Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 9 News List

`Soviet Canuckistan' still a long way from becoming reality

By Naomi Klein  /  THE GUARDIAN

Canadians can't quite believe it: suddenly, we're interesting. After months of making the news only with our various communicable diseases -- SARS and West Nile -- we are now getting world famous for our cutting-edge laws on gay marriage and decriminalized drugs.

US President George W. Bush's conservatives are repulsed by our depravity. My friends in New York and San Francisco have been quietly inquiring about applying for citizenship.

And Canadians have been eating it up, filling the newspapers with giddy articles about our independence. "You're not the boss of us, George," Jim Coyle wrote in the Toronto Star.

"So much for nice; we're getting interesting," wrote the conservative columnist William Thorsell in the Globe and Mail.

Four events have contributed to Canada's newfound status as Hippie Nation:

? The Liberal party government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien did not support the invasion of Iraq ("opposed" would be too strong a word, since we maintained troops in the region).

? On May 27 the government introduced legislation to decriminalize the possession of marijuana. People caught with up to 15g will get the equivalent of a parking ticket. US drug czar John Walters has promised to "respond to the threat."

? On June 17 the government announced it would introduce legislation to legalize gay marriage. This will bring the entire country into compliance with a court ruling that has already made it legal in Ontario. US gays and lesbians have been flooding into Toronto to get hitched.

? On June 24 the government announced the opening of the first "safe injection site" in North America in Vancouver, which averages 147 overdose deaths a year. The publicly funded facility will provide needle exchanges and health assistance to heroin addicts. Walters calls this one "state-sponsored personal suicide."

So, does all this peace, love and drugs really mean that the US and its closest neighbor and ally are parting ways? Much as I would love to report that I really do live in "Soviet Canuckistan" (as Pat Buchanan has taken to calling us), it is mostly hype.

When he was elected in 1993, Chretien pledged to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and negotiate a better deal for Canada. He immediately broke the promise. Now, months away from the end of his decade in office, Canadians are keenly aware of how much independence we have lost under the agreement. Our economic dependence on the US is staggering -- almost 40 percent of Canada's GDP comes from exports to the US. More troubling, we have traded away our right to put Canadian energy needs before those of the US. A little-known clause in NAFTA states that even in the event of a severe energy shortage, Canada cannot cut off its oil and gas exports to the US -- we can only reduce the flow south by the same rate as we reduce consumption.

This ceding of power to the US is Chretien's true legacy, which is why, in his final months in office, he is racing to be remembered as a principled man. But Chretien's last-ditch attempts to declare Canada's independence -- significant as they are -- can't mask the fact that on trade and security, the Liberals are following Washington more obediently than ever.

We are pushing, with the Bush administration, for NAFTA to be expanded into all of Latin America. Our government has made only tepid efforts to save Canadian citizens born in countries identified by the US government as "sponsors of terror" from being photographed and fingerprinted when they enter the US. Immigrants and refugees inside Canada suspected of terrorist ties are being detained for long periods without charge, then tried in secret.

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