There are many who believe that the Canada’s political culture and its sovereignty are threatened by American influence and then there are those who simply do not believe it. It is a matter of perspective and the debate will probably rage on for years to come. In order to accurately refute or defend this claim, one must develop a means of evaluation. Defining and measuring political culture is very difficult because it is based on two of the most abstract concepts in the English language. Besides that, the words politics and culture mean many things to many people. Since Anthony A. Peacock does not provide his own definition, I will use Paul Nesbitt-Larkings definition of political culture which states that: “Political cultures happen as people, operating in already constituted symbolic fields of political cultural concepts and practices, convey to each other conceptions of the distribution and uses of values resources and of making of decisions and rules” (Nesbitt-Larking, 8). In deciphering this definition, I found two interesting points. First, Nesbitt-larking sees political culture as events, or happenings. Second, political culture happens as people interact with each other within a framework of general or widely accepted beliefs. This conclusion assumes that the majority of the population has a core set of values and ideologies that build culture and reflect how a group of people choose to invoke political action. Attempting to identify these values, how they shape Canada, and whether or not they are changing due to American influence, would be impossible for such a short paper. Actually, many volumes have been written on the subject and who am I to try to sum it up in ten pages? Is it the beliefs of the right or the left that dominate in Canada? Are we as communitarian as we have been led to believe? Is globalization the real culprit here? What I propose to do instead is evaluate two of the major ways that the United States influences Canada and how that has affected us politically/economically, and culturally, through research directed at the FTA and the NAFTA and how they have changed Canada since their implementation. Another major concern of Canadians is the overwhelming amounts of U.S. popular culture we are exposed to on a daily basis and how that shapes our attitudes and values. This debate can go on and on until it leads you back to square one, and once you have talked yourself into a huge never-ending circle you must just stop and realize that there are external forces eating away at Canadian sovereignty and endlessly debating them does not change them. Instead I will try to answer the question: to what effect has the implementation of the FTA and the NAFTA as well as overwhelming amounts of exposure to American popular culture affected Canadian sovereignty?
Arguably, the North American Free Trade Agreement and its predecessor; the Free Trade Agreement, have radically changed and shaped Canada for the past twenty years. Much of Canada’s concern regarding American influence seems to stem from the effects of implementing the FTA and the NAFTA and how it has altered Canada’s control over its own economy. There are many views on this issue. Lawrence Martin, in his book Pledge of Allegiance: The Americanization of Canada in the Mulroney Years, has put forth that it was Minister C.D. Howe that began the process of Americanization with his policies in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He says of Howe, “Like any businessman the priority for the Minister of Everything was the bottom line. Progress was measured in economic growth, and the best prospects for growth were in integration with the biggest, richest market in the world… In order to grow, Canada had to Americanize” (32). Martin also cites George Grant and his work regarding this issue to further cement his argument that the traditional east-west national economic agenda of the federal government was being threatened by the “arrival of the first post-Howe government to let Bay Street and American values predominate” (32) and also that “the American free-market model would dissipate any sense of national identity” (33). Martin uses this background to show how the Mulroney government touted free trade as a great step forward for Canada but did not pay enough attention to nation-building responsibilities that would “maintain the integrity of the country” (263). Martin charges not only did they fail in this way, but “instead, Mulroney and Wilson had crowned free trade with great doses of deregulation and privatization and a stripping of national institutions: a selling off of the family silverware” (264). Martin is not alone in his assessment of the FTA and the NAFTA, and certainly there are other concerns when examining how this agreement has affected Canada.
James Laxer, in his 2002 article “Wake Up Time. (Canada’s Policy Toward the United States)”, explains how the problem of Americanization is growing rapidly deeper since the implementation of the NAFTA and, like Martin, he believes it has gone on for far longer and is more far reaching than we realize:
For decades the C.D. Howe Institute has been devoted to fostering an ever closer relationship between Canada and the United States. The Institute was publishing papers advocating a free-trade deal between Ottawa and Washington more than a decade before the Mulroney government made this a live political issue. Following the September 11 terror attacks, the Institute began publishing ‘The Border Papers,’ described as ‘a project on Canada’s choices regarding North American integration.’ The Border Papers have been published with the financial backing of the Donner Canadian Foundation, also a well known supporter of continentalist causes.
