Since the publication of her
book calling for a merger between the U.S. and Canada, Diane Francis has been showered on Twitter and elsewhere with some not-too-kind reactions.
One person called it a “loony idea,” while another wrote that they had to check the calender to see if it was April Fool’s Day. “You, Madam, are a traitor!” another man wrote, before more succinctly explaining his position in a one word follow up tweet: “TREASON!“
But her book, “Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country,” is meant to generate serious debate.
Author of nine books, 66-year-old Francis has worked as a columnist for Maclean’s magazine and the New York Sun. She currently works as an Editor-at-Large at the National Post and divides her time between Toronto and New York City. She tells Business Insider that her new book was conceived four years ago, but the concept was kept a secret til last week.
“It is one big idea book,” she explains. “I wanted it to be a complete intellectual package. I didn’t want to come out with the idea and have Canadians dismiss it.” At around 120,000 words and with 30 pages of end notes, Francis says the book has been thoroughly researched. While the introduction says it is a “thought experiment,” Francis’ background as a business journalist shines through in the facts and figures — it reads almost like a business proposal.
Francis seemed aware that the response from Canadians might not all be positive.
The core of Francis’ argument is that faced with the threat of the growing economic strength of the BRICS (notably Russia and China, who have significant interests in Canada’s Arctic regions), plus the security problems along the long U.S.-Canada border, the two countries should pair up. Canada would be able militarily and economically to defend its Arctic regions, and the two countries would be able to team up to exploit Canada’s vast resources.
“Even though [Canada] is a big country, it’s got a small population and a small economy,” she says. “Our natural and obvious partner — and our partner already, really — is the United States.”
The negative reaction from some Canadians didn’t surprise Francis. “The initial reaction was very bad. I go in to call-in radio shows — which is how you promote books — and I’d get really nasty calls,” she says. “‘Yankee go home,’ that sort of thing.”
“That’s knee-jerk,” she says, adding that it’s unrepresentative of Canadians as a whole. The country’s paranoia about American dominance is a legacy of warfare between 1770 and 1820 and a “colonial mentality” left behind by the British. Americans, she says, have gotten the idea quicker. “It means jobs for everybody,” Francis says. “It means energy independence, and it means national security.”
Perhaps the most widely shared criticism has come from Francis’ National Post colleague, Jonathan Kay. Following the publication of a passage of the book in the Post, Kay wrote that the merger plan had “many, many” problems.
In particular, Jay zeroes in on the caveats for the merger that might prove unpalatable to Americans — the idea that Canadians would keep their popular HealthCare system but Americans wouldn’t be a part of it, and the $US17-trillion in debt bonds that the the U.S. would pay Canada for the merger — and the complexities surrounding making sure Quebec’s Francophone separatists are comfortable in an even larger Anglophone community.
Francis bristled when Jay’s critique was mentioned. “This book contains models,” she says. “These are my best solutions to the existential problems facing the two countries, and various forms of integration. He was drawing from one that was the German style, the ‘lets just unite two countries and compensate Canadians’ ones. That’s a total hypothetical.”
Francis’ complaints about the critique hinge on the fact that Jay appeared to have only read the excerpted chapter of her book, and not the chapters that presented other, looser, options for integration.
“It was interesting that someone would riff off a book that they haven’t completely understood the reasoning behind, nor had time to read it, and before anyone else had a chance to read it,” she says, later adding. “All the arguments used in that article were the typical negative, push-back, automatic rejection of a Canadian to anything new.”
It’s hard not to read Francis’ book, however, and feel that her view of a Russian and Chinese state capitalism dominated future feels pessimistic, and perhaps even, as J. Dana Schuster of Foreign Policy describes it, “dystopian.” Here too, Francis is unrepentant, pointing to huge sovereign wealth funds, big investments in overseas resources, and Russia’s aggressive behaviour in the Arctic as proof that she isn’t being alarmist. “It’s like a new cold war. The Cold War, 2.0, or the economic Cold War, 2.0.”
Even so, does Canada need to be part of a world power? While the country may share many ties with the U.S., in many ways the country’s high living standards and history of social democracy may have more in common with European middle powers such as Norway or Denmark. Why shouldn’t Canada remain on that path, rather than join with the U.S.?
Francis concedes that wouldn’t be a bad idea and says her last chapter is designed to deal with that. “It [says] OK, Canada, if there’s going to be no merger, here’s what you’ve got to do, and you’ve got to do it quickly. It’ll probably be more difficult politically than integrating faster with the Americans. They’ve gotta fix the border, they’ve got a constitutional problem, they’ve got a governance problem, they have an aboriginal problem, they’ve got an Arctic and military problem, a brain drain problem, a Dutch disease problem.”
Ultimately, however, it all boils down to the same thing; “All of these things have to be looked at with solutions that involve working closer with the Americans,” Francis says.
More than anything, she says, she hopes that the book will ignite debate. “I’ve talked to some of the people in the Canadian government, and I know the US government is reading this thing as we speak,” she says. “I think this will push along faster perimeter security talks, which have been going nowhere, nd it will push along faster the study of monetary union in Canada — is that a good idea? It’ll bring more attention to our vulnerability in the Arctic and Canada’s complete abdication of any kind of development help there.”
Even with the more unpleasant comments directed her way, Francis has faith that the Canadian national character will prevail. “Canadians are very smart, and they’re very circumspect,” she says. “And they’re gradualists. I know that by introducing the conversation — and everyone is talking about it — and introducing hopefully the conversation in the United States, that this will become part of policy discussion.”