The inevitability of continental integration: Part of the push towards a new world order.


We hear a lot these days about globalization. Everything, it seems, is going ‘global’. We talk more and more about how ‘it’s a small world’, and how the internet is bringing us closer together.

But what does this mean for countries like Canada? For one thing, our national sovereignty as an independent nation-state has always been marginal at best. One of the first things one learns in Canadian Studies in university is that Canada has always been, and continues to be, a ‘marginal country’, that is to say, on the edge or periphery of somebody else’s empire.

First we were an outpost of the French empire, then British, and now we are increasingly being drawn into the orbit of the Pax Americana. This has been going on, in fact, ever since our Anglo-Montréal business elite and group French-Canadian secessionists signed the Annexation Manifesto in 1849, proposing that Canada, join up with America, and become part of it.

One first has to examine what drove men on as diametrically opposed sided of the political fence as the Molsons and members of the Papineau family to advocate for wiping Canada off the map. First of all, it was in large part a question of money and commerce. In 1846, Britain had adopted a policy of Free Trade , in part because of rising wage demands by British labourers in the industrial towns and cities in Britain. The workers, after being abused for decades since the Industrial Revolution had occurred in the 1770s, had finally started to rise up and demand better living conditions, including better pay.

The factory owners, on the other hand, were less willing to make such concessions, and tried instead to reduce the average worker’s cost of living by giving them access to cheaper food, so that what meagre budget he had, could be stretched further. To do this, they lobbied the British parliament to revoke the so-called Corn Laws, corn referring to wheat in fact. These laws were a complex set of  tariffs put into place to favour protect the British market from foreign competition  to allow British landowners to maximize their profit from agriculture, since they were much better represented in Parliament than the factory owners. But higher food prices meant that factory workers, who earned little, had to spend a great deal of their meagre wages on food, thereby putting an upward pressure on wages. So by the 1820s, with growing demand for food in industrial Britain, there was a move to give preferential treatment, or lower tariffs, to grain grown in British colonies, including Canada. The merchants at Montréal prospered greatly by exporting Canadian grain from the port of Montréal, as well as lumber.

The revocation of these protective tariffs meant that by 1849, only three years later, the merchant class of Montréal were on the verge of losing their shirts, having lost their market for grain exports because the price had gone down because of the removal of the preferential tariffs.. Not only that, but years of conflict between French and English-speaking Canadians between Upper and Lower Canada had made the colony virtually ungovernable. The Act of Union of 1840, which had been proposed by Lord Durham in the wake of the Rebellions of 1837-38 in both Upper and Lower Canada, was supposed to have consolidated the cost of government administration and effectuated considerable economic benefits to the merchant class.

However, both French and English continued to bicker over questions of language rights and identity, and couldn’t even agree as to where the seat of government should be located, with the entire civil service moving up and down the river every so often from Québec city, to Toronto, Montréal, Kingston, and so on.

Angry Anglophones had even gone so far as to burn the Parliament buildings to the ground in Montreal that same year in 1849, in the infamous Montreal Riots, when they learned that Lord Elgin, the Governor, was to give Royal Assent to the Rebellion Losses Bill. This Act was to give economic compensation to those who had suffered physical or material losses during the rebellions of 1837. Many if not most of said individuals were French-Canadians, and Anglo-Québecers saw this as a reward for disloyalty towards the Crown. They rioted, pelted the Governor’s carriage with eggs as he rode to the Parliament, and subsequently torched the entire building.

Needless to say, the Montréal merchants were at their wits end with all the unrest and the value of residential and commercial property had plummeted considerably. They therefore saw Union with the U.S. as the only viable option. Eventually, a few years later, because in part of Lord Elgin’s passage of the Rebellion’s Losses Act had established the precedent of Responsible Government (The British tradition whereby the Crown automatically assents to any Bill passed by a majority of the legislature), a certain measure of social peace began coming back to the colony.

Matters were helped greatly when the British and the U.S. Congress negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty in 1854, which essentially amounted to the beginnings of Free Trade between our two countries, albeit only in certain staple goods such as agricultural products. This lasted until 1866, when the U.S. abrogated the Treaty, because Britain had come to the aid of the South in the U.S. Civil War, which the North did not appreciate.

So, having our access to the U.S. market cut off, this temporarily stimulated Canada to become an east/west-based country, whereby our elites in Montréal, managed to continue to make money by expanding into western Canada, by building the Canadian Pacific Railway, and opening up the western provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and BC, for colonization. This stimulated the construction of factories in Québec and Ontario, to ship things out west, since the border was protected by the so-called National Policy of 1879, which was essentially a tariff wall on the Canada US border, making it prohibitively expensive for westerners to buy stuff from the US, so as to encourage industrialization in central Canada.

Wilfred Laurier briefly tried to make things go north south in the 1911 election, but he got shot down, and lost that election, especially since the big business interests of Montréal and Toronto were still making money on the east/west axis. That all changed by the 1980s. In walks Brian Mulroney. He signs the Free Trade Agreement. We start the inevitable shift towards continental integration. The Berlin Wall falls, the Europeans create the Euro zone with a common currency. Not too long after that, 9/11 happens.

We start talking about border security and common border interests. Do I see a pattern emerging here? There is now a thing called the SPP (Security and Prosperity Partnership), being proposed by Canada, the US and Mexico. It proposes common norms on everything from food security to health to workplace safety, as well as border security. It eventually will most likely lead to a common currency for our three countries, much better labour mobility, as well as flow of capital, a common passport, and so on.

Some aspects of our national sovereignty would be lost, but on the whole, I think we would come out on top, considering that eventually, we’ll be heading towards a Pan-American currency, and then a world currency and world government.

I think if we hark back to 1849, we’d see that those Molsons and Papineaus, even though they may have seemed to be on opposite sides of the political fence, were really on the same team after all! Cheers! Or should I say, Santé?

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