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Towards a new nationalism : Canada and free trade Gordon, Russell Charles


Canada has historically been both attracted to and suspicious of the United States. While closer relations have promised greater economic benefits, Canadians have long been wary of the influence wielded by Americans by virtue of their size and power, as well as a crusading sense of nationalism. Hence free trade, while economically attractive, has been rejected on no less than five occasions in Canadian history. However, despite the emphasis placed on autonomy by nationalists, Canada has from its very inception drawn closer to its only neighbour. Trade with the Americans steadily displaced British trade, a trend accelerated by the Second World War. The war brought Ottawa and Washington into particularly close cooperation, and the emergence of the United States as the leader of the Western alliance in 1945 further solidified their relationship. NATO and NORAD went a good distance toward integrating continental defence, while bilateral trade mounted, boosted further by the signing of the Auto Pact in 1965. Yet, even in the face of such cooperation, the nationalist impulse in Canadian politics has remained strong. Diefenbaker's pledge to divert 15 per cent of Canada's trade with the United States to Great Britain echoed Canadian concerns about their dependence on the U.S. and was clearly antagonistic to American interests, as were the string of highly nationalistic policies enacted under Trudeau. Autonomy has become more difficult to achieve, however. The global economy has become increasingly competitive, while the post-1945 liberal trading order no longer seems capable of ensuring open world markets. The relative decline of the United States evident since the mid-1960s, combined with the rising importance of regional trade blocs and the economic success of Japan and the NICs, acted to undermine the liberal trade regime established in the wake of World War II. No longer willing to trade off economic gains for security goals, Washington, beginning with the "Nixon shocks" of 1972-73, turned to protectionism. Trade issues became crucial to the formulation of foreign policy, while states became increasingly vulnerable to the actions and policies pursued by others. The rising importance of trade to virtually all countries, due in large part to the post-war liberal trade regime, thus led to an increasing politicization of trade issues. The declining utility of force as an effective tool of foreign policy, given by the development of nuclear weapons and the ineffectiveness of conventional weapons demonstrated in Vietnam and Afghanistan, has heightened further the importance of economic issues. The traditional distinction between the "high politics" of security considerations and the "low politics" of economic issues has, for many states, been erased. Increasingly states are faced with trade-offs between security and economic values. This increased concern with economic values is evident in Canada's decision to pursue free trade with the United States. The sacrifices entailed in a nationalist political course have become more expensive both because of the rise of protectionism in the United States, and further because the intrinsic value of national economic performance has risen The trade-off between autonomy and wealth long recognized in Canadian politics remains, yet the value of affluence has increased. Indeed, Canadian nationalism has come to be defined increasingly in terms of Canadian performance in the world economy.

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