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History Table of Contents
1999 Winter Conference
Winter Conference 1999
The New Europe and the Atlantic Relationship
Growth, change and opportunities...a comprehensive evaluation

"The Future of the British-Canadian-American Relationshp"

Address Given by the Honourable Conrad M. Black

Any analysis in this country of the relationship between Canada, Britain and the United States must start with an examination of current Canadian foreign policy. I believe and will try to demonstrate that the greatest opportunity for Canadian foreign policy resides in our capacity for innovation in that relationship with those two most important countries in the history of the development of Canada. I am afraid for reasons that I will detail that the current official policy, though sincere, energetic and commendably concerned with human rights, is substantially mistaken in its premises and misses altogether the principal opportunity that awaits us.

The foreign minister, Lloyd Axworthy, is promoting a notion of "soft power" that is essentially an attempt to put Canada at the head of as large a number as possible of secondary and tertiary countries, to take issue with the world as it has evolved under the leadership of the United States and the six or seven countries in the second rank of importance in the world. "Soft power" is a pastiche of benign intentions, emollient methods and serene confidence. It is based on the hope rather than the experience that Canada can persuade a large number of countries to confer influence upon themselves by standing on each others shoulders espousing universal goals and dismantling what is left of the alliance system. Some of the manifestations of this policy are relatively innocuous, such as the crusade against land mines, although that particular initiative should be more selective as anyone familiar with the demarcation between North and South Korea is aware. There the precise putting down of mines has greatly assisted in preventing the resumption of a terrible war. The flirtation with NATO's adoption of a no first use pledge in respect of nuclear weapons is absurd. No one of sound mind could imagine that the United States, the United Kingdom or France, which possess those weapons would use them in any but the most dire circumstances and their existence is the greatest deterrent the civilised world possesses against the international use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons by chronically irresponsible states.

The current Canadian proposal for reform of the United Nations, expanding the Security council and reducing the veto, is mere pandering. Vetos have been exercised only about once a year through the 90s and Mr Axworthy's proposals, though billed as pro-democratic, do not reward either democratic or populous countries.

The foreign minister's comments on anti-missile defence for North America are nonsensical and if anyone paid any attention to them they would be dangerous. The anti-ballistic missile treaty negotiated between the Nixon administration and the Brezhnev regime nearly thirty years ago was a sensible step in a time of mutual deterrence and the absence of rogue states in possession of weapons of mass destruction. The Soviet co-signatory has ceased to exist politically. The treaty allows for variance in the event of extraordinary occurrences and there have been many of these, including the recent North Korean testing of a long range missile. Obviously the United States has the right and obligation to defend itself. Canada should be at least discreetly hopeful that, as during the Cold War, it will extend its protective umbrella a couple of hundred miles to the north and protect 95% of Canadians as well. If there is a question of avoiding an unnecessary insensitivity to the Russians, the United States has practically an unlimited number of desirable inducements it can offer to the Russians not for release from the ABM treaty which can be achieved unilaterally, but to secure a more constructive Russian policy in the Middle East and eastern Europe. In any case, these matters will not be influenced by "soft power". The parties that possess the real power will not be much interested in what Canada has to say about them, no matter how successful Lloyd Axworthy may be at orchestrating the opinions of other countries of no possible influence on these events.

The Foreign Minister's views on this subject faithfully reflect his former leader, Pierre Trudeau's utter incomprehension of President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. Although it was an entirely defensive conventional system which contributed vitally to the successful end of the Cold War, Trudeau always regarded it as unfairly destabilizing to his Russian friends.

Any critique of the present policy must start from its origins which clearly lie in the posturings of the middle and later Trudeau era. Whatever his undoubted qualities of leadership in other areas Pierre Trudeau's foreign policy initiatives were embarrassingly and almost uniformly unsuccessful. He laboured for fifteen years to reduce the percentage of Canada's foreign trade that was with the United States and yet that percentage rose steadily. He claimed ceaselessly to be preoccupied with human rights but truckled to virtually every communist leader, showed no sympathy to Soviet dissidents, facilitated the injection of Cuban soldiers into the Angolan war and even shouted "Viva Fidel" within sight of the prison where Armando Valladares and other democratic dissidents were detained and tortured. Trudeau purported to believe that the Yalta agreements legitimized the Soviet occupation of eastern Europe. They did nothing of the kind. They promised free elections in Poland and the Trudeau version is a defamation of Roosevelt and Churchill. Pierre Trudeau's arms control policy, which consisted of a few proposals for more conferences and an unenforceable reduction of defence research expenditure and an endless sequence of demeaning visits to Caesescu, Honecker and other Soviet puppets went virtually unnoticed. But he described them in his memoirs as "an electric jolt along the world's fault line" that contributed importantly to the end of the Cold War.