Laxer is reacting to a report written by Wendy Dobson earlier that year in which she proposed that “Only deeper integration with the U.S. can solve the problems created by the current level of integration” (Laxer 2002). In response to this Laxer says that “Dobson wants to be able to claim that, at the end of the deep integration she proposes, Canada will still enjoy what she calls ‘political independence.’ But beyond issuing stamps and flying the maple-leaf flag, it’s not clear what powers this politically independent Canada would actually exercise” (Laxer 2002).
In contemplating how far we have gone in regards to continentalism, a loud voice in this debate has been heard from Stephen Clarkson, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. In the book Canada Under Free Trade, Clarkson explores the origins of the FTA and concludes:
The recent trade agreements negotiated between Canada, Mexico, and the United States constitute a shift towards the formalization of the previously informal processes of continentalization. They reflect a strategic response by the U.S. to its changing global position and have dramatic I implications for the political position of its two neighbors (4).
In his speech in 2002 entitled “Forget ‘Big Ideas’ Like NAFTA; Fix Public Sector. (Security and Sovereignty)”, Clarkson, writing almost ten years after Canada Under Free Trade, specifically alludes to Wendy Dobson’s “big idea” in the title and then points out that the last big idea, which was the NAFTA, did not work out too well. He states: “My conclusion is fairly simple, unspectacular, and maybe not attractive. It’s to go issue by issue, to be more cautious, to deal with the issues that have to be dealt with… If any big idea is to be considered, it strikes me that it ought to be a rebalancing of the market state relationship” (Clarkson 2002). Clarkson cites many problems that have developed under the NAFTA and among them are the anti-dumping and countervailing laws, low Canadian productivity levels, no significant job increases or raising of the Canadian standard of living, and finally the uselessness of the dispute settlement mechanisms built within the agreement (Clarkson 2002), all of which the NAFTA was supposed to fix.
Many have studied the legislation that the FTA and the NAFTA enacts regarding how free trade affects Canadian sovereignty. Kevin Mulcahy, Professor of Political Science at Louisiana State University, wrote an article entitled “Cultural Imperialism and Cultural Sovereignty: U.S. – Canadian Cultural Relations” that examines if and how Canadian culture is being threatened by American influence. Mulcahy believes that “for Canada… cultural free trade raises the specter of standing unprotected against the forces of American cultural annexation” (Mulcahy 2002). Mulcahy also adds, “It is the threat of cultural deracination that inflames the debate over cultural relations with the United States. The matter is exacerbated further by an internal debate within Canada about its own national identity: postcolonial, bilingual, multicultural” (Mulcahy 2002). Mulcahy then notes that Americans view culture as a commodity, while Canadians view it as an extension of national identity. Under the FTA and NAFTA, cultural industries are exempt. But what exactly is considered a cultural industry has been debated over since the implementation of the NAFTA. He concludes this section by saying “for many Canadians a good deal of American cultural content is seen as incompatible with Canadian values. Other Canadians see free trade as more a ‘day of opportunity’ than a ‘day of capitulation,’ believing that ‘the resulting economic security will lead to a more independent voice for Canada.'” (Mulcahy 2002). Mulcahy then describes how each form of media is regulated under the FTA and NAFTA paying special attention to the controversy over split-run magazines. Mulcahy then argues “the collective discourse necessary to critically define the future of a nation’s value system has a greater likelihood of being inspired by its high-cultural products and their producers and consumers” (Mulcahy 2002) and is ultimately what really matters so Canada would do well to try to protect that instead of resist the less influential popular culture of the U.S. because, after all, “in the realm of Canadian-U.S. cultural relations, there may be little choice for Canada but to accept some of the inevitable consequences of being in an American sphere of influence” (Mulcahy 2002).
