Wake up, Canada; if Mel Hurtig is right, they're selling our country out from under us! How ironic that the last two lines of our national anthem are: "O Canada, we stand on guard for thee." Because, if ever there were a nation that fell asleep when it should have been on guard duty, it's this one.
Superlatively beautiful and richly endowed, Canada has always attracted rapacious eyes from south of the border. But now consider Hurtig's appalling assertion¨backed up by a bundle of carefully researched facts¨that some of Canada's best-known politicians and business people are actively engaged in selling out their own country. These people are not lurking in the shadows but parading brazenly in the mainstream (including, of course, in the mainstream media), where they conduct a ceaseless campaign to undermine our confidence and pride in the creative achievement in nation-building that is Canada. Foreign (mostly U.S.) ownership of our companies, land and resources has reached a level that threatens Canada's sovereignty. If left unchecked, like woodworm in oak or cancer cells that metastasize, it will proliferate until its host structure is weakened beyond repair.
No one is more certain of this than Mel Hurtig, whose many years of patriotic service to his country include publishing The Canadian Encyclopedia and chairing the Council of Canadians and the Committee for an Independent Canada. His latest book, The Vanishing Country, is the product of nearly three years' research. "This book is about the tragic sellout of Canada," Hurtig writes. "It's about a selfish, grasping, and greedy plutocracy abandoning the work of generations of Canadians, and the dreams of the vast majority of the people who live in this country, for American standards and values and priorities.
"It's a book about avaricious and arrogant CEOs, cowardly public servants, and myopic academics who couldn't care less about national integrity, Canadian sovereignty and independence, or preserving the quality of life that has made Canada such a good country in the past."
Strong stuff. Even stronger are the documented facts and figures, many of which, Hurtig informs us, you won't find anywhere else. And why not? Because, if such facts and figures were honestly reported and widely known, the Canadian public would repudiate the war that's being waged against it. As poll after poll continues to show, the majority of Canadians are opposed to more foreign control and the adoption of American values. We shudder at such statistics as: "American children under the age of fifteen are twelve times more likely to die from guns than children in twenty-five other industrialized nations combined," and thank our lucky maple leaves that this cannot be said of us: "In 1999...some 50,000 Americans lost their life savings because of medical bills....All told, there are 44 million Americans with no health insurance, and another 39 million with poor quality or inadequate insurance."
When the Committee for an Independent Canada was formed in 1971, this pro-Canada group which crossed all party lines focused its energies on the then huge percentage of foreign ownership in our oil and gas industry. Hundreds of petitions were signed by thousands of Canadians and presented to Prime Minister Trudeau. The result was the creation of Petro-Canada and the establishment of the Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA), which, by evaluating investment on the basis of whether it was of benefit to Canada, significantly reduced the level of foreign ownership and control.
In 1984, however, Brian Mulroney abolished FIRA and replaced it with Investment Canada to solicit foreign investment. Today under Jean Chretien, the "toothless" Industry Canada Investment Review Division tracks foreign investment under the terms of Mulroney's Investment Canada Act. The Division has reviewed only 1,394 of the 10,052 takeovers which took place between June 30, 1985 and June 30, 2002 (6,437 of them from the United States), and has approved every single one of them. Hurtig has also discovered that during this same time period, 96.6 per cent of new foreign direct investment in Canada was for takeovers of Canadian companies. That's 96.6 per cent of 487 billion dollars. Only 3.4 per cent was for new business investment!
But even 487 billion was not enough to satisfy Canada's business community. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, headed by Tom d'Aquino "and his fellow patriots," has long complained about too little foreign investment. Hurtig quotes Sherry Cooper, "one of our most notorious continentalists, and Bank of Montreal executive vice-president," writing in the National Post in January 2000: "'Net foreign direct investment...has been dampened, no doubt, by our punitive corporate tax rates.'" A year later, two Globe and Mail columnists told their readers: "'On foreign investment we simply don't rate,'" and "Concerns about growing foreign ownership are 'hysterical.'"
"What can you make of all these people?" demands Hurtig. "Have they been living in caves in Afghanistan? Or are they simply so blinded by their...ideology that they consider it unnecessary to check with official regularly published records...before they write their nonsense?"
As for the attitude of the Liberal government, Hurtig says he is "amazed" by it. Why on earth, he asks, do its representatives actively solicit still more foreign ownership and control and advertise Canada as a great place to do business, when if it's so great, we should be doing that business ourselves? "Why sell off ownership and control when you know for certain that as a result profits will hemorrhage out of the country, tax revenue as a percentage of sales will be sharply reduced, good jobs will be fewer and key decisions about your country will be made outside of Canada by people who don't give a damn about your country?"
