Courtesy Reuters

Canada Rediscovers Its History

DURING the past year a new tone in Canadian comment on relations with the United States has caught American attention. The tone is sharper and more critical; the complaints appear larger. American editorial writers and inquiring Congressmen have discovered Canada's dissatisfaction, and some of them have laid the blame at the door of United States policies. Others are at least ceasing to take it for granted that the neighborly relations between these two countries must automatically provide a model for the world. Two House Committees have sent investigating representatives to Canada where none had ever paid an official visit before. The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations has listed Canadian-U.S. relations as one of its dozen subjects for study at this session.

The present Ambassador to Canada, Livingston Merchant, one of the most perceptive Canada has ever received from the United States, said in a speech early this year: "When I came to Ottawa two years ago, I did not believe that, as the problems multiplied and became more complex, the atmosphere itself might change and with the change solutions become more difficult. But this I now believe may be happening. There have been for a year or more signs of a change in mood or climate which it behooves both our countries to look at." One of Mr. Merchant's virtues as an ambassador is his willingness to acknowledge differences and to reject the facile soothing phrases which have lamentably become the common language of Canadian-U.S. exchanges. His next sentences were characteristic: "I am convinced that there is a basic friendliness and respect between our two peoples," he said. "This is well, for we each have deep need of the other. This basic attitude, however, does not automatically produce good relations."

What has happened to cause the change of climate which Mr. Merchant remarks? Why is there so much new concern on both sides about relations between Canada and the United States? Has Canada suddenly become a difficult neighbor? Or is it some long-submerged problem coming at last to the surface?

A current list of Canadian complaints about United States policy can be compiled easily, and partly according to taste. It must include the farm products disposal program, which seriously cut into Canadian wheat markets last year. More recently came the restrictions on oil imports into the United States, including the Pacific states, which is particularly irritating because the only legislative sanction the Administration can find is defense necessity, and this is obviously nonsensical in relation to Alberta. The threat of higher duties on lead and zinc has been hanging over Canadian mines for so long that each crisis becomes more exacerbating than the last, for each is accompanied by official and unofficial warnings: "Now this time it really is serious." Behind these lie a batch of agricultural restrictions, some of which have been on again and off again, and others of which are so old that Canada has learned to live with them. Recent additions to the all-too-familiar list of trade restrictions include a host of problems connected with energy, especially in the forms of gas, oil and water power. Canadians had come to suspect that they were in danger of losing their lawful share of the water-power resources of the Columbia River basin, until a former military hero, General Andrew G. L. McNaughton, came to the rescue in a new rôle, as Canadian Chairman of the International Joint Commission. He certainly has started to assert Canadian rights vigorously enough, and the public is behind him. Water power, electricity and gas all have this in common: the supply must be dependable. Export and import of natural gas by pipeline must involve a reliable and enduring commitment; and this makes it a new and vital problem in relations between our two countries.

Canadians are depressed by the decline of Cordell Hull's dream of reciprocal trade, not because it was adequate but because it was better than nothing. President Eisenhower, in his anxiety to keep even a lingering token of the Trade Agreements Act, has watered down his proposal so far that it hardly seems to matter whether the Congress accepts it or not. In another field of fundamental concern to both the United States and Canadian Governments, many people are uneasy about the military installations and gadgetry which the U.S. Air Force wants to put into the Canadian North. This applies to the air stations and DEW line radar posts already installed, as well as to the list of demands which they suspect is to come. It is not hostility to the idea of common defense which lies behind this; it is lack of faith in the Pentagon's capacity to be the final judge of what defense installations are really essential, together with the inevitable reluctance to have U.S. forces chasing all over the Canadian North in that extravagant way which public fancy attributes to them.

A majority of Canadians are also finding that the reports of Mr. Dulles's latest lecture on someone else's wickedness add little to the instruction and nothing to the entertainment of the morning paper, where they appear with remarkable frequency. As an irritant at the breakfast table the only person more exasperating is the State Department's anonymous spokesman with his invariable condemnation of the latest Russian communication. Some cynics now entertain serious doubts whether the spokesman, or those he represents, ever takes time to read the notes before condemning them. The Washington spokesman's opinions on diplomatic exchanges with Moscow have become the most depreciated coin in daily international exchange.

