- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2014

If Diane Francis had her way, the U.S. would share a lot more with its northern neighbor than the Great Lakes, maple syrup and Justin Bieber.

The editor-at-large for Toronto’s National Post argues that a complete merger of Canada and the United States would create a global colossus, add 13 stars to the American flag, eliminate the border and require just a few amendments to the Constitution. But, Ms. Francis acknowledged on a visit to Washington last week, not everyone up north is thrilled with the idea.

“I wanted to attack the Canadian establishment and say, ‘Wake up, there is [a merger] underway, let’s manage it to our benefit,’ and to attack American ignorance about Canada,” she said.

The “thought experiment,” first broached in a book she published late last year, was introduced on the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement as President Obama pushed for much broader trade agreements with the European Union and Asia-Pacific nations.

Ms. Francis envisions a full-on economic and political merger in which Canada’s provinces would become 13 states in the U.S. Quebec would become a commonwealth like Puerto Rico.

“If you politically merged the two, Canadians become the fabric softener for the United States,” she said last week at a panel discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

In her book, “Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country,” Ms. Francis said both sides of the American bipartisan divide could find things to like from the merger. Republicans could point to enhanced security, energy resources and market benefits. For Democrats, the attraction would be the incorporation of an electorate whose political center is far to the left of the U.S. balance of power.

Beyond the politics, she conceded that the question remains whether Canadians would transition into an American culture.

For reasons political, historical and demographic, “Canadians are very much tinged with the anti-American attitude, there’s no question,” she said.

The numbers laid out in her book are tempting for a geopolitical strategist: A U.S.-Canada combination would create an economy that is larger than the European Union‘s, and larger than those of China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea combined.

The North American colossus would control more oil, water, arable land and resources than any other country, all protected by the world’s most powerful military. The rest of the world would be fighting for second place in the medal race at the Winter Olympics.

While seemingly far-fetched as a political proposition, the merger is already underway with Canadians “voting with their feet,” the author argued. Three million Canadians live full or part time in the U.S. During the 20th century, 7 million Canadians immigrated to the United States.

An economic merger is much more in reach, particularly with reforms of NAFTA and other policy initiatives, analysts say.

With an estimated $616 billion in two-way trade in 2012, Canada retains its long-held position as the largest U.S. trading partner. Ms. Francis said an elimination of the border and the prospect of joint efforts to open the Arctic to economic development suggest an even brighter future.

Kevin Lees, founder and editor of the foreign policy journal Suffragio, said the United States can benefit easily and immediately from “low-hanging fruit” in Canada.

“The good news is that policymakers on both sides of the border are very much considering those ideas,” he said.

Chris Wilson, an associate at the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center, said Canada is the weakest link in the NAFTA pact.

“It also has to do with this attitude in Canada that Mexico contaminates its relationship with the United States,” he said. “It has to do with this attitude in Canada perhaps even a little bit of jealously about the level of attention that Mexico gets in Washington compared to Canada.”

Canadian motivation for a political merger may grow as the United States seeks to expand its free trade market by negotiating with the European Union and a group of Pacific Rim nations.

Canada stands to lose an awful lot of trade with the United States, and that will be displaced by sort of trans-Atlantic trade between the United States and the European Union,” Mr. Lees said.

The United States and Canada may not be merging soon, Ms. Francis acknowledged, but it may happen sooner than many skeptics think.

Her book, she noted, talks of the “merger of the century.”

She noted, “We have a lot more years in this century.”

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