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Subnation Status?

Sunday 13 January 2008, by Jim Miles

Canadians have always prided themselves on the “goodness” if not the “greatness” of their country. Sitting north of the United States, Canadians struggle with an ideal that rejects many American ideas, yet accommodates in one way or another most of those ideas – more so currently than in the past. From medical care to military purpose Canadians view themselves as essentially different from their southern neighbours, who remain for the most part steadfastly ignorant of us. There is very much about Canada, however, that indicates that we are not quite as independent of thought and action as the average Canadian realizes. This statement by itself would not bother many Canadians, but on specific issues there is opposition to current policies.

Viewed externally, Canada does not rank so well as one interviewee said, “Canada is still considered and referred to as a subnation and only in relation with the U.S. It has still to develop an identity of its own.[1]” That comment caught and held my attention as the truth in it seemed quite apparent. In reality, while dealing with foreign affairs, the environment, military matters (part of foreign affairs), and other aspects involving international treaties and agreements, Canada very decidedly falls under the category of a ‘subnation’ to the United States.

What follows is a brief overview of some of the positions Canada has or has not taken that give definition to our country as a subnation. We may believe otherwise, but we are highly integrated into American life styles and policies.

Aboriginal Policy

One of the international agreements that Canada sides strongly with the U.S. is the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples.[2] The four countries that voted against the declaration - Canada, the U.S., New Zealand, and Australia - are the four main British colonial countries in which ethnic cleansing and genocide were most clearly successful. Their success as British colonies turning into peaceful democratic ‘western’ nations under the British mould can be attributed in large part to that feature, especially if one compares it to the struggles engendered by the British in South Africa, and India/Pakistan/Afghanistan/Iraq/Palestine - generally the whole Middle East.

Article 26 of the UN declaration states: "Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired." Chuck Strahl, Canada’s representative “said the government is moving ahead on "making an actual difference" in improving the daily lives of aboriginal Canadians, instead of offering "empty promises and rhetoric." His arguments for that “cited Tory initiatives such as including First Nations peoples in the Human Rights Act, improving water quality on reserves and providing a compensation package for victims of residential schools.[3]”

Nice. Here’s some money for destroying your culture through the residential schools, and we’ll give you clean water, but we’re not letting you have any rights to your aboriginal land and its resources, although it is a legally determined right in part through the Royal Proclamation of 1763, the BNA Act, the Constitution, and various legal settlements.

Afghanistan, NATO, et al

The rise in Canadian militarism may be insignificant as compared to the rest of the world, but it is becoming more and more worrisome to Canadians themselves. Under Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, Canada has adopted the rhetoric of their American leaders to the south. Adding to the “we are not going to cut and run” mentality is the belligerent positioning of Canada’s claiming and strengthening its attitude within global affairs. Translated, we have become the bully’s sidekick, the weakling runt that yells support from the side while feigning a few punches at the victim. Our vision of ourselves as peacekeepers, starting from Lester B. Pearson’s plan to establish a UN peacekeeping force, originating from the Suez Crisis of 1956, has been altered to adopt the “war on terror” language used by the U.S. We are now “peacemakers”, the folly of which is evident in Canada’s role in Afghanistan.

While there may have been minor ‘successes’ within Afghanistan – a road built here, a school built there – we are still tied and incorporated into the overall American strategic plan that looks to control the resources of the Middle East and block the emergence of any entity – Russia, China, a Caspian Basin alliance – that might contest that. As a result we are fighting an American imperial war under the auspices of NATO and the UN. I have dealt with the NATO position before[4] and will shorten it here to say that NATO is now acting as an independent (of the UN and other international organizations) global military governance body under the command of the United States, a role the U.S. has unilaterally determined for itself. [5]

Currently the majority of Canadians are against the effort in Afghanistan, not by a large number, but an increasing number. Harper’s view is "Ultimately, where we need to make progress is not turning Afghanistan into (somewhere) as law abiding as (Ottawa). It’s to really put in a situation where the Afghan government is capable of managing the security threats itself ... I think we’re a couple of years away from being where we need to be."[6]

In sum under the larger picture, Canada is supporting a puppet government of the U.S. consisting of war lords and drug lords (probably one and the same), a government that wishes to bring the Taliban into the discussions of the country’s future, and acting as a subsidiary military force to the American strategic plan for south Asia. Security is the least of the American desires, other than strategic security, and the people be damned.