Brought up in such a school it is little wonder that Lloyd Axworthy has frequent lapses into muddled thinking. There is in this government's obsequious attentions to Castro some of the degrading Trudeau deference to the same regime. It was far from this country's finest hour when Jean Chretién stood by in silence last year while Castro, who has driven out or incarcerated almost one fifth of Cuba's population, accused the United States of genocide. Castro has been not only economically disastrous but socially uncompetitive with the Latin American countries that have democratized and liberalized economically while his forty year Stalinist dictatorship in Cuba has stifled that country.

The Foreign Minister seeks to take advantage of the decisive turn international affairs took with the satisfactory end to the Cold War but I suggest that instead of chasing after the approbation of a miscellany of mainly uninfluential or dubiously motivated countries, Canada is uniquely placed to help reorient and reinvigorate the Western alliance. The alliance won the greatest and most bloodless strategic victory in the history of the world since the rise of the nation state in the Cold War. Instead of being de-emphasised and replaced with clouds of humbug about "soft power" which in practice almost always means the absence of any power at all, we should become more powerful ourselves and seize this opportunity to be usefully persuasive with those countries that are powerful.

The phrase "soft power" was coined by the American academic and former Government official, Joe Nye, in reference to the methods of international persuasion available to the United States apart from its immense military capability. He was referring to the huge economic power and unparalleled popular cultural influence of the United States as well as to its diplomatic and intelligence apparatus. None of these elements has the slightest applicability to Canada. A state may have military power, economic power, even cultural power, a power of public relations usually built around the personality of a galvanizing leader such as the late King of Jordan, or even Fidel Castro before he became completely discredited. A state may even have an unusually great moral authority as Britain did for some time after 1940. But the sort of power of which Mr Axworthy speaks does not exist. 85% of Canada's foreign trade is with the United States which accounts for 40% of our Gross National Product. Over 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S. border and the fact that Canada is the most wire cabled country in the world illustrates the dependence of the Canadian population upon American television. Sheila Copps, who purports to be the official guardian of Canada's culture, although Mordecai Richler is correct when he says that she resembles nothing so much as "the captain of a womens industrial league bowling team", warns that if American magazines are allowed easy access to Canada, television will be next.

The most successful and profitable elements of Canadian television consist of buying the rights to American programmes, telecasting them at the same time as the American networks for which they were produced, pirating the American cable signal and selling advertising for Canadian cable subscribers over the American signal. If the undoubtedly strong Canadian desire to have and exercise some power in the world, soft or otherwise, is to be fulfilled, we must start with a realistic appreciation of our potential and our limitations. As long as Canada makes itself the mouthpiece for all those who object to the implementation of American policies but have no practical ability to alter those policies, we will, as we often have, trade a modest level of American official irritation for some degree of superficial popularity in elements of the third world including its communist remnants. The correlation of forces is such that our spokesmanship is bound to be ineffectual and is therefore unlikely to incur the reprisals from the United States that would oblige us seriously to consider changing the policy.

The fact is that Canada will not be strong in the world as long as it is widely perceived that the country is apt to break up from one year to the next because of the integral secession of Quebec. In his remarks immediately before the 1995 referendum in Quebec the Prime Minister asked Quebeckers not to "vote to break up the country". There has been considerable progress since then to make it clear that a bare majority on a vague question in favour of a separatist option in Quebec would at most lead to the partition of Quebec between federalist and independentist regions with those seeking independence unable to count on any degree of continuing association with Canada. I believe there is room for hope that the time is ending when the independentist leaders in Quebec can represent the secession of Quebec from Canada as a combination of all the joys of independence and all the comforts of confederation. But until all those who deal with Canada internationally have a higher comfort level about the permanence of the country and its political institutions than they do now, no definition of power will be soft enough to describe the position of the Canadian foreign minister.

