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Should Canada and the United States Merge?

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

The United States and Canadian flags.

The United States and Canadian flags.

For a couple of centuries, people have been proposing that Canada and America should become one country. From time to time the idea has seemed like a good idea, but in the Donald Trump era such a union would create a revolution in Canada. Only 25 percent of Canadians have a positive view of Trump’s America, according to Pew Research.

Should These Two Countries Form a Single Nation?

Diane Francis thinks Canada and the United States should join together to form a single nation. Ms. Francis is a Canadian business journalist who was born in the United States. She puts forward her controversial idea in her 2013 book Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country.

Ms. Francis’s argument is that China is clobbering both Canada and the United States economically. She says that in the business world if two companies are being badly beaten up by competitors they often join forces to counter the threat.

So, why shouldn’t two countries use the same strategy?

Future Scenario

Diane Francis bases her idea on a fanciful description of a future world that may never come about.

She describes a broken Canada in which China and Russia have seized control of the nation’s energy resources. Canada has allowed its armed forces to decline so badly that it is powerless to protect its own sovereignty. The only alternative in such a situation, she says, is to join with America and let the U.S. cavalry take care of it.

Ms. Francis calls her forecast a “thought experiment;” kind of like fiction, really.

Certainly, Russia has challenged Canada’s access to oil and gas in the Arctic and China has spent billions buying pieces of Alberta’s energy reserves. But, this seems a long way from reducing Canada to being “sleepy and vulnerable” or a nation “in distress,” as she puts it.

Criticism of Ms. Francis’ projection into the future aside, she makes her case forcefully. In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine she said, “The Americans should just roll up their sleeves and get on with it, because they’ve got the capital and they’ve got the market for the stuff (Canada’s natural resources). At the very least, there’s got to be some kind of a joint venture, economically, and I say, ‘Let’s pick our partners.’ ”

Diane Francis says the deal is simple: Canada gets military protection and the U.S. gets unrestricted access to a treasure trove of vast, untapped natural resources.

Every American statesman covets Canada.

— Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald

America’s Manifest Destiny

Canadian political scientist Stephen Clarkson has written that the U.S. has often cast an envious eye northwards:

“Everybody familiar with its history knows that the United States of America has always wanted Canada. During its first 130 years, it wanted annexation and was willing to use force to get it. The American revolutionaries called on the British colonies to join their republic. The First Continental Congress sent two armies north in 1775 to make the offer more persuasively. When the United States declared war against England in 1812, its triple invasion of Canada was equally unsuccessful.”

The words “Manifest Destiny” were tossed about a lot in the United States. The phrase expressed the belief that God intended America to govern the entire sub-continent.

In 1811, John Quincy Adams (he later became president) wrote that,

“The whole continent of North America appears to be destined by Divine Providence to be peopled by one nation, speaking one language, professing one general system of religious and political principles, and accustomed to one general tenor of social usages and customs. For the common happiness of them all, for their peace and prosperity, I believe it is indispensable that they should be associated in one federal Union.”

Fifty-Four-Forty

Then, there was the claim by President James K. Polk to the whole of the Pacific Northwest up to the Alaskan Border, which was at the latitude of 54.40o north. The territory had been jointly administered by the U.S. and Britain, but Mr. Polk wanted it to be entirely American. He campaigned for the presidency in 1844 on the slogan of “Fifty-Four-Forty or Fight.”

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However, once in power, President Polk cooled down and negotiated the boundary between what was to become British Columbia and the U.S. at the 49th parallel. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 settled the border without gunfire—well, almost without gunfire.

The Pig War

There was one small bit of land that was left in limbo by the Oregon Treaty.

The San Juan Islands lie south of the 49th parallel between Vancouver Island and the U.S. mainland. The wording of the treaty left both countries believing they had a claim to the islands.

Then, along came American settler Lyman Cutlar. On June 15, 1859, he found a large black pig helping itself to some of his vegetables. So, Lyman up and shot the beast dead.

A pig was the sole casualty of the Pig War.

A pig was the sole casualty of the Pig War.

The animal was owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company and so was a British pig. Harsh words were exchanged and the whole business escalated.

American soldiers arrived to protect Mr. Lyman from being arrested. British warships were sent to look after British interests. Neither side would back down and a stand-off lasted until 1872 when an independent commission in Switzerland awarded the San Juan Islands to America. The only shot fired in the conflict was the one that killed the hog, which gave its name to the affair—The Pig War.