Kyoto and beyond

Canadians are one of the largest creators of greenhouse gases in the world, ranking 25th out of 29 OECD countries for greenhouse gas emissions (and 27th out of 29 on a per capita basis) with only the U.S., Great Britain, Japan, and Germany creating more. Canada’s initiatives sound wonderful:

Canada signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, and pledged to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. In 1997, Canada signed the Kyoto Protocol, formally committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 1990 levels by 2010.

Intentions need to be followed by action:

However these international efforts to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions have failed to bear fruit, as countries have been unable to agree on means to calculate reductions. Canada, along with the United States, Australia and Japan, has been criticized for blocking these international efforts.[7]

The most recent exercise in rhetoric has been the Bali conference. Before Bali even started, Canada was being sidelined and criticized for its fawning role to the U.S. and its “lame duck” aspirations. Canada has never lived up to its previous agreements and Harper has sidestepped all issues, looking towards Bali to provide “aspirational” goals. In a fully contradictory statement, Environment Minister John Baird told a House of Commons hearing, “It is just foolish to try to exempt the big polluters from taking meaningful action. It is a guaranteed recipe for failure."[8]

Baird was referring to places like China and India and other ‘third’ world countries, but taken on a per capita basis and overall tonnage within the OECD, Canada has no grounds on which to criticize other governments. In George Monbiot’s foreword to the Canadian edition of Heat – How to Stop the Planet From Burning, he indicates that Canada emits 19 tonnes of carbon per capita, only one tonne less than the Americans, and well above his calculated “permissible” limit of 1.2 tonnes per person globally.[9] Events within Canada speak enormously towards Canada’s evasion of climate change responsibility.

First and foremost, apart from the physical aspect, is the rhetoric coming from Ottawa that is half and half denial and obfuscation. The line borrowed from the U.S. is that of “carbon intensity” a phrase that simply means that richer countries get to pollute more, as “A reduction in intensity under this act means, in reality, an increase in emission….As all economies tend to use less energy per unit as they mature, Mr. Harper’s proposal for tackling climate change amounts to doing nothing.”[10] The previous touted “carbon credit” scheme has the same fault, that emissions will not stop, and the credits, like with the mortgage based derivatives, will become another means for money traders to make more money without helping the environment.[11]

Another feature of the government’s view is that of the “denial machine” or the “denial industry”. In Monbiot’s work, he examines how the scientists and PR firms that played a major role in trying to deny that cigarettes and tobacco cause lung cancer are the same scientists who are now working with Exxon, the U.S. government, think tanks and others to deny global warming. Taken further, the CBC reported that these same people, the same firms, the same rhetoric was now being used to provide the Canadian government with their own rhetoric of denial.[12]

Much more could be said about Canada and its own dereliction towards the environment: the Alberta tar sands and the enormous amounts of energy required to extract the oil and the impact on the environment and indigenous cultures (hmm, see aboriginal rights above, it all circles together); the NAFTA Chapter 11 clause giving the U.S. corporations rights to sue the Canadian government over financial losses (real or imagined) caused by our laws (environmental included); and the NAFTA requirement that the U.S. gets our resources first in event of a shortage (oil, gas, and probably later water).

The amount of time devoted here to the environment reflects from my perspective what the American Empire is all about – the consumption of resources and energy, the drawing to the American heartland of all the wealth and power it can control from the hinterland, which today is truly the whole globe. Canada’s economy, our environmental rhetoric, rests firmly in the hands of the U.S. government and its affiliated military-industrial network in being part of this extraction of wealth.

Consumption and debt

On a similar note, our consumer economy reflects that of the United States, and while our dollar is currently strengthening against the U.S. dollar, there are signs that Canada’s economic trends could well follow those of the Americans.