A second fundamental fact is that, as a practical matter, there is almost no discernible distinction to an outsider between English speaking Canada and the adjacent states of the United States. The cultural differences between Texas and New England, Hawaii and Missouri or Wyoming and Florida are much greater than those that separate Canada, apart from Quebec, from the northern states of the U.S. One of the inevitable and entirely predictable consequences of Canada promoting itself as a place of more generous social programmes than the United States is that many of Canada's most talented people depart to that very accessible country where they will be more widely acclaimed, more generously rewarded and less highly taxed, while all those who have any fear or expectation of being welfare recipients attach themselves to their Canadian nationality like a limpet.

Because there was never any economic rationale for slavery in Canada and because our colonial governors learned enough from the American experience not to provoke a successful revolution here, Canada's sociology is less complicated and gentler than that of the United States. This is an enviable thing but if it is true that this country lacks some of the desperate and crime-addicted elements that can still be found in the U.S. population, although their numbers are in absolute decline, it is also true that we lose an inordinate proportion of our most capable people in virtually every field to the United States and, to a lesser extent, to Britain also.

Canadian taxation and productivity levels are not only driving out talented young people who vote with their feet and their wallets when they go to the U.S., our tax and productivity levels are, as the National Post revealed last week, finally starting to alarm the federal industry department. For decades Canada paid too much for the wage component of its primary and secondary industry costs and maintained its ability to export to the United States by a steady process of devaluation of our dollar opposite the U.S. dollar. Now with our dollar bumping along near a historic relative low, the gap between American and Canadian standards of living has ballooned to thirty percent without factoring in lower U.S. taxes and consumer cost levels. Over the last decade U.S. income per person has advanced at two and one half times the Canadian rate and if Canadian productivity had grown at the same percentage as that of the United States over the last 20 years, the average Canadian family of four would make $30,000 per year more than it now does. It is little wonder in these circumstances that large and increasing numbers of our most educated and talented people are attracted to the United States. More encouraging is the fact, which is also unprecedented, that the Canadian public, after many years of seeming to accept the received humbug that Canadians should pay higher rates of tax than Americans to have more generous social programs, are finally becoming militant about tax reductions. Extensive polling makes it clear that the percentage of Canadians seeking substantial and general reductions of income tax has risen in the last two years from nearly seventy percent to over ninety percent. What the national interest desperately requires possesses the powerful virtue of being what the people almost unanimously demand.

Any Canadian government wishing to maximise Canadian influence in the world should start by making it clear that there will be no secession in Quebec unless Quebec votes to secede by a substantial majority on a clear question and that, in that event, all parts of Quebec who vote not to secede from Canada would then secede from Quebec and remain in Canada. At the same time the Canadian government should set about re-designing our tax and welfare and cultural incentivization policies with appropriate consultation with the provinces, to reduce personal income tax levels on all levels of income as far as possible while retaining a public welfare system that is competitive with but not markedly more generous than that of the more enlightened American states. The very first steps in this new era should be the restoration of private medicine parallel to the publicly assisted system, the tangible encouragement of the provinces to adopt right to work laws to liberate the Canadian workplace as much as possible from the caprices and excesses of irresponsible union leaders, and an absolute prohibition on strikes or work stoppages in the public sector. There is no acceptable reason for this country ever to suffer a school or hospital strike again. Those who perform essential services must, like all other employed people, be paid and treated fairly but they must not put on the airs of a learned profession while intermittently behaving like a reckless industrial trade union. All working conditions must be enforcably legislated to be fair. Those who do not like their jobs are free to retire from them and to seek employment elsewhere. It is only by creating such an enterprise state as this and by advertising its existence that we will retain and attract the most talented people and that we will endow Canada with a spirit of self confidence which when faithfully personified by leaders of the government will plausibly enhance this country's influence in the world.

Instead of gratuitously aggravating the United States from a position of absolute weakness, or shall we say soft absence of power, in exchange for the encouragements of the international anti American community, we should turn our status of similarity to and intimacy and generally good standing with the world's most powerful country into the great asset that it naturally is. If we avoided completely unnecessary abrasions with the United States such as this current foolishness over magazines, we could build the credibility with that country that might enable us to nudge it usefully when we would perform a useful service to the world in doing so.

