The Challenge of a United North America
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, July 15, 2006

Edmonton Oiler hockey legend Wayne Gretzky wept that day back in 1988 when he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings, but Carolina Hurricanes’ goal tender and Sherwood Park, Alta. native Cam Ward took the cross border move in stride. Playing with equanimity against the Oilers in the NHL finals, Canada’s newest champion helped the Hurricanes win the Stanley Cup and won the Conn Smythe trophy for most valuable player in the playoffs.

Hockey may be Canada’s national sport but now that we’re all North Americans, local ties, it seems, are the casualty of international competitiveness. It’s happening again with Canada’s mining giants Inco and Falconbridge.

If North American integration confuses loyalties, it also rallies those on the further reaches of the ideological spectrum. When the Canadian prime minister recently visited the U.S. President, Linda McQuaig coyly suggested in her Toronto Star column the question isn’t how well these two conservative soul mates get along, but “What are they up to?”

In the U.S., arch-conservative Jerome R. Corsi, in his Human Events Online column, has no doubts. “President Bush is pursuing a globalist agenda to create a North American Union, effectively erasing our borders with both Mexico and Canada,” he huffed on May 19. The blueprint, he continued, “was laid out in a May, 2005 report entitled ‘Building a North American Community’ published by the left-of-center Council on Foreign Relations”. And the modus operandi for this blueprint with a target enactment date of 2010? None other than The Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States at Waco, Texas in March 2005.

Is this a replay of the Free Trade debate in 1988?

The issues are similar with at least a few overlapping players. For instance, through the offices of the independent U.S. think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), with the Canadian Council of Chief Executives and the Consejo Mexicano de Asuntos Internacionales, elite business, policy and scholarly interests are today’s prime movers. Their task force, whose Canadian chair is former finance minister, John Manley, produced the report entitled “Building a North American Community”. Published shortly after the announcement of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, its central premise is “the establishment by 2010 of a North American economic and security community the boundaries of which would be defined by a common external tariff and an outer security perimeter within which the movement of people, products and capital will be legal, orderly and safe ...”

Make no mistake, though, about the real genesis of the movement towards greater North American integration, where crisis matters more than lobbyists or think tanks. In 1994, it was the Mexican peso crisis that revealed the first of many institutional failings of NAFTA and spurred American political scientist Robert A. Pastor, now a member of the CFR task force, to write Toward a North American Community: Lessons from the Old World for the New. Then September 11, in 2001, pushed governments into action. Trinational summits at Waco and Cancun tell the rest of the story.

To be sure, the CFR task force is a step ahead of governments and its influence is undeniably strong. And in a paper whose dominant themes are harmonization, mobility and oversight, the implications for Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are undeniably huge. Its recommendation to establish a permanent dispute resolutions tribunal, for instance, could have a profound effect on the protracted agony of softwood lumber disputes (including the current deal) and a snowballing inventory of litigation launched under NAFTA’s Chapters 11 and 19. McQuaig and Corsi are right. This paper should be widely read and not just because of trade issues.

As the continental project trundles forward, must our loyalties remain at sea? National sovereignty concerns may be addressed with precise legal language and government to government structures with clear lines of accountability but issues about Canadian unity are less easily addressed. Stronger north south ties may further weaken tenuous east west ties but as the Mumbai and Mideast bombings forcefully teach, security is a powerful incentive to strengthen all ties. If institutional integrity is the key to successful co-operation in North America, Canada’s institutions can be no less sturdy. Only then will our champions have the grounding necessary to flourish and make their mark, singly or as part of the larger team, in an increasingly troubled world.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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