Customs Union?

Not to sound all conspiratorial or anything, but isn’t the so-called North American Security Perimeter that is apparently being negotiated behind closed doors by the Harper government and the Obama administration, essentially tantamount to formation of a Customs Union? From the precious few sketchy outlines that have been provided to the public so far, it would certainly seem to have most, if not all, the characteristics of such an economic arrangement.

I wonder how many Canadians are aware that we may be on the verge of entering into a Customs Union (abeit under the guise of another name) with our neighbour to the south? Or care… but that’s another matter.

Not to say that such a concept is necessarily a bad thing – indeed, there could be a lot of commercial benefits to streamlining the border through a comprehensive program of regulatory harmonization and the integration of our Customs administrations to the extent that would allow for a single point of entry into the region; steps that manufacturers and exporters on both sides of the border have been lobbying hard for – but surely the process of significantly restructuring the nature of our trade relationship in this way is deserving of more transparency and oversight than has been the case to date…

Well, that’s my basic gripe with these negotiations at this point in time – I would just like to know more exactly what is being proposed and how our respective governments plan on implementing their proposed solutions to what is amusingly referred to in the trade as “thickening” of the border mainly resulting from post 9/11 security concerns.

If it’s any consolation to those who may fear the prospect of a North American Security Perimeter immediately taking shape, you can relax… Based on my familiarity with the situation, I would guestimate implementation of this concept at the better part of a decade away; and that’s presuming the our respective border agencies are working at breakneck speed (relatively speaking) and are fully funded to undertake this project and bring it to completion – both quite unlikely to occur.

22 Comments

Filed under Obama Administration, STEVEN HARPER Government of Canada, U.S. Economy

22 responses to “Customs Union?

  1. As far as I can tell, it’s essentially a revised, low-profile bilateral version of the SPP… so yes, a customs union.

    I’ve been writing about aspects of this, too. Colin Robertson wrote an op-ed in the G&M about it a couple of days ago, which was what twigged me — he and his cronies at Calgary and Carleton universities have been laying the groundwork for this for years. Colin is actually a civil servant who was “loaned” to the universities to help build the case for SPP.

  2. As long as Canada’s resources remain Canada’s…

    Best friends and neighbors and all, there is a problem with being being identified as “one” with the US.

  3. I would guestimate implementation of this concept at the better part of a decade away.

    Gee. You mean I get to keep my country for another ten years? Cool!

    I wonder how many Canadians are aware that we may be on the verge of entering into a Customs Union?… Or care…?

    The clear fact that many of us care is precisely why Harper is pursuing this initiative so far away from parliamentary and media scrutiny. Rest assured that Harper (and successors) shall seek to keep this little project as safe from democratic vetting as they can.

    Implementation of the SPP merely vindicates what nationalist “cranks” like David Orchard have been saying since about 1987—that the pursuit of “freer trade” is just a fig leaf stuck onto the lesion-scarred privates of annexationism. Our slide down the slippery slope has been greased with lies: during the FTA debate, it was all about allowing Canadian businesses to more effectively “compete” with their American counterparts, while increasing their productivity and domestic R&D; twenty years later, we’re not competing with the Americans—we’re “integrating” with them, while our productivity remains stagnant and our domestic R&D languishes as an international joke.

    This process is virtually unstoppable: it is driven by American security paranoia and feelings of Manifest-Destiny continental entitlement, and it is coddled by Canadian complaisance and a corporate laziness that prefers to suck from the teat of the American market rather than seek a wider global penetration. None of those factors is likely to disappear within our lifetimes.

    All that is left is to wonder what the next integrationist step shall be. My guess is a common currency: the U.S. badly needs Canada’s fiscal and resource infrastructures if it’s to rescue the moribund greenback and dig itself out of its cavernous debt hole. That process shall suck Canada dry, but that’s what most Americans think we’re here for anyway.

  4. Call me “The Prophet.” I predicted this twenty years ago. Goodbye Canada…

  5. I predicted this twenty years ago.

    John A. Macdonald and Etienne Cartier predicted it long before that, which is why they took extraordinary measures—such as Confederation—to prevent it. Too bad their descendants are such invertebrates.