Such a case could be immigration. There are millions of illegal entrants residing in the United States and many millions of outstanding applications for legal entry into that country. Referenda in California and other states have indicated a high degree of concern about illegal immigration. Successive administrations have made unctuous statements about tightening control of the U.S.'s southern border but obviously it is unacknowledged official policy to admit a substantial number of people who will at least initially do menial work Americans will not do and do it at a wage for which Americans will not work. Nothing is more absurd than the notion that the greatest military power in the history of the world can not control its own borders. Two divisions of the United States Marine Corps deployed along the Mexican border would reduce illegal crossings of that border to zero without firing a shot in anger or delaying any legitimate international travellers. If Canada were more coherent as a country and if its government were less addicted to the practice of impressing less sophisticated Canadians with the spectacle of juvenile controversy with the United States, we would have the standing in this hemisphere, and especially in Washington, to impress upon the government of the United States the desirability of legislating an immigration policy in conformity with the economic and political requirements of that country. And the commendation we would receive for doing it would raise Canada's prestige in the world, would be deserved and would come from serious quarters and not just international anti-American riff-raff. The fact that Canada is the largest trading partner of the United States, is the recipient of so much American investment, and provides, next to California, the largest single audience for the American entertainment industry, is nothing to be embarrassed about and need not be a source of weakness. If the responsibility for this country's place in the world were in the most capable hands available, these facts would become a source of strength.

Obviously there is not time to review a wide range of foreign policy questions here but I will confine myself to one further question which is of the greatest actual or potential importance to Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. In Great Britain all polls indicate that approximately 70% of the population does not wish to go further into the European Union and yet a similar or slightly larger percentage believe that further integration into Europe, though undesirable, is ultimately likely. The principal western continental European countries, Germany, France, Italy and Spain and the European Union as a whole have much higher tax rates, levels of unemployment benefit, public sector shares of gross national product, rigid labour markets and intrusive regulatory environments than the U.K. Apart from Britain, the European Union is, by North American standards, an unabashedly socialist political and economic system. Under the distinguished and courageous leadership of Margaret Thatcher, Britain renounced that degree of socialism and it was only by adopting virtually the entire political and economic manifesto of the Conservative Party and representing himself as the true heir to Margaret Thatcher that Tony Blair won the 1997 election.

For notorious historic reasons centred on the role of discontented mobs in their history, France and Germany choose to pay vast quantities of danegeld to the urban working class and the marginal small farmer. Britain has ceased to do that and like the United States and Canada, the countries with which it has most in common apart from proximity, has prospered with an incentive economy much more briskly than has socialist Europe. In the last six years, Canada has created over a million net new jobs, the U.K. 2_ million, the United States 13 million and the European Union, apart from Britain, had a net job loss of 700,000. In the month of December 1998 the United States created more net new jobs than France and Germany combined have created in the last ten years.

Do you remember during the free trade debate ten years ago when the head of the Canadian Auto Workers, Bob White and the Toronto Star, and much of the Liberal Party warned us against "hitching our wagon to a falling star"? This was their description of the U.S. We should be closer to Europe and the Far East, they said. Today, most of Europe is almost stagnant, much of the Far East is in shambles, and the United States has full employment, no inflation, spectacular growth, moderate taxes, a 10 trillion dollar economy and a huge public sector surplus. And the Canadian left is afflicted by a more merciless attack of amnesia than usual.

The cost to the U.K. annually of E.U. membership in net budgetary contributions and net higher food costs because of the Common Agricultural Policy is about 25 billion Canadian dollars, or 1.5% of Britain's G.D.P. This does not count an annual trade deficit with the E.U. of over 7 billion dollars or the political damage done to the United Kingdom by Scottish nationalist covetousness of the sort of direct grants that have enriched the Republic of Ireland. Nor does it take into account the recent discovery of the normally docile European Union Court of Auditors that about 8% of the Union budget is wastefully or fraudulently squandered.

British trade patterns are clearly distinguishable from those of other E.U. countries. Almost twice as much of Britain's trade, as a percentage, is with North America than is the case with other E.U. countries as a group. The E.U.'s percentage of British exports has declined recently to about 40%, or 10% of G.D.P. Over the last ten years direct net investment in the United Kingdom from the United States and Canada has been 1_ times the corresponding figure for E.U. investment in Britain. And British net direct investment in North America has been more than double U.K. investment in the E.U.

The external tariff of the European Union since the Uruguay Round is down to 3.6% and the longstanding British fear of being frozen out of Europe altogether is now unfounded.