Throughout the years, there has often been talk of joining Canada and the United States—often through annexation, from the U.S. perspective.

Throughout the years, there has often been talk of joining Canada and the United States—often through annexation, from the U.S. perspective.

Merger Movements

John Quincy Adams was not the first to suggest joining Canada to the United States. The talk in America was less about merging and more about invading and seizing Canada—annexation, in other words.

And, in 1866, the U.S. Congress adopted “A Bill for the admission of the States of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada East, and Canada West, and for the organization of the Territories of Selkirk, Saskatchewan, and Columbia. (Annexation Bill).”

Professor Michel Chossudovsky writes (Global Research, June 2013), “The text of the bill is tantamount to an invasion plan . . . It consisted in the outright confiscation of public lands. It also implied U.S. control over the trans-Canada railway system, waterways, canals as well as control over the Saint Lawrence Seaway.”

The plan fell apart with the passage of the British North America Act that created the Dominion of Canada in 1867. The Treaty of Washington (1871) formally recognized Canada’s right to exist as an independent nation.

Is Annexation Inevitable?

Several writers have called the annexation of Canada by the United States “inevitable.” Goldwin Smith did so in his 1891 book, Canada and the Canadian Question; so too did William Stead in The Americanization of the World in 1901.

Since then there has been no serious talk by established politicians of marching north and grabbing hold of Canada. However, schemes have appeared on paper. The “Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan—Red” was a detailed scheme for the invasion of Canada drawn up in the late 1920s.

The official word is the plan was shelved in 1939, but it’s quite possible there’s a new proposal lurking somewhere in the Pentagon. This would not be unexpected as the military in most countries draws up plans for just about every likely and unlikely event.

Miss Canada in this cartoon: "I have told him that we can never be united."

Miss Canada in this cartoon: "I have told him that we can never be united."

Welcome Friends

In 2002, Leger Marketing of Montreal found a substantial minority of Americans who would welcome Canada becoming America’s 51st state. The experts warn us not to read too much into the fact that four in ten Americans think joining the two countries is a good idea.

First, there is no aggressive intent to use the military to force a merger. Christopher Sands is director of the Canada Project for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He told The Canadian Press that support for a merger is a reflection of goodwill towards Canada; that Canada is welcome as long as a friendly government-to-government agreement is made.

And, Harold Waller, who teaches U.S. politics at McGill University in Montreal, thinks the poll is simply a curiosity. “I doubt if the average American knows enough about Canada to make a reasoned assessment [of] what the pros and cons might be.

“There’s really an abysmal level of ignorance about Canada in the United States so I don’t know what conclusions you can reach.”

Anyway, a merger seems extremely unlikely because national constitutions get in the way. America is a republic; Canada is a constitutional monarchy. For a political merger to take place one of the two countries would have to rip up its constitution. Good luck trying to get that organized.

Bonus Factoids

In 1989, Parti 51 ran in a Quebec provincial election on a platform of becoming America’s 51st state; the party got 3,846 votes, or 0.11% of the popular vote. The party quietly slid into oblivion until it was resurrected by lawyer Hans Mercier in January 2017. However, in the October 2018 provincial election in Quebec it captured an even more dismal 0.03% of the popular vote.

In 1980, Dick Collver, a former leader of Saskatchewan’s Progressive Conservative Party, formed the Unionest Party. He and another Saskatchewan Member of the Provincial Parliament, Dennis Ham, called for the Western provinces to quit Canada and join the U.S. Nobody took much notice and words like crackpot and hare-brained were used to describe the two men. The party fizzled out and Mr. Collver undertook a personal and private secession by retiring to a ranch in Arizona.

Sources

  • “Diane Francis on a Canada-US Merger.” CBC Radio, September 30, 2013.
  • “American Revolution – Invasion of Canada.” D.n. Sprague, Canadian Encyclopedia, March 4, 2015.
  • “Manifest Destiny.” U.S. History, undated.
  • “The Pig War.” Ben Johnson, Historic U.K., undated.
  • “Four Out of 10 Americans Support Annexing Canada, Poll Suggests.” Michelle Macafee, Canadian Press, October 14, 2002.
  • “A Majority of Canadians Have a Low Opinion of Trump’s America, as Do Many People Worldwide: Survey.” Rahul Kalvapelle, Global News, October 2, 2018.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor

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