Hurtig is not alone in concluding that our ship of state is heading for the rocks. As far back as 1999, no less a free-trade promoter than Peter Lougheed stated, "'I know people will fall from their chairs to hear me say this, but maybe right now we need to return to the Foreign Investment Review Agency.'" Another former free-trade supporter, the late Mr. Justice Willard Estey, wrote in 2000: "'The problem is that we are letting corporations with no loyalty to this country strip it of its finite resources.'"
The other half of the pincer movement which has us in its jaws is the widespread belief that because Canada's exports to the U.S. are such a large percentage of our GDP, we're dependent on our southern neighbor. Not so, says Hurtig, and quotes economist Jim Stanford: "'It's true that the total gross value of exports and imports exceeds 80% of our GDP. But these trade figures double-count and triple-count the value of many manufactured products which now flow back and forth across the Canada-U.S. border in the course of their final processing." And a Globe and Mail story in January 2001, reporting on the work of Philip Cross at Statistics Canada, reveals that when exports are "put in terms of the total economy's exposure to the United States, it ends up being about 20 per cent....All of a sudden we're not looking quite so vulnerable."
For Hurtig, the myth of our dependency on the U.S. "...can be largely ascribed to our elites' colonial mentality and their timidity. They live in constant terror of somehow annoying the U.S. and thereby damaging our economy and (always unsaid) their own growing investment in the U.S."
He also brushes aside "our elite's" claim that selling off the economy is quite all right because at the same time, Canadians are buying up the U.S. Nonsense, says Hurtig; foreign ownership in the U.S. is only 6.4 percent, and of that 6.4 percent, only 8 percent is Canadian!
The majority of Hurtig's Canadian readers will likely be stunned by the amount of evidence in this book confirming that the quality of their lives is under concerted attack from within. Yet, though he spends so much energy delineating the problem, Hurtig also has solutions to offer: "Four things have to happen if Canada is to survive as a prosperous, independent country in charge of its own future, instead of a dependent and weak American colony."
* The first is to stop the growth of foreign ownership and control.
* The second is to abrogate both the FTA and NAFTA and "become WTO activists, instead of NAFTA supplicants."
* The third is to form "a new political party dedicated to Canadian independence and...true democracy....[There is a]...huge undercurrent of potential political energy...across the country."
* The fourth is to reform the political system and make it "much more democratic."
"The twentieth century was supposed to belong to Canada. At the present rate we will be fortunate if Canada belongs to Canada," wrote Hurtig ruefully in 1987. Today, he's decided that "Canada is too good a country to abandon without a damn good fight." Besides, the fierce pride and passion which Canadians feel for their country, and that is revealed in poll after poll (no matter how badly misrepresented by "The American Post"), is "visceral....The disgusting goal of the 'deep integration' gang is not what the vast majority of Canadians want."
Set against this important asset is our political system, now so blurred that in many respects the government of Jean Chretien is barely distinguishable from that of Brian Mulroney: "They both have been almost totally dominated by the agendas of big business." As for Paul Martin, the perpetual-prime-minister-in-waiting, in Hurtig's view a Liberal government under him would likely "proceed even faster" down the road to Americanization.
A survey of the opposition benches finds no relief in sight. On the subject of the Alliance leader, Hurtig writes: "For Harper, if you can possibly imagine, the Chretien government has been 'anti-American' and we now need to cozy up to the U.S. It boggles the mind." Meanwhile, the Conservative Party "...has abandoned the traditions of Canada that so strongly appealed to so many millions of Canadians for so many generations.....[I]f they hope to do better in the future...[they]...must find themselves a new leader who will guide the party back to its long-time principles." So far only one candidate for the Tory leadership, David Orchard, has declared this as his aim, but whether his leadership bid is successful will not be determined until May of this year.
The New Democratic Party under its newly-elected leader, Jack Layton, is also still an unknown factor. Hurtig acknowledges the NDP's "important role" in Canadian politics in the past but has his doubts about its prospects for the future, despite the fact that he has "great respect for some of those involved in the NPI" (New Politics Initiative).
Whatever happens on the political scene, the bottom line for most Canadians today is that the governments we've elected in the recent past have shown little regard for our well-being. They've allowed us to be bullied by corporations which lie about the safety of our food, poison us with one set of toxic chemicals only to treat us with another, scheme to steal our publicly-owned utilities, and view our human labor, not as an essential engine of the economy but as an expense to be reduced or eliminated. Public education is under pressure, our precious health care system and natural environment seem ever at risk, and the income gap between rich and poor today is larger than at any time since Statistics Canada began compiling such information 30 years ago.
So, Canadians, Mel Hurtig has written The Vanishing Country expressly for you. Unless you decide to exercise your democratic right to become involved in the political process, your good life (if you're lucky enough to still have it), is going to go. Today, 98% of Canadians do not belong to any political party. So isn't it about time we got up and began to "stand on guard for thee"? ˛