By Ryan McGreal
Published August 23, 2007
Yesterday, RTH reported an alleged incident of police officers attempting to infiltrate the protesters at the North American security summit in Montebello, Quebec to incite violence and give the police reason to arrest them.
It's not the job of the police to take sides in political confrontations. It's their job to enforce the law, period. When the protesters are non-violent, as they clearly were in the video, the police have absolutely no business trying to transform a peaceful demonstration into a riot. In fact, it runs directly counter to their proper role.
However, the purpose of the agents provocateurs is to undermine the purpose of the demonstration by associating it with violence and radicalism in the minds of observers and the public. Such behaviour by the police is profoundly anti-democratic.
Of course, that's in keeping with the anti-democratic spirit of the summit itself.
A long colonialist thread runs through Canada's collective history and will. Canada started as a British colony and over the 20th century turned into a de facto American colony. This was due in part to Canada's system of branch plant industrialization, in which American companies were allowed to sell their products in Canada in exchange for opening subsidiary manufacturing plants here.
As a result, most of Canada's biggest corporations are arms of American corporations, and their executives want what's good for the head office. The Canadian business and political elites who operate in this milieu seek to ingratiate themselves more closely with their colonial masters on the Potomac.
However, most Canadians, like the citizens of most countries, viscerally reject this abasement and politically resist eroding what makes Canadians distinct. In this case, due to our relative geographic isolation and the overweening influence of our much larger neighour, being Canadain is usually defined as opposed to being American.
The reality is that Canadian and American culture are very similar. They spring from the same cultures of origin, have experienced similar histories on the same continent, struggle with many of the same problems, govern themselves according similar political systems, and consume the same popular media productions (mostly produced in the US with an American perspective).
Canadian distinction seems to have boiled down to supporting universal health care and slightly more generous social programs, having a high quality state-owned but independently operated media network (the venerable CBC), and maybe driving a higher proportion of hatchbacks.
Of course, our business elites want to roll these distinctions back as well.
In their attempts to manage the competing streams of popular nationalism and elite colonialism, Canadian politicians try to distance themselves rhetorically from the US even as they simultaneously work to engineer closer continental integration in the background.
Attempts to wipe out national sovereignty through business-friendly multilateral frameworks is nothing new. It's the impetus behind the General Agreement on Tarriffs and Trade (GATT) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), and it was the impetus behind the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), which tried to move all social services under corporate control across the 28 OECD members.
In North America, that impetus took the shape of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), passed against majority opposition in Canada, which abrogated much Canadian sovereignty in exchange for ostensible access to American markets. In reality, it was an investment agreement rather than a trade agreement, eliminating controls and performance requirements for cross-border investments.
It also tagged on an agreement prohibiting Canada from reducing its energy exports to the US for any reason (so much for the "free trade" part). In the next few years, as natural gas production goes into sharp decline, this will become a political flash point.
The problem in Canada, as in the US, is that both major parties support this agenda of continental harmonization under the US umbrella. The continental security summit is part of a formal process started by former Prime Minister Paul Martin, a corporatist Liberal who owns an international shipping company (flying under flags of convenience to avoid Canadian labour law) and with close ties to the financial sector.
While the Liberals were making anti-American noises to attract the left-leaning and independent elements of the traditional Liberal base - like announcing Canada wouldn't join the "Coalition of the Willing" or rejecting 'partnership' in the US Ballistic Missile Defense program - they were also laying the foundations for an continental framework that subsumes Canadian interests from trade and investment to labour and environmental policy, immigration, law and security, and continental defence.
The biggest difference between Martin, whose party lost re-election in 2006 over an influence peddling scandal, and Stephen Harper, the current Prime Minister, is that the former supported colonial integration tacitly whereas the latter supports it openly.
The Conservative Party's platform closely mirrors that of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), which lobbied relentlessly to support the FTA and NAFTA when it was still called the Business Council on National Issues.
The CCCE plan for "21st Century Institutions" would cede Canada's authority to supranational entities – "A North American court on trade and investment", "Extension of the NORAD model of binational operational management to the defence of critical infrastructure", "A formal mechanism to enable the sharing of information and intelligence at the provincial, state and local levels", and, of course, "Formal exchanges among senior levels of the business community in all three countries."
Since winning a minority government, Harper has had to tone down his pro-American sentiments the same as he has had to tone down his opposition to universal health care (before joining the Conservatives, he spent nearly a decade as the president of a corporate lobby group dedicated to ending universal health care). Nevertheless, he is still moving incrementally toward his larger goals.
Realistically, this summit is more about pomp and ceremony than substance, but it represents a commitment among the leaders in Canada, the US and Mexico to continue moving toward a continental integration that puts the finishing touches on the continental economic model that has emerged over the past two decades.
The continental economy is characterized by cheap Canada energy and resources, cheap Mexican labour, and an overarching trend toward protecting and nurturing US corporate interests at the expense of civil liberties, democracy, social welfare and the environment.