I often shake my head when reading American media reports about the “indoctrination” of whomever by whatever evil government they are railing against. What is not generally recognized is that North Americans from birth are highly indoctrinated into our societies consumptive habits and debt purchasing from the very moment our children can focus their eyes on the television screen. It is a kinder, gentler form of propaganda, and much, much more successful.

The American economy is undergoing a shakedown of its debt structures now, as the housing market bubble, based on ever increasing debt and financial trading structures that no one seems to really comprehend, is deflating rather rapidly. American debt is huge, whether it is credit cards, mortgages, national or international, with, ironically, the Chinese and Japanese being able to control the markets as they own much of America’s foreign debt, essentially money lent to the U.S. to keep the economy consuming.

Canada, while still well behind this level of debt, shows some discouraging signs. The average Canadian household debt is $69,450 with the overall household debt through personal loans, lines of credit and mortgage debt equalling $731 billion. That is well short of the American debt of $8.4 trillion, but given the population factor of 10, it is about equal per capita. The debt to income ratio is currently 105 per cent, in simple terms saying we are spending more than we are earning (in 1983 it had been about 55 per cent.)[13]

In addition, the Canadian tax scheme is more and more becoming similar to the American with income taxes. It is noted that countries with fewer social benefits tend to have higher disparities in income and greater tax advantages for the rich. This pattern is becoming more evident in Canada. The top 1 per cent paid a lower tax rate than the bottom 10 per cent in 2005. Marc Lee, a senior economist with CCPA, says, “Canada’s tax system now fails a basic test of fairness. Tax cuts have contributed to a slow and steady shift to a less progressive tax system in Canada.” A combination of federal and provincial tax cuts have effected this shift, with “the poorest 20 percent of taxpayers, [paying] three to five percentage points more in taxes.”[14]

Accompanying this are the increases in “user fees”, a form of regressive taxation, the incremental incursions of a two tiered medical system with the encroachment of private medical groups along the American model, low corporate taxes with many subsidies (as per the Alberta tar sands project above), and an as yet low but increasing military budget, set to double in the next five years.

Subnation status

In foreign affairs, in domestic spending, domestic taxation, in our environmental laws, in our increasing belligerence as an aggressor nation, Canada is very rightly to be considered as a “subnation” to the United States. Our internal identity is hockey and beer with a bit of French thrown in to prove we are not American, but in all our consumer habits, our spending habits, our changing attitudes towards the environment and the military, our denial of international norms that accompany this – along with the norms for indigenous rights – it becomes a fair argument that Canada has not yet determined – and indeed is undermining – its own sovereignty. If the rest of the world no longer sees Canada the way a majority of us would still wish to be seen, the reasons are becoming more evident and stronger with each new development by the provincial and federal governments. The corporations are winning, the people are losing, a subnation we shall remain.

[1] Chua, Amy. Day of Empire – How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance – and Why They Fall. Doubleday, New York, 2007. p. 310.

[2] ___________ United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. September 13, 2007.

[3] Strahl, Chuck.

[4] Miles, Jim. “Time to exit NATO”. Palestine Chronicle, September 16, 2007.

[5] Schell, Jonathan. The Seventh Decade – The New Shape of Nuclear Danger. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company. New York, 2007.

[6] Harper, Stephen. Cited in “Afghanistan in very difficult situation: Canada PM,” Thursday, December 20, 2007.

[7] ____________ “CLIMATE CHANGE: Greenhouse Gas Emissions.”

[8] Baird, John. Cited in Gorrie, Peter. “Climate change critics fear Canada’s influence.” December 02, 2007.

[9] Monbiot, George. Heat – How to Stop the Planet From Burning. Anchor Canada (Random House), Toronto. 2007.

[10] Ibid, p. xi.

[11] See also, Miles, Jim. “It’s not about the carbon.” Countercurrents. October 10, 2007.

[12] __________ “The Denial Machine,” CBC Fifth Estate, October 24, 2007.

[13] __________ “By the numbers: Credit stats and facts” CBC Marketplace, January 15, 2006.

[14] Lee, Mark. Canada’s rich not contributing fair share in taxes: study. November 08, 2007., The study “Eroding Tax Fairness: Tax Incidence in Canada, 1990 to 2005” can be accessed at:

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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