Brian Lee Crowley: Moving Out of America’s Shadow?

It’s the classic tale of hopes dashed through craven failure to heed a hero’s words. Wilfrid Laurier said that Canada would own the twentieth century. It didn’t happen.

As Brian Lee Crowley, Jason Clemens, and Niels Veldhuis tell it, Canadians failed to claim their place in the world because they abandoned Laurier’s economic program (Canada’s Century, Moving Out of America’s Shadow, published this week by Key Porter for the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Policy Studies). But we may yet prevail!  Laurier envisaged this country as an “economic out-performer,” they argue; “a land of work for all who want it, of opportunity, investment, innovation, and prosperity.” We have only to gather up our courage.

The prime interest of this book lies in the comparison of Laurier’s policies with economic reforms of the 1980s that were introduced equally by political parties of the right, left, and centre at both levels of government in an effort to reduce deficits and strengthen the Canadian economy. I will leave the discussion of these reforms and the comparison with Laurier to the economists, noting only that while the book has a strongly nationalist bent – the authors’ hope is that Canada will move out of “America’s long shadow” – the reforms said to exemplify Laurier’s wisdom and Canada’s hopes are typically neo-liberal. It used to be received wisdom that the Canadian way of life was preferable to the American because it was less individualistic and less materialistic. Crowley, Clemens, and Veldhuis argue that the Canadian way – Laurier’s way, as they convince us – is superior because it respects individual freedoms, rewards individual effort, and generates wealth for all.

It’s an inspiring project. There’s one point that need clarifying – needs, I would say, sober second thought. The authors propose a joint committee of Congress and Parliament to determine Canadian-American issues. They write:

“By creating a formal joint body, composed of equal numbers of members from both national legislatures, co-chaired by a Canadian and an American, required to meet regularly and frequently, and empowered to hold hearings, summon witnesses and issue reports to the two originating bodies [Parliament and Congress] we move continental issues into the heart of [policy-makers’] decisions. We engage senators and representatives by giving them a forum to voice their concerns and get their issues on the table. Creating a body where important policymakers get to know one another and learn to cooperate across the border to advance their issues builds relations that can only advance Canada’s interests. (See Canada’s Century, pages 167-169, or the excerpt from Canada’s Century in the National Post, Thursday May 27, A19).

Whoa! A continental legislative committee? I can’t see all the ramifications. Would all political parties be represented? Our four Canadian parties plus their two? What’s the view in the Canadian provinces about this idea of an American-Canadian committee of legislators? The authors suggest that the joint body should meet “regularly and frequently.” Will that mean that members will sometimes be absent from their national legislature on vital matters? Will they sometimes be absent from Parliament and Congress when Canadian-American matters come up at home?

The Canadian Parliament is a national institution, representing all Canadians. Each Member of Parliament speaks for her/his home constituency and also for the country of Canada from coast to coast to coast. The great strength of a parliament is that in law each member must debate national issues with his home constituency in mind, and matters of importance to his constituents with the nation in mind. It’s not an easy thing to do as Edmund Burke knew and as every Canadian MP and Senator knows.

Will a continental legislative committee take us out of America’s shadow? Or effect a continental political integration?

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