    To be fair (and accurate), the decline of Canadian statehood needs to be seen in the full context of the decline of statehood per se and the rise of transnational corporate sovereignty—what Noam Chomsky calls “the virtual senate”. The extent to which American “democracy” enjoys a scope of action outside the framework of global corporate interests is marginal, witness the anaemic nature of Obama’s healthcare initiative, something the vast majority of Americans wanted very badly but which a tiny minority was able to emasculate and is now attempting to nullify entirely.

  6. SF: Personally, I would be more concerned about negotiations currently being undertaken by the Harper government to advance a free trade agreement with Europe than with developments aimed at streamlining the U.S. border. The CETA as proposed is far more comprehensive in nature than NAFTA and could seriously undermine Canadian sovereignty on a number of different levels.

  7. jkg

    Implementation of the SPP merely vindicates what nationalist “cranks” like David Orchard..

    This, I think, should be a lamentation for Canada in the 21st century. Marginalizing national messages, which were skeptical of not genuflecting on the altar of neo-liberalism and continentalism has resulted in a very little space for actually discussing policy from a strictly Canadian perspective. As soon as someone dares to take a position that is seen as “Anti-American,” it is seen as anomalous and out of the mainstream. All of sudden, it is unthinkable that Canada should take a position that would be antithetical to the American ethos whilst American exceptionalism should be taken as a truism that takes primacy over other nationalist modes of culture or governance. I can’t think of another way of putting it than this is simply a neo-colonial mentality in which Canada is engaged in a master/slave relationship.

    In some way, I do blame the Liberals for cheapening criticism of adopting American virtues, but I cannot escape noticing the almost seamless adoption of American neo-conservatism by the CPC. There is no denying the cross border collaboration, especially since its nexus is in Alberta (though I believe Mr. Rove did have a little conference in Toronto at some point). Quite simply, conventional wisdom and common understandings with respect to the historical memory of our political constituencies are being rewritten again. These changes seem to happen every so often, but this one relies on the complete erasure of the nation’s historical memory. It is ironic considering the baying of historical revisionism by neo-conservatives against multiculturalism only to turn around and talk about Toryism as some sort of fringe element that sought to hide that we really, really, love the American notions of liberty and freedom.

    Our slide down the slippery slope has been greased with lies: during the FTA debate, it was all about allowing Canadian businesses to more effectively “compete” with their American counterparts, while increasing their productivity and domestic R&D; twenty years later, we’re not competing with the Americans—we’re “integrating” with them…

    That is great example of a ‘bait and switch’ of which I was thinking. We are sometimes to ‘move on’ or accept that ‘things change’ as a deflection to the serious question of whether or not these policies were deceitfully presented as something congruous with Canada. It is very easy to do so when you simply just change the criteria to make these things palpable.

    it is coddled by Canadian complaisance and a corporate laziness that prefers to suck from the teat of the American market rather than seek a wider global penetration.

    In a way, SF, you parallel a perspective with the likes of Andrea Mandel-Campbell. The challenge is that those who are trying to light the fire under the backsides of the Canadian business community are also the same neo-liberal courtiers who would welcome these integrationist fantasies. However, Mandel-Campbell’s formulation is so short-sighted precisely because she erroneously thinks she is taking on the ‘status quo.’ While she is constantly talking about not being too beholden to the US, she continually references the triumphs of the US brands that have gone internationally. The end of syllogism is monumentally silly, “To prevent being dependent on the Americans, act like them.” Yet, it is the fact that the Canadian business community do act like Americans that they are willing to accept all this dependence through integration. It is akin to saying that to stop being a crack addict, be like the crack dealer. You may have a few small successes, but you are still in the relatively same position.

    Here is the rub: I don’t think, even despite political rearrangements and changes over their history, that American has really altered from their core elements that harks back to their concept of Manifest Destiny. There were bouts of isolationism to be sure, but I think they remain unchanged in certain aspects. However, in Canada, any trajectory that was intended to be put in motion even in the 20th century is no longer around. The success of the American experiment relies on this overarching dynamic, which I think should be met with far more skepticism as opposed to the obsequious acquiescence we have now.

    Another apology to Red for the length. There was a lot of great stuff in SF’s post that I wanted to touch on.

