George Grant Got It Wrong

By Whitaker, Reg | Inroads, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

George Grant Got It Wrong

Whitaker, Reg, Inroads

George Grant got it wrong

Coping with Uncle Sam in the 2ist century

Stephen Clarkson, Uncle Sam and Us: Globalization, Neoconservatism, and the Canadian State. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002. 534 pages.

Kent Roach, September 11: Consequences for Canada. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2003. 272 pages.

Andrew Cohen, While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place In the World. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 2003. 220 pages.

Michael Adams, with Amy Langstaff and David Jamieson, Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values. Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2003. 224 pages.

David Garment, Fen Osier Hampson and Norman Hillmer, eds., Canada among Nations 2003: Coping with the American Colossus. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003. 354 pages.

WHEN GEORGE BUSH AND TONY BLAIR SENT THEIR ARMIES IN 2003 to invade Iraq without international sanction, Canada refused to participate. Dire warnings were issued by politicians and media commentators in both the United States and Canada of grave economic and political consequences that would befall Canada as a result of its disloyalty. Yet the Canadian government, confident in its decision, was unmoved by criticism and so was the Canadian public. Despite pro-war agitation from the political right, and even Don Cherry declaring his embarrassment at Canadian wimpery on Hockey Night in Canada, public opinion turned out to be strongly supportive.

It was not supposed to be this way. Four decades ago, George Grant issued his Lament for a Nation, subtitled The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Grant reacted bitterly to the election defeat at the hands of a proAmerican Liberal Party of a Conservative government that had tried to stand up to the United States over Canada's international diplomatic and military role. Yet 40 years later, a Liberal government stood up to the Americans and appears to have benefited politically from its stand, while its conservative opponents have been weakened politically as a result of their proAmericanism.

The impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent declaration of a global war on terrorism under hegemonic American leadership, seemed to solidify the decline of Canada into an abject dependency of the United States. To left-nationalists, Canada was knuckling under to Washington, abandoning the last vestiges of its sovereignty by "harmonizing" its border and immigration controls with the Americans. To the right, 9/11 offered a golden opportunity for "big ideas" of deeper integration: North American perimeter security, a common labour market, a single currency, a full customs union, etc.

Stephen Clarkson's Uncle Sam and Us is the most comprehensive and ambitious attempt to examine the Canada-U.S. relationship in contemporary context. Clarkson comes at his subject from two directions, both rooted in his own intellectual and political development. A onetime Liberal, and coauthor with Christina McCall of the landmark two-volume history of Pierre Trudeaus 16 years as prime minister, Clarkson has turned increasingly to a left political economy approach to understanding the impact of globalization and American hegemony on Canada.

Although he is very much a nationalist, and finds himself close to the antiglobalization movement, he does not espouse an autarkic turn-back-the-clock, close-down-the-border solution. The problem is not free trade, but how free trade has been implemented. The problem is not so much globalization as how globalization has been conceptualized. The problem is not even the Americans, at least in the first instance. The underlying problem to Clarkson is the impact on the Canadian state of what he calls "neoconservatism" but other left political economists are more likely to term "neoliberalism" - that is, the triumph of markets over politics, or the rigid application of private-sector criteria to public-sector activities. …

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