down but southbound traffic was slowed to a crawl, taxing car engines, patience and the limited resources of the guards at what used to be one of the world's most open borders. Nor has it gotten much better in the interim.
Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson recently described what I experience on a regular basis as a U.S.-Canada commuter student: "The U.S. border remains at Level 1 security, the tightest possible shy of closing it down. Travelers need at least two pieces of identification, and commercial operators of trucks can be subjugated to lengthy questioning." One detail Simpson neglected to mention is that almost every car, truck, and minivan is searched.
Consequently, drug seizures have skyrocketed; long lines have cut down on cross-border movement, for any reason; exported goods have come under intense scrutiny; and Americans, in great numbers, have decided that the cheap entertainment to be had in Canada (care of a favorable exchange rate) isn't worth the trouble.
Increased U.S. security has brought one truth down hard on the tender fingers of Canada's ruling Liberal government: A choking off of traffic between the two countries, while hurting the U.S., could mean financial ruin for Canada. As a result, in addition to lobbying the U.S. hard to get traffic moving again, the government is considering a slate of radical proposals to try to get into the U.S. government's good graces and pull the economy out of recession. These suggestions could have serious ramifications on the future of Canada as a nation-state:
- Harmonizing the immigration laws of the two countries. The U.S. has long complained that Canada's immigration laws make it a magnet for terrorist groups. In order to get its southern neighbor to greenlight the border again, the Canadian government has decided to make more than a show of cracking down on would be bombers.
- Establishing a currency board for the Canadian dollar. The ever-plummeting Canadian currency -- the aptly nicknamed "loonie" -- is prompting the right people on all points of the Canadian political spectrum -- from the center-right National Post to the establishmentarian Maclean's -- to call for the "dollarization" of Canada. The government would only print loonies and toonies based upon the number of U.S. dollars held in reserve and allow the country to be swamped by greenbacks.
- Spying for the U.S. Since Canada cannot offer much in the way of military hardware, officials in the government are pledging to help America out in the war effort through spycraft. (So far, the Canadian spies managed to uncover the fabled Halloween Plot, leading to a much-mocked general alert by the FBI.)
Taken separately, these and other changes are innocuous enough. But together they will transform and deepen the Canada-U.S relationship. It will be difficult for Canada to remain as reflexively critical of America as it has been in the past when its currency, its immigration laws ,and even its spies are all tilted south.
The euphemism being used thus far to describe this coming arrangement is a "truly integrated economic unit" that would stop short of being a European Union knockoff. However, once in place, Canadian citizens may very well choose to call it by another name: statehood.