  8. The CETA as proposed is far more comprehensive in nature than NAFTA…

    Frankly, I’m not in the least concerned about CETA, partly because I doubt it will happen (given the EU’s current wound-licking narcissism) and partly because I’m not as worried about our nation being opened to a patch-work congeries comprising the French, Dutch and Romanians as I am about being structurally soldered to the most monolithically messianic, aggressively xenophobic, and sneeringly anti-intellectual hyperpowers ever to be moved through the bowels of Western civilization.

  9. You do have a way, JKG, of making the posts you respond to read like trivial cocktail piffle!

    We should keep in mind that it is our government/media/managerial elites, not we civilians (the modern villains), who dismiss those position as anomalous. Ordinary Canadians unapologetically refused urgent U.S. entreaties to help invade Iraq and have been deeply ambivalent about the U.S.-led Afghan mission (even in Alberta) and thus risked the “anti-American” tag despite being daily savaged for their continental disloyalty by the Sun chain and National Post Quislingarchy, the Calgary School compradors, and freelance anti-Canadians like Jack Granatstein, Robert Fulford, and David Warren. There’s actually a deep well of vibrant Canadianness out there, but the institutions through which that energy used to be expressed in healthy and productive ways are rotting.

    …its nexus is in Alberta…

    Agreed. When Canada’s obituary is finally written, foreign analysts will be surprised by how much of Canada’s political complexion was determined by the effects of Prairie populism. With just a tiny collective population, the Prairies managed to, first, turn Canada from a nation far more fiscally and socially conservative than the Sates ever was into a liberal social democracy and, later, move it to the Right through the federal exportation of an essentially Albertan neo-liberalism. To the extent that this second phenomenon has initiated our terminal national decline, the American development of (and desperate need for) our oil industry has proven to be, I think, our fatal Trojan Horse.

  10. Tomm

    Enjoyed the read.

    Maybe Mel Hurtig was right…

    If the direction of this post is accurate, perhaps there is another reason for the low profile that is more germane to Canadian politics of today.

    I think there is an expectation of inflammatory rhetoric that would create great boundaries on any discussion. We can expect this from all the parties, but most phlematically, and hypocritically, the LPC.

    That we are tied to the US economy is not a point of discussion, it is a fact. It is like the state of Massachusetts discussing whether it should have open borders with New York. The irony would be if this created a new opening of rules north to south that exposed the barriers east to west. That would cause new cracks in the Canadian economic union.

  11. Same old story in terms of the economic pull – this has been going on since 1854. However, our ancestors cared deeply about “the Old Queen, the old Flag, and the old Policy.” We stopped caring around 1963 …

  12. Tomm

    ATY,

    In 1963 the western economy was dominated by the needs of Ontario. We were the hewers of wood and drawers of water.

    Did you want to open up a discussion on the Crow Rate?

  13. We can expect this from all[!] the parties,

    Yeah. The CPC caucus is crawling with nationalists and will almost certainly rise up in righteous anger at the thought of being put under the “security” blanket of the nation with the worst record of domestic terrorism, the highest number of undocumented aliens, and the most invasive and irresponsible state surveillance apparatus in the Western world.

    …the western economy was dominated by the needs of Ontario.

    Now, you’re dominated by the needs of the U.S., for whom you are the drawers of crude oil. My…how far you’ve come.

    It is like the state of Massachusetts discussing whether it should have open borders with New York.

    What’s truly brilliant here is that you miss the sad irony of that analogy.

    Oh, and this new “perimeter” will require a new level of continental bureaucracy, Tomm—to be partly serviced by Canadian tax dollars, of course. I’m rather surprised you didn’t bring that up in order to celebrate the further bloating of an already over-bloated state, something I know you’re always thrilled about when Harper does it.

  14. At least Ontario is in Canada. Better to hew and draw for your countrymen than a foreign power.

  15. The problem, ATY, is that Tomm does not appear to consider Canadians to be his countrymen. I’m not sure how readily he would admit that Canada is a country in the first instance. Prairie revanchistes have always been like Quebec separatists in that way.

  16. Tomm

    Sir Francis,…sigh…

    You bait people. If I wasn’t sure I’m “me”, I would suggest you were my evil twin. I guess I should just ask you straight out… do you exist independent of me?

