United States of Canada (with Diane Francis)

Is the "merger of the century" a pipe dream? Or the answer to progressive prayers?

TO PROGRESSIVE AMERICANS covetous of its national healthcare system, simpatico with its pacifistic national character, and, perhaps, smitten by its beefcake Prime Minister, Canada has a certain allure. We see the North as a sort of Utopia, a place where there are plenty of guns but few mass shootings; where diverse cities, including a few where French is spoken, thrive; where there is ample empty space and natural beauty; where the Mounties always get their man. Nothing, not even Nickelback, can spoil this impression.

After the 2004 election, when America decided against all logic to grant a second term to George W. Bush—at the time the unequivocal worst president since Reconstruction—a meme went viral. It showed North America divided into two countries: the United States of Canada and Jesusland:

Historically, this was around the same time that the domain “fuckthesouth.com” was registered and populated. We rational Americans could not believe that 62 million people, more than half of the voting public, fell for the faux-folksy buffoon in the White House. Bush had already presided over the worst attack on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor, allowed the assault weapons ban to lapse, launched two unnecessary wars, and, to finance these ill-advised misadventures, cut taxes on his wealthy friends and benefactors. He rewarded his supporters in that second term by pushing the global economy—exacerbated by the GOP’s disdain for regulation and his own alternative tax math—to the brink of collapse. I was not the only one monitoring real estate prices in Montreal.

Little did we know a decade after the financial debacle of 2008, we would look back at Dubya with something approximating fondness. During that second Bush term, we were like, “Well, it can’t get worse than this,” to which the universe responded, “Hold my Molson.” And once again, envious Americans gazed longingly at Canada, just as First Lady Melania Trump gazed longingly at Justin Trudeau.

In 2021, the pendulum is swinging back the other way. In 86 days in office, Joe Biden has made the U.S. the envy of the vaccinated world, delivered a landmark relief bill, sanctioned the fuck out of Putin’s Russia, and stands ready to launch the most ambitious infrastructure program in generations. Canada, meanwhile, is locked down. Because of covid-19 restrictions there, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors have played the entire basketball season in Tampa. The wanderlust for Vancouver and Quebec City isn’t as acute as it was a year ago.

This is as good a time as any, then, to report that the United States of Canada isn’t just a liberal pipe dream. If France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain—five nations that waged actual war on each other through the centuries—can form a union, why not Canada and the U.S.?

This is a question the American-Canadian journalist Diane Francis, this week’s guest on the PREVAIL podcast, explored at length in her 2013 book Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country. Given the vast shared border, the robust trade between the two nations, the cultural similarities resulting from generations of cross-pollination, and the fact that the U.S. will never invade Canada or vice versa, it makes good sense, she argues, to at least create a European Union-style system where borders are open and shipments can come and go between the two countries, as in the E.U.

When we consider the possibilities of an actual merger—a folding of Canada into the extant United States—it’s hard not to get a little excited, if not swoon outright. A United States of Canada would solve, once and for all, the design flaw that has hampered the U.S. since its founding: the slave states, which are now basically the red states, are disproportionally important. The Senate, with its two-Senators-per-state composition, will forever thwart progress, controlled as it is by a minority fully willing to use every trick in the book to stay in power. As Francis writes,

the bloc of 57 senators who voted to convict Trump represented 202 million Americans, or 62 percent of the total — and represented 76,704,798 more Americans than were represented by the 43 Senators who voted to acquit, according to a brilliant analysis in Vox. Just one more vote to convict would have represented the will of 66 2/3 percent of the populace, but even that wouldn’t have won the day either. Impeachment requires 66 2/3 percent of the Senate votes available or the assent of a total of 67 Senators which, if obtained, would have represented a great deal more than 66 2/3 percent of the population.

To blame for this unfairness is the two-seats-per-state Senate requirement that discriminates against big states in favor of peanut-sized ones. This has always been the case, but this year’s impeachment outcome highlights the injustice brought about by this undemocratic architecture.

But what if—indulge me here—we started admitting Canadian provinces as states? The mind reels! Two Democratic Senators from Ontario. Two more from Quebec and British Columbia. Two from Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Would there be a clean blue sweep?

“There are no Republicans in Canada,” Francis assured me. “I’m a Conservative. In the United States, that makes me a liberal Democrat.”

Other Canadians are not so certain. In Alberta, I’m told, there is a MAGA-style movement brewing. We need to keep an eye on the UCP. And then there is this unflattering offering, by Terrible Maps:

Is “Actual Canada” their version of “Jesusland?” Not to worry, Francis insists. None of the Canadian rightwingers would ever allow anyone to take away their healthcare (which would be expanded to include all 50 U.S. states, in our little thought exercise). In support of her argument, I find a curious data point. Here is a list of the top downloads of the PREVAIL podcast, ranked by city:

  1. New York

  2. Los Angeles

  3. Minneapolis/St. Paul

  4. Chicago

  5. Seattle

  6. Portland

  7. Austin

  8. San Francisco

  9. Toronto

  10. San Diego

  11. Calgary

How MAGA can Alberta really be, when its largest city ranks 11th on this list? (Also: I see you, Calgary! Go Flames!)

I’m being flip here, but Francis’s proposed “Merger of the Century” almost certainly will happen, it says here, in some form or another, in the next half century, just as she predicts. We tend to think of the United States as a fixed thing, its borders etched in stone, its fifty stars a permanent number. But as recently as 1907, there were only 45 states. Oklahoma joined the union in November of that year, New Mexico and Arizona in 1912, Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. Nothing is less sacred than lines on a map.

Whatever may come, the survival of the American experiment depends on the majority overthrowing the stranglehold the hidebound GOP minority has on both the Senate and the Electoral College. As Francis writes:

It’s also about time for the blue states to assert their authority and throw their considerable weight around, together or separately. There is no question that Blue America is richer, more important, more educated, and more viable than the rest of the country, yet it’s captive to a system that denies it voting equality. This represents an existential threat to the United States of America. Either the red tail stops wagging the blue dog, and institutions change, or the country will.

This means torpedoing the filibuster, expanding the Supreme Court, adding D.C and Puerto Rico as states, doing away with the Electoral College—and maybe, just maybe, forming a more perfect union with our friends in the Great White North, eh?


E9: United States of Canada: Around the World with Diane Francis

Description: The American-Canadian columnist, best-selling author, and speaker Diane Francis joins Greg Olear in a discussion that includes a proposed economic union of the new North American countries, Putin and the Russian mob, the necessity of taxation, and whether the crypto phase is tulipmania. Plus: Rodney Dangerfield riffs on Matt Gaetz.

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Photo credit: Alex Guibord. Justin Trudeau delivering a speech on a doorstep in Toronto's Little Italy, 2014.