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The Case of Canada

Considering the many ties of business and of association which bind Americans and Canadians together, the American people are culpably obtuse to the present plight of their northern neighbors. The Canadians are passing through a great crisis in their national history. At an unfortunate moment in their economic development, when the work of taking possession of their rich natural heritage was suffering a costly check, they were suddenly compelled to accept their losses and divert their capital and energy to an essentially foreign service. They were called upon to raise, equip, supply, and pay a large army, and to reorganize their industry to meet exclusively military needs. One consequence has been the postponement or abandonment by the majority of Canaidans of the ambitions which had occupied their own personal lives. The process of building up and settling the country in which a young and growing community is so vitally interested, has been temporarily frustrated. The fountains of capital have dried up and are likely to remain dry for many years. Debts are being incurred which will long remain a drain on the profits of future economic expansion. The loss of life has already been heavy and the end is nowhere in sight. Canada has spent $150,000,000 and raised 100,000 men. During the coming year it may have to treble this expenditure. All these sacrifices are being made for a cause which is utterly remote from their own particular domestic interests. Their condition calls for sympathy and comprehension on the part of associates and friends. Yet neither in private conversation nor in public do Americans give any indication of understanding the peculiarly distracting effects of the war on Canadian life.

The lack of understanding is culpable, but unfortunately it is not unprecedented. American national opinion has always been singularly obtuse and indifferent to Canadian ambitions and needs—to the whole process and impulse of Canadian life. We have cultivated South America, we have exploited Central America, and we have shown an anxious and ominous interest in Mexico; but we have indifferently and blindly taken Canada for granted. American policy has never consciously sought to meet Canadian needs and win Canadian friendship. Enough that she was obliged to buy a large amount of American products, whether she wanted to or not. She has been treated not as a collection of human beings and as a good democratic neighbor, but as a market—so easy a market that nothing of any value was to be given up in order to conquer and to keep it.

The indifference of American public opinion has had a decisive influence upon Canadian development and policy. A generation or more ago the Canadian government was only too anxious to promote intercourse of all kinds with this country. Its agricultural development was stunted because its farmers were shut out from their natural market to the south, and its business and political leaders saw no opportunity for rapid growth save by the practical abolition of the economic frontier between the two countries. At that time Canada was being thoroughly neglected by Great Britain, so that a rare opportunity existed for encouraging profitable and friendly association. At the price of giving to the Canadians a better market for their agricultural products we could have built up a large and steady demand for American manufactures, and converted our northern neighbor from an injured and neglected alien into an intimate business and political associate.

But American protectionism was always blind to the proper objects of a national economic policy. Its only purpose was that of passing spoils and favors around. Reciprocity with Canada would have endangered the substantial privileges of the manufacturers by cutting off the illusory privilege of the farmers. The opportunity was allowed to pass. Canada was obliged to turn to Great Britain; she was encouraged to do so by an outbreak of imperialist agitation. It dawned upon Englishmen that the Empire would fall to pieces unless it were organized and consolidated. It dawned upon Canadians that their connection with Great Britain, instead of being merely a convenient protection against possible American aggression, offered promising constructive political opportunities. It dawned on both that the Empire was capable of being developed into a great international democratic commonwealth. Canada acted upon her new faith. She granted to British manufacturers a preference in Canadian markets and prepared to assume imperial responsibilities.

The neglect of Canada by the United States affords a damaging exposure of the self-involved blindness of American public opinion in relation to foreign policy. Canada has been conceived merely as a negligible British dependency. She can be ignored in relation to American continental policies because of her allegiance to Great Britain, and her association with Great Britain is of a kind which permits her equally to be ignored in all negotiations with the imperial government. The ambiguity of the connection between Canada and the Empire does something to explain American obtuseness with respect to Canada, but nothing to justify it.

Instead of being negligible, Canada forms the great central problem and opportunity of American foreign policy. Both because of her geographical position and her political connections, some kind of an understanding and cooperation with Canada is all-important to the United States. Such an understanding, involving necessarily an understanding with Great Britain, would make a secure Pan-American system at least a possibility; it would enormously diminish the difficulties of dealing with Japan and China in the Pacific; it would guarantee the disinterestedness of any exercise of international police-power which the United States may be forced to undertake on this continent; and by arranging for active cooperation between two neighbors with similar political interests and traditions, it would increase the effective strength and international importance of both. As soon as Canada obtains the population to which she is entitled by the economic possibilities of the country, a lack of cooperation between her and the United States will be as disastrous as was the early lack of cooperation between Scotland and England.

But the aim of American diplomacy with respect to Canada should neither be to detach her from Great Britain nor to attract her into the Union, but to make her conscious of her American interests and obligations. Canada is bound to become the most populous and wealthy power in the western hemisphere, excepting only the United States. She cannot merely merge her foreign policy with that of the British Empire as a whole. She should be free to cultivate interests, assume responsibilities, and make agreements which are demanded by her special geographical location. Of course the imperial government would have to be consulted with respect to Canadian national policy, but Great Britain would have no reason to oppose an all-around understanding between Canada and the United States covering their joint American interests. Their cooperation on this continent, instead of dividing Canada from Great Britain, would have the very different tendency of drawing Great Britain closer to the United States. The two countries are bound to seek a satisfactory adjustment for the reason that neither can get along without Canadian assistance. 

The Canadian connection would be valuable to the United States partly because the national experience of the two neighbors is proving to be so different. We Americans have always considered that our democracy could not survive without emancipation from European entanglements. Canada, on the contrary, although as essentially democratic as the United States, has always clung to her association with the British Empire. The association has consistently become more costly. Fifteen years ago Canadian blood was shed in South Africa on behalf of imperial unity. Recently the first great battle of Canadian history was fought on the soil of Flanders, and in that battle the percentage of Canadian killed and wounded was greater than during any battle of the American Civil War. Canadian domestic expansion has been checked by participation in a war about which she was consulted as little as was the United States, and the issues of which are not remotely connected with Canadian local interests. She is making the necessary sacrifices loyally and uncomplainingly, and costly as they are they are worth what they cost to Canadian national self-consciousness. Canada is setting an inspiring example to other democracies. Of all the countries engaged in the war she is most disinterested. Unlike South Africa and Australia, she cannot occupy and conquer neighboring German territory. She had nothing to gain from her expenditures of money and blood, except the continued vitality of an imperial political system which allows her full opportunity for local self-development. But she is fighting for a form of self-government that brings to her neither isolation, irresponsibility nor independence. Her sacrifices are being made on behalf of a political system which, precisely because it calls or a larger allegiance without doing away with home rule, is the best existing experiment in a really international political organization.

This article originally ran in the July 3, 1915, issue of the magazine.