If You Love This Country: Facts and Feelings on Free Trade|
by edited by Laurier LaPierre
Post Your Opinion
|The fate of willing
by George Grant
The Americans proclaim themselves a country and eschew the word empire, while their battleships try to impose their will in the Persian Gulf
If You Love This Country: Facts and Feelings on Free Trade, edited by Laurier LaPierre, McClelland 8t Stewart, 2611 pages, $5.95 paper (ISBN 0 7710 4697 9).
This book comprises statements by 47 thoughtful Canadians who oppose the Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement. The contributors vary widely: from Margaret Atwood to Prank Stronach, from David Suzuki to Peter C. Newman. It is divided into three sections: "What We Think," "What We Know," "What We Feel." Most of the contributors are people who believe that free beings ought to be able to decide rationally what will happen in the world. That is, the good-mannered and liberal left predominates. Different voices deal with different problems: many with the economic issues, some with the social, cultural, and political issues. Taken all in all, this is a powerful statement of what a turning point the free trade deal will be in Canadian life, and why it bodes ill for our nationhood.
Much of the argument deals with the practical issues directly: why Canada would be better served, for prosperity and independence in a technological age, by other strategies. Here James Laxer and Abraham Rotstein are A-1. Several of the writings argue that Canada will be forced to give up social programmes that have expressed community solidarity. They will have to be given up so that we can maintain cost-competitiveness with the Americans. Here the appeal has been strongly made by such labour leaders as Shirley Carr and Bob White. But I think the best understanding on this matter is found in Denis Stairs's article. He understands that community responsibility, and indeed the continuing basis of Canada, has lain in the primacy of the political in our national life.
He states: "The treaty is only partly about securing access to the American market and subjecting Canadian industries to the salutary cleansing of the cold shower. It is also about 'deregulating' Canadian societythat is, about diminishing (after the American model) the role of the state in Canadian life." Or again: "The fact remains that the proposed treaty not only embodies but, if implemented, will further encourage a conception of government and society different from the one that Canadians currently enjoy. Canada will be a less related, a less gentle, a less tolerant place in which to live." He of course realizes that this is not an absolute difference between Canada and the United States. I wish he bad carried over his splendid argument about the primacy of the political into how the three Canadian Parties destroyed their nationalist wings: the squashing of Walter Gordon by Lester Pearson when the former annoyed the business community; the removal of the Waffle from the NDP when it angered the unions; the destruction of Diefenbaker and his followers by Camp and the business Tories. At the level of the immediate issues, Stairs's statement about the necessary primacy of the political over the economic should be central to any argument about free trade.
There is one statement in the book that moves quite outside the careful assumptions of practical decision. This is Farley Mowat's. He is not concerned with how we should deal immediately with the Americans. He recognizes the arrival of cosy totalitarianism at the centre of the American empire, and hates it. This is the statement with which I feel the greatest sympathy. It is not filled with progressive tall: about free human beings being able to make the world as they choose. He sees what corrupts the possibility of politics at this stage of raging technological change. His statement just expresses clear hatred. Hatred is not a typical Canadian emotion or one that Canadians admire - greatly to their credit. Nevertheless some things deserve to be hated - the friendly tyranny of corporation capitalism and the consequent Bodenlosigkeit. (The English word rootlessness catches less well what is happening than does the German.) Love and hate one necessary to each other except among the saints.
There is one phrase that recurs in this book that I find unwise: "Our two countries." This is what might be called the rhetoric of Broadbent - the rhetoric he has used since he was used to drive the nationalists out of the NDP. But it is also the "liberal" rhetoric by which American journalists legitimize themselves to themselves. They proclaim themselves a country and eschew the word empire, while their battleships try to impose their will in the Persian Gulf. I would 1-ave wished, in this book, for a sharper understanding of what imperialism means, and particularly the workings of capitalist imperialism. This is necessary even if we are perhaps faced by a fading Western empire. I think there should have been more understanding in the book of how the central stage of world history now moves from Europe to Far Asia, as China is developed with Japan. What does this mean for Canada, living on the very periphery of that Western empire? In our present case, some of our shrewder capitalists may be calling for continental solidarity as a necessity of this situation. Truth cannot be much spoken in the public realm. Fata valentem ducunt, nolentem trahunt (fate leads the willing and drags the unwilling). What is great about this book is that its writers are splendidly stating their unwillingness to be dragged. It is surely a nobler stance to go down with all flags flying (even our present Canadian one) and all guns blazing than to be acquiescently led, whether sadly or gladly, into the even greater homogenizing of our country into the American mass.