But Canadians have lived with these, or broadly similar, vexations throughout their country's history. Why, at this time, should the mood change for the worse? A new Canadian Government came into office last June after 22 years of Liberal rule. Is it responsible? The Conservative Prime Minister, Mr. Diefenbaker, and his ministers have already been under attack from the new Liberal leader, Mr. Pearson, on this very charge. Their speeches about American trade policies and investments in Canada are said to have jeopardized good relations. Yet only last October, when Mr. St. Laurent was still Liberal leader, he said in his opening House of Commons speech on government policy that he could not find anything in Conservative speeches "which had not been said very well and at least as forcibly by members of the Liberal Government."

It is confusing even for Canadians. The clue to remember is that every Canadian party tries to establish two claims about its relations with the United States. The first is that it can get more consideration from Washington than its opponents can get. The second is that it stands up to Washington more firmly in defense of Canadian rights. Mr. St. Laurent was directing himself to the second claim; Mr. Pearson to the first. The verbal contradiction therefore conceals a complementary intent. The paradox at least serves to emphasize the fact that the most vital and delicate problem for every Canadian Government is how to manage its relations with the United States. It is also the problem which is least likely to be discussed with any real candor in public. It touches too many sensitive spots in politics, economics and finance. If Ottawa is not afraid of offending some of its own voters by a clumsy comment, then it fears alarming American investors, or the State Department, or the Pentagon or some section of the American press. Real opinions on this subject, therefore, tend to be expressed behind the hand, while public utterances are governed by diplomacy, correctitude and banality.

In this age when every nation in the Western world is in some degree dependent on the United States, Canada has taken to insisting on the distinction of having never accepted American aid--neither during the war nor since. Canada alone both contributed its own share and gave aid without receiving any. Yet a peculiar position of special dependency is inescapable for Canada. It results from the occupation of so much territory by so few people in such close contiguity to a neighbor who is rich enough to indulge in periodic fits of absent-mindedness. Canada's proud ability to pay its own way is still contingent in the last resort on the United States pursuing economic policies which give Canada a chance. Such open vulnerability in so many different parts of the economy can easily make Canada querulous or touchy.

None of these facts change with a change of government. Ambassador Merchant pointedly placed the beginning of the "change of mood or climate" a clear six months before last year's election. This implies that it may have been part of the reason for the Conservatives' victory, but cannot have been its result. Mr. Merchant was hinting therefore at a change more deeply rooted than party politics; and this was remarkably percipient because most Canadians are not yet fully aware of the change nor of its causes.

The decisive moments in a nation's life and thought are never conclusively distinguished until many years after their occurrence. The rare politician of genius presumably enjoys the ability to sense the underlying current of thought before it comes to the surface. At his best he may give it partial and intermittent expression; but even he will leave his biographer to define what he dimly sensed. It is far too early, then, to be dogmatic about what happened in Canada in 1957. But there are enough suggestive signs and hints to believe it worth taking seriously; and if it is taken seriously, then the change in Canadian mood will not soon pass because it is rooted in the Canadian national character.

On June 10, 1957, the Canadian public decisively repudiated the Liberal party to which it had entrusted its fortunes, placidly if not always enthusiastically, for 22 uninterrupted years. Many proximate and relatively superficial discontents could account for the outcome, but it is clear that beyond these the election marked a change of era in Canadian history. Some restless, subliminal dissatisfaction with accepted modes of thought about the nation's affairs found decisive expression in the ballots that day. How far the new and still inchoate mood will affect relations with the United States or trade policy or defense or foreign affairs, it is too early to say. The probabilities will be suggested. But they can only be considered in relation to the basic change in outlook which is here postulated. What was the switch in outlook which justifies this assessment?

The Liberals' years now left behind were stamped, by Mackenzie King and his followers, as the period of independence. What Professor Donald Creighton once naughtily called the "authorized version of Canadian history according to Mackenzie King" was built on the Liberals' assertion of Canadian nationality against the lingering remnants of British power. As Dr. Creighton said, it was the preservation of a myth which had lost both validity and utility a quarter of a century ago. The essential recognition of independence for the British Dominions was already won by R. L. Borden, the Conservative wartime Prime Minister, before King ever came to power. But King's era included the 1926 Imperial Conference which defined the new Commonwealth, the growth of Canada's own diplomatic service, and a self-conscious pride in the new nation's ability to stand on its own feet and abandon London's leading strings. Some have alleged that the Liberals' claim to be the champions of Canadian independence against old colonial habits proved so good a vote-getter that the imperial bogey was deliberately kept alive for this reason. That seems farfetched. The illusion was probably perpetuated more by mental inertia than political contrivance.

