Blogs & Comment

Merger proposal: The United States of North America

A marriage between Canada and the United States has been proposed to solve American woes.


Imagine a new nation called the United States of North America, which would be formed by merging Canada with the United States and possibly Mexico.

Believe it or not, a recent post on Business Insider suggested this idea could save America from itself or at least help U.S. president Barrack Obama in the polls.

According to John Ellis, editor of Business Insider’s Politix section, the United States obviously needs to do something dramatic to save its economy. He notes some pundits think tax cuts will work, while others want more quantitative easing and Keynesian stimulus. But he thinks more radical thinking is in order.

“What is needed now is something really big, a great notion that allows Americans a whole new view of their future. The idea that just might change everything is a merger between the United States of America and Canada. If President Obama proposed such a union, it could alter the trajectory of history and ignite an explosion of economic activity.”

What would a United States of North America accomplish? Ellis says if America can stomach treating Canadian as equals, and learn to live with Quebec, it would find its energy, food and security needs met while gaining more brainpower, an improved education institutional base, financial system stability and better health care coverage. And if it didn’t work (or the Canadians rejected the tender offer), he argues Obama would still be “credited with thinking big and putting everything on the line to try to reverse the relentless downward spiral of our present economic situation.”

Ellis could be just having fun. Whatever the case, a merger of our national monetary and political systems is simply not possible. It might not even be that great of an idea. An European Union-style customs union with common borders, on the other hand, could provide plenty of economic benefits. But even that idea would be tough for Obama to sell. In fact, judging from the negative nationalistic response to the former Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPP), it would make his chances of gaining another term in the White House even worse.

Canadian Business published a trade feature that touched on the related pros and cons of a marriage of North American nations last year. The idea isn’t new.

Decades ago, plenty of folks could imagine the residents of the Great White North hooking up with the Yanks.  In 1963, a Foreign Affairs magazine article called Atlantica even assumed a union between Europe and North America would eventually take place.

More recently, at a border conference in 2010, open-border proponents pondered going back to the future. Gordon Giffin, the former U.S. ambassador to Canada, recalled an obscure rural border crossing from his childhood, where his family didn’t bother to slow down, unless it was night and the road was blocked. When that happened, Giffin noted, “my dad would stop, and I’d move the orange cone, and we’d go through, and I’d put it back. And, oh, you had to sign a book to let them know that you had been there.”

On one level, it is still easy to imagine getting rid of internal NA borders. We have differences, but keep in mind the EU got off to a decent start despite the historic dust ups that pitted the French against the Germans.

But the good old days that Giffin recalls are not coming back, at least not anytime soon. Simply put, America’s willingness to see Canada as a neighbour that does not require a fence toppled along with the World Trade Center in 2001.

When it comes to border reform, Christopher Sands, a trade policy expert with the Hudson Institute in Washington, points out politics has tied Obama’s hands. “They say Nixon could go to China because he was a tough anti-communist,” he told Canadian Business last year. But Obama, he added, didn’t enter the White House with the anti-terrorist standing required to take extraordinary measures to facilitate Canadian commercial access to the U.S. market.

And, hey, nobody should think Canadians could be easily sold on the idea.

As New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter once noted, the dumbest thing for a terrorist to do is use a border crossing between Canada and the United States. “There are places where you can ford a stream. You can canoe. The whole idea of just having that bridge fortified to within an inch of its life makes absolutely no sense and costs an awful lot.” Nevertheless, when it comes to North American borders, fear appears destined to trump logic for a long time to come.

Keep in mind that Ottawa and Washington jointly spent billions to rescue General Motors and Chrysler, while insisting that they maintain operations in both nations. At the same time, these same governments were making these companies less competitive by thickening the border. Indeed, as a joint American and Canadian Chamber of Commerce study pointed out a few years ago, offshore auto companies require a single customs clearance to import one shipment of 4,000 cars. But delivering to market the same number of vehicles made in North America, where the assembling process often involves seven border crossings due to the integrated nature of our supply chains, requires about 28,000 customs and security clearances.

Sad, but true.