The British do not wish to be integrated into a pre-Thatcherite European economy. In the interests of pan-European harmonization, the institutions of Brussels, which are in practice almost completely unaccountable, produce an endless cascade of directives regulating almost every aspect of life from the stacking of fruit on supermarket shelves to the seasons for shooting birds to the size of a condom. The European tradition is sufficiently authoritarian that this is not oppressive to the minds of most Europeans but it is to the British.

The major continental countries have been very late developing workable political institutions, the German Federal Republic was launched in 1949, the fifth French Republic in 1958, Spain's constitutional monarchy in 1975 and Italy's institutions are still evolving, In pooling sovereignty these countries understandably feel that they are not, in institutional terms, giving up too much. The idea of a united Europe for those countries which seek it, in place of centuries of animosity, is a magnificent and grandiose concept. But Britain has a governmental system that has served the country well and evolved relatively peacefully over many centuries. In the same measure that they do not wish to de-Thatcherise Britain, the British do not wish jurisdictionally to strip Westminster in order to clothe Brussels, Strasbourg and The Hague. Nor do the British wish to close the door on their relationship with Canada and the United States and have that relationship subsumed into the generality of European/American relations. Unfortunately at this point Britain is suffering from an apparent impoverishment of alternatives.

What Canada, with its unique relationship with Britain and the United States, should be doing is generating an invitation for Britain to join a renamed North American Free Trade Area while remaining in the European Common Market. There are already negotiations in progress with Norway towards the same goal. Under such an arrangement Britain and Norway, being members of the Common Market and NAFTA, would have greater free trade access than any other countries in the world. It would be the antithesis of little England and yet Britain would be spared the danger and aggravations of excessive Euro-integration. If the British public knew that this option was available, interest in it would be spontaneous and widespread.

For Canada, especially those Canadians preoccupied with the great contiguity of the United States, closer association with Great Britain would add a highly compatible country which is also one of the world's seven or eight most important countries, to our trading group and make our relationship with the United States a less one-sided one. For the United States the danger of a united Europe ever being a serious rival to it would be practically eliminated if Britain were detached from a federal Europe and encouraged to continue in her historic Atlantic role, politically close to both Europe and North America.

No one should underestimate the extent to which some of the Euro-federalists' enthusiasm is generated by an envious distaste for the United States of a kind considerably more sophisticated and better articulated but not unrelated to that encountered in left wing circles in this country. For many Eurofederalists, the distaste extends to all the so-called anglo-saxons, including us.

These sentiments, of which the U.S. administration is finally beginning to be aware, are in the thoughts of many European leaders. In the early 1990's French president Mitterand said "France does not know it, but we are at war with America. Yes, a permanent war, a vital war, an economic war, a war without death. Yes, they are very hard, the Americans, they are voracious, they want undivided power over the world".

In 1995 in Madrid, Mitterand's successor, Jacque Chirac, extolled the victory of what he called "European values" over the ideology of world conservatism that he imputed to the Anglo-Saxons. In 1996 in Washington, the chief German negotiator of the Maastricht agreements, Horst Kohler, stated that "The Anglo-Saxon model of shareholder value, transparent balances, and short-termism must be rejected".

The United States, the United Kingdom and Canadian national interests would all be served by a British NAFTA association. Why does our foreign minister not take up that initiative instead of embarrassing us by urging the United States to leave itself defenceless against the nuclear blackmail of criminal regimes like North Korea or Iraq? Since the present protectionist impulses of the European Union are not in the foreseeable future going to admit the eastern European states to the Union why don't we broaden NAFTA's trade negotiations to Poland, Hungary and the Czechs? The western Europeans, hiding behind the Greeks, reach out to the Turks whenever they need an ally in the Middle East and reject the Turks whenever Turkey seeks a closer relationship with Europe. Eventually, unless the United States intervenes, the Europeans could produce the unmitigated catastrophe of driving Turkey right out of the West and overturning all the progress in that country of Kemal Attaturk and his more enlightened successors. Turkey would be a prime candidate for a renamed NAFTA also.

Canada should put its own house in order and utilize its relationship with the United States as a fulcrum for leverage rather than an opportunity for grandstanding. We could then play a decisive role in broadening trade relationships, reinforcing the solidarity of the English speaking peoples and translating our alliance's victory over communist totalitarianism into a generous expansion of the prosperity and democratic values of the west to deserving peoples who have long dreamed of it. This, or something like it, not this sophomoric bunkum about soft power, would be an imaginative foreign policy goal for a serious country in Canada's position.