American popular culture and its persistent influence in Canadian society has always been a concern for nationalists. In a collection of essays entitled The Beaver Bites Back?, Paul Rutherford contributes his point of view on this issue. He writes an essay called “Made in America: The problem of Mass Culture in Canada”, which details the history of the American medias’ domination of Canada. Rutherford also attempts to explain how the nationalist programming in radio and television has gone wrong. “The efforts of Canadian television at home were and are a cause for lamentation only among those people who believed in the impossible: that television really could give birth to a Canadian Pop-Cult” (276). He charges the cultural elite for perpetuating this myth and that his “crucial point is that the forty-ninth parallel has only slight cultural significance nowadays” (277). He then poses that three self-images have lingered through Canadian history: the first portrays Canada as a peaceable kingdom, the second as a great wilderness, and the third as a perpetual colony, or victim. He personally believes in the notion that Canada is the first because it “admits, if only by implication, the importance of the public arts and a distinct political culture as the source of lasting definition of Canada” (279). Rutherford ends by saying “mass culture in itself does not pose, and never has posed, a direct threat to the Canadian identity, because consumers have ‘read’ its messages through a special lens made in Canada. Canada is living proof that the doctrine of nationalism does not really explain how things work” (280).
Another view that adds to this debate, but from a purely political manner is David Frum. In his book entitled What’s Right: The New Conservatism And What It Means For Canada, Frum states “In truth, it is not the ethic of personal responsibility and limited government that we call conservatism that betrays Canada’s national character. On the contrary, it is the statism and moral weakness of the past thirty years that have traduced the real nature of our country” (3) Frum also charges that it is the socialist vision that perpetuated the era of big government and that socialist policies, like the CBC and Medicare, did not constitute a national identity (2). He furthers this argument by stating that “Conservatives want to roll back the state not because they envision human beings as selfish individualists who must be left alone to make as much money as they can, but because they see the functions of real communities being usurped by overweening governments” (5). Frum belongs on the extreme right of the political spectrum and he says this about free trade in 1989, “Free trade broke the elite consensus by which Canada is normally governed-and the electorate got a rare moment of real power” (194). Frum is obviously a firm believer that it is the lefts socialist vision that has comprised Canada’s identity and he also believes that is the mission of the right to correct it.
This research would not be complete without a word from those who have actually tried to measure and compare the value systems of Canada and the United States and how they affect Canadian political culture. One such study was undertaken three university students; it is entitled “Public Opinion on Federalism and Federal Political Culture in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, 2004”. The focus of analysis is found in the abstract: “This study reports on public opinion surveys on fiscal value, taxation, trust and confidence in governments, and federal political culture conducted in Canada, Mexico, and the United States in June 2004” (Cole, Kincaid, Rodriguez 2004). The field work is done by three companies of professional pollsters from each country, and then compiled by the Canadian group Environics. In this study they concluded that “Canadians continue to be considerably less supportive of their federal government and noticeably more supportive of their local governments, than are respondents from Mexico and the United States” (Cole, Kincaid, Rodriguez 2004). Furthermore, they also find that “Reasonable evidence was presented, we believe, to support the federal culture hypotheses of scholars who have suggested that federalism is as much a function of a ‘way of thinking’ as it is of particular constitutional and structural arrangements. The students also “acknowledge–as have others–the great difficulty with measuring and assessing the concept ‘federal political culture,’ and we offer our findings as only a tentative, first attempt at such measurement and evaluation” (Cole, Kincaid, Rodriguez 2004). In conclusion I would like to say that I found overwhelming evidence that American culture is
pervasive and unavoidable in Canada, but there is no real evidence that it changes who we are as
Canadians, however, I have not found a single workable definition of what it means to be Canadian. .I have also found much evidence that the FTA and the NAFTA have drastically altered this country in ways not foreseen and a lot of it is political and seems to threaten Canadian sovereignty. I want to also add that it was impossible to answer my own question and it has been a long and arduous journey just examining all points related to this debate.
Clarkson, Stephen. “Forget ‘big ideas’ like NAFTA; fix public sector.” (Security and Sovereignty). Canadian Speeches. 16.4 (Sept-Oct 2002): 40(3). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. InfoTrac.
Frum, David. What’s Right: The New Conservatism and What It Means For Canada. Toronto: Random House of Canada, 1996. 2-5, 194.
Laxer, James. “Wake up time. (Canada’s policy toward United States).” Canadian Dimension 36.6 (Nov-Dec 2002): 16(4). Expanded Academic ASAP. Thomson Gale. InfoTrac.