New York Times Upfront: December 2014 Excerpt of Merger of the Century
When Canadians travel, they often pin maple-leaf flags to their backpacks so they won’t be mistaken for Americans.
Americans, on the other hand, are often shocked to learn that many of their favorite “American” celebrities—Justin Bieber, Ryan Gosling, and Avril Lavigne, to name just a few—are actually Canadian.
Perhaps we seem so alike because we get along so well. We’re both multicultural and live in nations based on the same principles of democracy, free enterprise, and the rule of law. No two countries in the world are as integrated, economically and socially, as the U.S. and Canada. We share geography, values, and the longest unprotected border—5,525 miles long—in the world. So why not share a government?
Merging Canada and the U.S. into one massive country wouldn’t just create the greatest Olympic hockey team in history. It would solve the biggest problems that each nation faces: America’s declining living standards and Canada’s difficulty developing and protecting its huge landmass—a problem that stems from not having enough workers, capital, technology, and military might.
It may sound radical. It would indeed be the boldest redrawing of the North American map since Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon in 1803 and doubled the size of the young United States. But considering the threats both nations will confront if they continue on separately, radical may be the best solution.
The U.S. and Canada face problems that have been brewing for decades, but two recent events were especially damaging: the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. and the 2008 financial crisis, both of which hurt the economies of both countries. Emerging nations like China and India, however, didn’t skip a beat, and their economies, driven by their huge populations, are increasingly threatening America’s economic supremacy.
Nations in distress must behave like businesses and think outside the box. The best option for the U.S. and Canada to survive the new economic reality would be to become one nation. It would be the Merger of the Century.
If you think about the extent to which the two countries have been economically and culturally integrating for years, the idea isn’t as crazy as it first sounds.
In a 2010 poll, Americans named Celine Dion as America’s greatest singer, even though she’s Canadian. In 2012, the biggest television-viewing event in Canada was the Super Bowl. More than 3 million Canadians—about 10 percent of the population—live full- or part-time in the U.S. and 1 million Americans live in Canada.
The two countries are already each other’s biggest customers. In 2012, almost 74 percent of Canada’s exports went to the U.S., and
19 percent of U.S. exports were sold to Canadians. Canada is the biggest export customer for 36 of the 50 states.
Border traffic has become enormous. In 2009, Canadians made more than 39 million trips to the U.S. and Americans made more than 20 million trips to Canada.
But the border is no longer working properly for either nation, and that can be traced to the 9/11 attacks. Since then, increased security has created bottlenecks at land-crossing points, as long lines of trucks wait to get goods to their destinations. The only foolproof way to fix the border is to eliminate it altogether.
There are many other reasons why a merger would be a good idea, starting with demographics. Economic success, says Canadian demographer David Foot, can be predicted based on the age of a country’s population. The U.S., thanks to a higher birthrate and lots of immigrants, has enough young people to sustain future growth, but Canada is aging rapidly. For Canada, that means a future of slow growth, labor shortages, and higher healthcare costs.
Likewise, the United States needs to recalibrate. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy, and since World War II, the nation has prospered like no other, thanks to its plentiful resources and little competition. But those days may be over. The U.S. has been damaged by the 2008 financial crisis, a $17.5 trillion national debt, and political gridlock in Washington.
Then there’s the issue of China’s growing influence in Canada, which threatens not just Canada’s long-term security, but America’s too. In 2012, Beijing pulled off its biggest foreign takeover anywhere in the world when Canada allowed the $15 billion Chinese purchase of a large Canadian oil company.
China has targeted Canada for years because of its enormous deposits of oil sands (a mix of clay, sand, water, and oil), its undeveloped resources, its access to the Arctic, and its vast landmass capable of supporting millions more people.
“Canada has been referred to in jest as the 51st state due to its reliance on the U.S. as a key export market,” says Philip Colmar of Macro Research Board, a consulting firm in Montreal. “However, it is becoming more accurate to regard Canada as another province of China.”
If China succeeds in capturing control over much of Canada’s resources and its Arctic region, the relationship between the U.S. and Canada would be disrupted, as would oil shipments.
Meanwhile, Canada has very little military strength with which to discourage interference or patrol its vast borders. Canada’s active military personnel totals 68,250, or roughly the seating capacity of Candlestick Park in San Francisco, where the 49ers played football until last year.
So how would becoming one nation solve the problems that the U.S. and Canada face?
The merged nation would be an energy and economic powerhouse. It would have a larger economy than the European Union or the economies of Japan, China, Germany, and France combined. It would control more oil, water, arable land, and resources than any other country—and enjoy the protection of America’s mighty military. Much of Canada is virtually empty, providing enormous development opportunities.
The merged nation would be the world’s energy superpower: Its oil and gas reserves would allow it to become permanently self-sufficient in terms of energy. Canada’s oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s. And Canada also has vast untapped wind and hydropower potential.
The benefits for agriculture would be huge—and would offer a big competitive advantage in an increasingly populous world. Canada has 1 percent of the world’s population and 20 percent of its water. In the U.S., however, many areas are suffering from prolonged drought. Some experts say America could double its land devoted to agriculture if more irrigation were available.
The ultimate synergy would be connecting Canadian development potential and natural resources with American money and workers. Canada is the world’s third-largest producer of aluminum and second-largest producer of uranium. It ranks fifth in diamonds and in the top five in nickel and salt. This is despite the fact that most of Canada has never been explored by humans. To truly tap its mineral wealth, Canada needs U.S. investment, expertise, and millions of workers.
Those jobs would be welcomed by the U.S., since more than 9 million Americans are jobless and another 7 million have only temporary or part-time jobs.
The status quo is not an option. A partnership between two successful countries would be a logical strategy. Joining their talented populations, their capital, and their technology to develop an untapped resource-rich region the size of Australia represents one of the greatest business and geopolitical opportunities in history. The combination would be unbeatable.
The politics may be difficult, but so were those surrounding the successful negotiation of the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, which eased trade restrictions between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico) and the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway (which provides shipping access to the middle of North America).
The first step would be a referendum in Canada and a vote in the U.S. Congress to prove there’s support. Then the countries would launch negotiations aimed at forming an economic union along the lines of the European Union. A full political merger could follow but is probably unlikely unless a crisis prompts it. After all, it would require writing a new constitution.
Or maybe we could go back to the old one. The Articles of Confederation (1781-88), which preceded the U.S. Constitution, granted Canada a special deal to join the United States at any time.
“It was not so unusual an idea back then,” says journalist Anthony DePalma, who has written extensively about Canada and its history.
It’s an idea whose time has come again.