THE BLOG
10/21/2013 04:08 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Could a United States of North America Boost the US and Canada?

Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country, by Diane Francis (Harper Collins)

If you were fed up with the intransigence of the Tea Party's disciples during the federal government's shutdown, there is no cause for optimism by its resolution. The system could again be hijacked in a few months by a small portion of one of two parties in one of the three branches of the government. A system that permits this has deep flaws.

The problem may seem insoluble. Members of the House of Representatives, more than any other federal politicians, are beholden to lobbyists and the money they inject into the system. Youth voting is declining and more and more young people are choosing alternatives to democratic institutions to bring about change. As people everywhere become more cynical there is a national crisis of legitimacy for democracy in the making, and storm warnings of bigger problems.

Out of the blue is a modest proposal to solve this and other deep problems facing America. (Before you read further it's probably best if you're sitting down.)

The solution might be to have the United States and Canada come together to form one country where the assets of each and the process of a merger might fix some intractable challenges they both face.

This is the thesis of best-selling author, writer, pundit and dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada, Diane Francis. In her new book, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country, Francis sets out the economic benefits of joining forces, how the deal could be fairly structured, and the political hurdles to overcome.

If the creation of the European Union is evidence, trade agreements, common markets and economic unions can lead to political unions. So it's not so preposterous that 20 years after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement, someone has finally crafted a serious proposal for political integration of Canada and the United States.

Francis starts out by stating the obvious. Once an unrivalled economic superpower, today's America is ailing. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that China, India, Japan and the four Asian Tigers -- South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong will be bigger than the G8 (minus Japan) by 2018.

She quotes Andy Stern, a former union leader, who argues that "In an era when countries need to be economic teams, Team USA's results -- a jobless decade, 30 years of flat median wages, a trade deficit, a shrinking middle class and phenomenal gains in wealth but only for the top 1 percent -- are pathetic."

In building the case for unification, Francis says Canada's biggest strength is its "mind-boggling" wealth of resources. With the help of a petrologist from the Geographical Survey of Canada, she estimates that Canada has between $9 trillion to $15 trillion worth of metals and minerals still to be found and produced. Add in the multiplier effect from finding, building and operating mines and the requisite infrastructure as well as adding value to the commodities, this amount would more than double.

To complement these resources, Canada has a solid banking system, a strong relationship with the U.S., more sophisticated social values and systems and an educated, law-abiding people.

Francis argues that the U.S.'s greatest competitive advantage is its culture of risk-taking and entrepreneurship. American attitudes de-stigmatize setbacks and failures by entrepreneurs operating in good faith, while other nations or cultures punish any failure. The United States is the only nation with the capital, scientific prowess and motivation to develop Canada's vast wilderness in a sustainable and responsible way. Canada's resources and the Arctic region -- destined to be "the world's future Panama and Suez canals" -- would bestow "unbelievable opportunities."

A merged U.S. and Canada would have a larger economy than the European Union or the economies of Japan, China, Germany and France combined. The U.S.-Canada combo would control more oil, water, arable land and resources than any other country, all protected by America's formidable military. Citizens of the merged countries would have more options in terms of jobs, climates, studies and lifestyles.

Francis lays out the economics of several merger scenarios as well as approaches for political integration, such as the Full Monty German reunification embraced by the previous West and East Germany. Another option is creating a meta-state like the European Union -- where Canada and the U.S. would continue as separate political entities.

Francis concedes that merging would be hard but insists it would be worth the pain. With the injection of tens of millions of Canadian voters into the American political system, the politics of the unified country would move to the left of where the U.S. is today. A Republican president would be less likely. And in the process of unification, the U.S. could amend its political system to embrace many of the advantages of Canada's parliamentary structure, with the executive and legislative branches acting as one.

Francis uses economic data to excoriate both the U.S. health care system and Canada's handling of aboriginal rights. She lampoons American phobia of government and Canada's complacency about defense. She doesn't flinch, presenting an economic balance sheet that post-merger justifies a $15 trillion payout to Canadians.

Francis describes her book as a "thought experiment," and it is well documented and rationally argued. Commanding a rich knowledge of world political and economic history, she paints a compelling tapestry that is hard to dismiss.

Some initial critiques of the book have argued that the idea of political union is not feasible given very different attitudes North and South of the border on everything from firearms to political systems and war. As one reviewer asked: "And what about America's insane war on drugs: How would ski bums at Whistler tolerate the sight of SWAT teams and sniffer dogs descending on their pot parties?"

Such objections would be legion, and many would simply dismiss the proposal as nonsense. But as someone who has argued for deep change in many of society's institutions, I've always put objections to change in one of two buckets. Bucket #1 is "reasons to not do this" and bucket #2 is the "implementation challenges." If Americans and Canadians were to decide unification was worth discussing, objections would go into the second bucket. To her credit, she recognizes these obstacles, quoting Peter Drucker that "culture eats strategy for breakfast."

We all owe it to ourselves to step back and reflect deeply about the volatile period of history we are entering. To me, if it advances prosperity, sustainability and justice, then no proposal is too outrageous to consider.

A shorter version of this article appeared originally in the Toronto Star.

Don Tapscott's most recent book is Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet. As a Fellow of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, he is conducting a multi-million dollar program on new models of global cooperation and problem solving. Twitter @dtapscott

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