Giving Up More than the Loonie

Along with being clever, attractive and having a bit of a way on the dance floor, one of the images people most like to project of themselves is that of an independent thinker.Nobody wants to be seen as a prisoner of conventional thought, a sheep blindly following the rest of the pack. Finding someone willing to admit to supporting the status quo is only a little easier than finding someone who admits to taking pleasure roughing up little kids in a school yard.So it's not surprising that politicians and business commentators often try to present a policy they're advocating as rooted in independent thinking, in a willingness to shed the blinkers of conventional thought.But it's rare that the attempt to claim the independent-thinking high ground is as blatant - and misleading - as the recent attempt to promote further Canada-U.S. economic integration.First, let's get the status quo straight here. The move toward greater economic integration with the United States is the status quo. We've been on a high-speed train towards economic integration since free trade with the United States was placed at the top of the policy agenda back in 1985. In fact, it's hard to think of a more conventional thought these days than that we're living in a global economy and everything's becoming more integrated, blah, blah, blah ...So it's a little disingenuous for those pushing things further in this direction to claim they're bucking the status quo; it would be like Britney Spears claiming she's bucking the status quo by using sex appeal to sell music.But David Zussman, an advisor to the Prime Minister, and Liberal MP Mario Bevilacqua would have us believe that they are bold thinkers eager to discard convention and engage in a "frank debate" that places everything "on the table" - even the "completely taboo." Oooo! That sounds pretty wild, like they're willing to push back the very frontiers of experience. What kind of taboo subjects are they willing to be so frank about - S&M, cannibalism, sex with other species? What exactly are these taboos they're throwing so fearlessly to the wind?Well, it turns out that the "new ideas" that Mr. Zussman wants Canadians to "actively encourage" are surprisingly similar to the ideas that were central to the federal election of 1891. (Yes - the one held 110 years ago, when the Liberals under Wilfrid Laurier supported closer economic integration with the United States, while John A. Macdonald's Conservatives opposed it, arguing that it would threaten Canadian independence.)Both Mr. Zussman and Mr. Bevilacqua want to move toward closer economic integration with the United States and suggest it is nothing more than fear and insecurity that keep the Canadian public from welcoming their "new" ideas.But why conclude that we are a cowering people simply because we choose not to integrate our economy more with the United States? Couldn't it be that we prefer Canada to be different, that we don't want to further harmonize our political, social and economic systems with those south of the border, particularly when we know that would mean us accepting their terms.Mr. Bevilacqua insists that a "self-assured, mature society" has nothing to fear from economic integration. It all sounds very self-confident, but ignores the reality that the United States is the world's most powerful country and is not shy about insisting on having things its way. It's interesting to note that this recent push to accelerate economic integration is a U.S. idea. Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, got the ball rolling in June when he announced the Bush administration was interested in dismantling borders.Dollarization - an idea mentioned by Mr. Zussman - doesn't mean we'd jointly develop a new currency, replacing the loonie and the greenback with, perhaps, something called the loonback. Rather, it means the loonie would go the way of the brontosaurus and we'd adopt the U.S. dollar. In doing so, we'd lose all meaningful control over our own monetary and fiscal policy - in other words, over our economy.If that sounds undesirable to you, then you must be a cowering stick-in-the-mud who's afraid to put everything on the table. Anyone with balls is willing to surrender full sovereignty to the United States, secure in the knowledge that, as members of a "self-assured, mature society," we don't need things like borders or separate legal systems to stand up to the Americans. We can just be ourselves, and the Americans will respect us for it. They always do.The truth is that more economic integration will only diminish our democratic control over our economy - a point made by economist Tom Courchene in a 1999 paper published by the C.D. Howe Institute.Mr. Courchene's paper showed that any scheme to link our currency to Washington's - whether full dollarization, fixing our dollar to the U.S. dollar or Mr. Courchene's preferred common currency option - would reduce Canada's policy flexibility. Now, some cowering types might see this as a drawback, but not Mr. Courchene. Rather, Mr. Courchene, and key elements in the financial community, seem to like the idea of reducing the policy autonomy of the Canadian government. They like the idea that Ottawa would be obliged, for instance, to reduce its debt levels in order to maintain the value of our currency, even if the Canadian people preferred to see the money spent on social programs.Capitulating fully to U.S. power has always been an option for Canadians. The only thing new here is the attempt to dress it up as some bold taboo-breaking idea. Even in the global economy, lying flat on your back is pretty much the same as it was in 1891.

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