    Yes, I was aware that Massachusetts does not touch New York. I have never been there, but did know that. And yes, that is certainly ironic. I was going to use Pennsylvania, but then wanted a state that was perceived as being more Canadian, and “north” of New York for the example. Why am I even explaining that… you are so wearying.

    With respect to attachments and patriotism, I am as patriotic and attached as a Canadian that lived several years outside of the country (Thailand and California) and re-committed to returning and making my future in Canada can be. Not 34 years, mind you…

    But yours and ATY’s implication that the west getting screwed by Ontario for much of its existence (with the behest and active participation of a series of Liberal federal governments) is a better deal than having sympathies with western States, is an odd one. Please describe the nature of the servitude inflicted by Montana on Alberta, as I am keen to know. Perhaps you were thinking of North Dakota, or perhaps Washington? Idaho? Please don’t respond with some crap about federal largesse in the 30s and 40s. No one in the west believes that for a second.

    Canada is a great country, no doubt about that. But it has had its own internal issues and continues to have them. To blindly forget our history may make us more likely to repeat it.

    Perhaps if the federal government had been more interested in piping Alberta’s oil to the east in the 70’s and 80’s, the present energy situation wouldn’t be as toxic…

    I tend to be a person that focuses on tomorrow rather than yesterday; but to slip the discussion back into politics, I am still patiently waiting for the Liberal Party of Canada to admit a few little mistakes they may have made, so I can be comforted that they have learned from their past. How long do you think I will need to wait?

    Just between you and me, I don’t think I will hear the words I need to hear from those guys. The LPC seems full of people that just don’t seem to give a fig about any of that. They seem to want to return to the good old days of Trudeau, Pearson, and Laurier as if invoking their names sprinkles us all with fairy dust.

  17. I was aware that Massachusetts does not touch New York.

    That’s not what I meant. My point was much simpler than that; you’re giving me far too much credit, for a change.

    Please don’t respond with some crap about federal largesse in the 30s and 40s. No one in the west believes that for a second.

    What the West “believes” is irrelevant. The transfer payments and infrastructure development resources that flowed into the Prairies (and into the rest of Canada) from Ontario for a century after Confederation is a matter of indisputable record, no matter how much it dampens Westerners’ pride and their ersatz maverick cowboy pretenses. If you tell me Ontario’s subventions were insignificant, I shall take that as permission to view the transfer payments that are now flowing out of Alberta as insignificant as well. It’s up to you. Meanwhile, here’s an interesting exercise: try to think of a significant Albertan city that was not established and developed by an agency of the Dominion government. Red Deer? Nope. Try again.

    Now, perhaps you can tell me how the Prairies would have ever recovered from the Depression’s aftershocks and the post-war recession if the feds had not opened China for surplus Prairie wheat in the ‘50s, something America would never have even contemplated (and about which they were outraged, in fact). Surely you know enough about Western history to realise how crucial that was to the Prairie economy, especially to Saskatchewan’s and Manitoba’s (if I can presume upon an Albertan’s willingness to consider the welfare of his lessers, for a minute).

    To blindly forget our history may make us more likely to repeat it.

    Yeah. Thanks for that helpful goad. I’m terminally at risk of forgetting my history.

    I tend to be a person that focuses on tomorrow rather than yesterday.

    Hence, your animadversion to the NEP and every other moldy item of Prairie grudge at every possible opportunity.

    I don’t think I will hear the words I need to hear from those guys.

    I think you’ll find that political parties are not, as a rule, eager to self-flagellate over their past strategic idiocies. Thus, we mustn’t hold our breath until Stockwell Day publicly ruminates regretfully upon the wetsuit, or the silly placard held aloft during the televised debate, or the delay in purging neo-Nazis from Reform’s Ontario riding associations. Ain’t gonna happen. And, to be honest, I do not expect contrition; I’ll settle for competence, with a pinch of integrity.

    They seem to want to return to the good old days of Trudeau…

    Indeed. Nostalgia is the disease of the old and disillusioned, which the Liberal Party, in its current exhausted and intellectually bankrupt state, most certainly is. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Canadians, too, are nostalgic—for a time when their politics was not lunch-hurlingly rebarbative.

    …do you exist independent of me?

    Heisenberg would say “no”, and who am I to disagree with a genius? 😉

  18. Tomm

    good response, I will look for a western history that includes positive reference to the Federal government.