To Americans, who settled the problem of colonial rule by direct, bloody but decisive means so much earlier, it must seem very quaint that Canada felt impelled to assert its political and psychological independence up to the present generation. But so it was. And as a result, Mackenzie King and his contemporaries tended to think in terms of geography rather than history, of economics rather than nationality. There were at various times excellent reasons to insist on Canada's "American-ness." After the Second World War, particularly, there were highly practical reasons for relying more and more on commercial and financial ties with the United States. But it takes only a little exaggeration to overbalance the truth; and in emphasizing the importance of geography and economics, the Liberals neglected the influence of history. And the consequence of neglecting history was to submerge half of Canada's reason for existence.

Canadian nationhood has been constructed in the face of two powerful foes, not one. In recent years, Canadian energies have been directed toward escaping from colonial rule. Neglected has been the need to guard the new nation--its overseas ties transformed but still intact--from the ever-present danger of absorption or annexation by the United States. The American threat to Canada was never primarily military. The military clashes, notably in 1812, 1838 and 1866, all turned into futilities. But in the last century every weapon of diplomacy and commercial pressure was used by Washington against the infant Canadian nation; and it early became a deep-rooted instinct in Canadians to avoid too close commercial dependence on the United States for fear of its leading to political dominance. This fear killed the Canadian Liberals' bid for commercial union or far-reaching reciprocity in the 1880s. It defeated Laurier's reciprocity treaty in 1911. It frightened every succeeding government away from public discussion of reciprocal, bilateral trade agreements with the United States.

This inhibition has not, however, entirely precluded private discussion of reciprocity. After the Second World War, Senator Robert Taft, then regarded as one of the chief apostles of American protectionism, was ready to advocate free trade with Canada (reviving unknowingly the unfulfilled agreement his father had made with Laurier). At the same period Mackenzie King authorized discreet inquiries by Canadian officials in Washington looking to the same end. Nothing came of them. The dream was, unexpectedly and equally privately, revived at the first meeting between President Eisenhower and Prime Minister St. Laurent in Washington in the spring of 1953. The President, with Secretaries Charles Wilson, George Humphrey and John Foster Dulles, suggested to Mr. St. Laurent (accompanied by Lester B. Pearson and J. W. Pickersgill) that the United States would like free trade with Canada. Failing that, the Americans said, why not a sort of "super-favored-nation" treatment? The Canadians recoiled. They explained that their interest was in more liberal treatment by the United States of the United Kingdom (then struggling with an approach to convertibility) and Europe. Such widened trade links could, with American support, open doors for Canada overseas as well as in North America.

This renewed rejection of an exclusive trading partnership came, it is to be noted, from a Liberal régime which had appeared to be largely negligent of the historic fear of economic dependence. When the Liberals left office last year, the United States had secured about two-thirds of Canada's total trade; and American companies controlled almost as large a proportion of Canada's most productive industries--manufacturing, mining, petroleum and forest industries.

In terms of long-range national strategy, no doubt a case can be argued for or against this increasing concentration of trade and foreign ownership. But in terms of tactics, the Liberals mishandled it both in relation to domestic Canadian politics and in their dealings with Washington. Behind these errors lay the basic falsity of an outlook which had overemphasized Canada's geography and put excessive faith in the unhindered play of economic forces. The vote in 1957 was, in effect, a demand for a redress of the balance between historical and economic forces.