    By the way, I have been unable to find a good book on the famous 5, do you know of any?

  19. I will look for a western history that includes positive reference to the Federal government.

    The great Tory Manitoban historian W.L. Morton would be a good place to start.

    I have been unable to find a good book on the famous 5, do you know of any?

    I’m afraid not; I’ve never looked for one, actually. Google and Amazon would be your friends on that one.

  20. SF:

    (with a cc to Tomm)

    The problem with correcting Tomm and thereby asking him to refute the facts, is the very fact that he is dismissive (or perhaps ignorant) of the facts in the first place.

    There is a mythology in place in the West – that being that Confederation represents an unfair redistribution of wealth from West to East. Never mind that for most of our shared history, the redistribution was from East to West (“East” in this case being Ontario and Quebec). That doesn’t matter because, well …. because.

    How can you argue the historical reality of the issue with people who knowingly and willingly ignore the historical reality.

    Strawmen abound.

    As I write this, I am overlooking the harbour in Richmond, BC.

  21. jkg

    You do have a way, JKG, of making the posts you respond to read like trivial cocktail piffle!

    Heh, I do not mean sound like that, but I value the eloquence of the English language. I usually employ it as a mark of respect because it requires consistent effort. Sadly, it is often reflexively interpreted as my being haughty or contemptuous. This was particularly odd considering that in my upbringing, I was constantly taught to speak well and use the full range of what the English language has to offer (though even my family members have fallen into that the middle class trap of expressing indignation at being exposed to some new vocabulary). Besides, SF, I learn from the best, especially if your thread here and over at Dawg’s is any indication :).

    …the Calgary School compradors, and freelance anti-Canadians like Jack Granatstein, Robert Fulford, and David Warren

    This is true. I just find it particularly difficult to separate the civilian sphere in this whole system because I would think that those actors have developed enough of an audience to dampen U.S. or continental skepticism. However, when you get somebody like David Warren who somehow was featured on The Agenda with Steve Paikin discussing the legacy of George Grant and Red Toryism, I being to start scratching my head.

    The great Tory Manitoban historian W.L. Morton would be a good place to start.

    Curiously, in the Canadian Studies courses at Carleton University, I have yet to see W.L. Morton on a syllabus.

    There is a mythology in place in the West – that being that Confederation represents an unfair redistribution of wealth from West to East.

    There is also this myth that Canada in post Confederation was northern lightening rod for American liberal notions of freedom and liberty. There is a Canadian authour who became a follower of the Chicago school who penned a book awhile back making that argument. Undoubtedly, it got lapped up by the Fraserites and the Campus (neo)Conservatives.

    Nonetheless, I would like to add one thing: The reason why this is an enduring myth is because MacDonald’s legacy of his national policy meant that Ontario and Quebec were first subsidized to spur industrialization. In isolation, this is interpreted as a bone of contention presumably by the “West,” yet the economic result of strengthening Central Canada meant that surpluses could be allocated to expand outwards. That was the nutshell of Sir John’s policies. However, these are treated with malevolent suspicion from anyone with an axe to grind with the Evil Ontario. It doesn’t help that in our own Canadian Encyclopedia summarizes it thusly:

    Historically, Canada’s protective tariff structure, a legacy of John A. MACDONALD’s National Policy, designed to encourage Canadian industrialization, primarily benefited the manufacturing areas of Québec and Ontario, providing them with a captive market. Canada’s tariff policies were historically a source of grievance in Atlantic Canada and the West, where consumers felt they were subsidizing the protected industries of central Canada, stifling the development of their own regions. However, with the signing of a free trade agreement in 1989 with the US (with Mexico joining in 1993), combined with the tariff-reducing effects of GATT negotiations during the 1980s and 1990s, Canada’s tariff structure has ceased to be a major regional issue (see FREE TRADE).

  22. JKG: I’m sure that I speak for many in saying that I greatly appreciate your eloquent and extremely well articulated comments.

    From a purely personal standpoint however, I have to admit that they often make me feel humbled to the point of thinking that YOU are the one who should be writing the blog and me the commenter chiming in with my minimal 2 cents – not the other way round as is presently the case.

    Regardless, I enjoy reading the thoughtful discussions about certain issues that sometimes arise on this blog thanks to people like you, SF, ATY, et. al.

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