This movement of opinion is properly represented by the Conservative party, for this is its traditional rôle. Yet in terms of practical policies it will not do to equate the Liberals with continentalism, nor the Conservatives with imperial connections. The reality is more complicated. The generalization cannot be pressed beyond saying that the two parties have shown these broad orientations. Even then, it must be noted that the resurgent Conservative party under John Diefenbaker's leadership is very far removed from the earlier Canadian concept of Tory principles. It has little or no connection with "big business," far less than its Liberal predecessor. Its ministry relies heavily on schoolmasters. Although the inevitable lawyers are prominent, the leading one is Mr. Diefenbaker himself, and he made his name as counsel in criminal cases, mainly before western juries. He was "a poor man's lawyer." Even Canadians have been slow to recognize the significance of a fact which Mr. Diefenbaker has repeatedly, but unobtrusively, pointed out. He is the first Canadian Prime Minister who was not of purely British or French stock. (Mr. St. Laurent was half-Irish, half-French.) He is not the man to restore the Tory imperialism which some people have considered inseparable from the Conservative party. He has brought into his cabinet the first minister of Ukrainian origin; he did it without beating a drum or blowing a trumpet. The record of the first nine months also includes the first Chinese member of Parliament (recently elected President of the Young Conservatives), the first Icelander and the first Indian appointed to the Senate.

This new insistence on racial equality means not a weakening but a broadening of Canada's overseas ties. The British connection remains the most lively; it has the surest historical foundation and it is supported by Canada's continued, and perhaps even growing, attachment to the new Commonwealth. But it is no longer exclusive. Just as the United Kingdom is attempting to ally itself more closely with the European economy, so Canada is coming to regard its British tie as a link with Europe. This is implicit in the large immigration from Europe since the war, which has strengthened the Canadian population with a different kind of immigrant from the prewar years: a high proportion are intellectuals, scientists, teachers, artists, musicians. They have made possible, with the immigrants from Britain, most of Canada's cultural ventures in drama, ballet and music. They have destroyed what John Farthing described as the illusion of "a Canadian culture springing spontaneously from the barren rocks of the Laurentian Shield." They have helped to restore a sense of Canada's historic roots on the other side of the Atlantic, for lack of which, said Farthing, "we had left ourselves nothing better to do than to boast ad nauseam how increasingly important we were to be."

The Conservatives in Canada have taken power on the wave of a rediscovery of history. It means a revival of those ties that run east and west, both within Canada and beyond its shores. It means a restoration of the tension between these historic links and the north-south attractions which geography and economics impose. The immediate problem, for Canada and for the United States, is to devise practical policies which will take account of this tension which derives inevitably from their coexistence on the North American continent.

Will the change of mood and climate in Canada necessarily make more difficult the solution of outstanding problems with the United States? Ambassador Merchant seemed to fear it. But it need not be so. If returned to power, the Conservatives will inherit the same facts that the Liberals had to grapple with. "No matter how they be obscured or modified, the basic factors remain basic," said George Ferguson, the editor of the Montreal Star recently. "What we are talking about is the relations between a great, rich and powerful country with a much smaller, much poorer and much weaker neighbor."

It is virtually certain, however, that Canadian-American relations will sound different in the next few years. There will be much less pretense from north of the border that Canadian and United States interests necessarily march side by side. There will be less inclination to silence legitimate Canadian claims for fear of provoking American retaliation in some unrelated sector. There will be more emphasis on Canada's overseas ties as a protective covering against the embarrassment of naked exposure to the United States. And Canada may learn to appraise more thoroughly the complex forces which go to the making of United States policy. It is less likely in the new mood to imagine that Canadian interests are at the center of American thought. It will be less anxious to pretend that everything in Canadian-U.S. relations is nearing perfection. It may even profit from showing how difficult they are. Yet the final result may be beneficial.

Already, because of a few uncompleted and ill-planned gestures towards the strengthening of Canada's overseas ties, much of the American press and many interested sections of Congress have begun to consider Canadian-U.S. relations as a subject deserving of study. They are beginning to support Mr. Merchant's statement that "we each have deep need of the other." This is a change matching the Canadian change. It abandons the illusion that good relations can be taken for granted. The difference is that in Canada the illusion could never have been maintained without a distortion of the country's whole historical experience. In the United States it was convenient to maintain it as long as Canadian complacency lasted.

The restoration of a proper historical balance in Canada's outlook will restore the essential tension of Canada's equivocal position between the two worlds of history and geography. It will make for more realistic judgments of American policy. It should restore the kind of relationship which is normal and proper between neighbors, in which a few hard words now and then keep things on a realistic basis. This is the basis upon which bargains can be made, when neither side expects to get its way without making some concession, too.

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