General Articles

Are the Yanks Invading Canada?

We’re nobody’s colony, says this Canadian editor. But let’s not try to stand alone — as Belgium did in 1939.

GEORGE FERGUSON September 1 1947
General Articles

Are the Yanks Invading Canada?

We’re nobody’s colony, says this Canadian editor. But let’s not try to stand alone — as Belgium did in 1939.

GEORGE FERGUSON September 1 1947

Are the Yanks Invading Canada?

We’re nobody’s colony, says this Canadian editor. But let’s not try to stand alone — as Belgium did in 1939.


WHEN war broke out in 1939 the Canadian Government, having decided to give our all in the war against Hitler, called in its military advisers. The question was asked—having of course due regard for national unity—what to do first? The war staff had its plans ready and according to reliable reports declared that our available armed strength—both of it in fact— should be thrown at once into the Niagara Peninsula there to repel the raids which our experts believed were due to begin from the United States. The Fenians, apparently—or was it the Bundists this time?—were at it again.

The story, fantastic as it sounds, may be true for military minds are inclined to move slowly and in accustomed grooves. After all, the Fenian Raids lay only 73 years back in history; and as late as 1925 or so our permanent force in Winnipeg, its officers largely trained in the un-American, sometimes anti-American atmosphere of Camberley and Aldershot, were working out detailed plans for a defense of the Red River Valley against possible invasion from Minnesota. In any event, if the episode did take place it was a useful one, for our Cabinet Ministers must have learned in one sharp short lesson the truth of Clemenceau’s famous dictum that war is far too important a matter to be left to generals.

Our political leaders must, however, also have

realized that they had hardly yet plumbed the deep complexities of Canadian thinking in matters of defense and war, complexities which were to haunt them to the very end of hostilities and more than once bring them to the verge of political defeat. Canada, as the old saying goes, is not an easy country to govern; our complexities and perplexities are constant and recurring, as witness the confused debate in the House of Commons on June 4, 5 and 6 last, a debate which included the noisy suggestion that Canada is becoming an American colony. One wonders, rather dolefully, if we are ever going to grow up. If we cannot do it for ourselves someone should take us quietly to one side and tell us about the facts of life.

The M.P.’s Wave Their Arms

THE debate arose over the introduction of a simple little Government bill designed to extend to American troops stationed within our borders the same privileges of self-discipline which were accorded to all troops of the British Commonwealth, without anguish of heart and torture of soul, so long ago as 1933. But the House of Commons picked it up and went to town. For the better part of two days its members waved their arms and discussed everything they could think of pertaining to foreign policy and defense.

Most of the members, notably Mr. Gauthier from Quebec and that distinguished soldier-hero, General Pearkes from British Columbia, displayed eminent common sense. Others, unhappily, did not. The CCF’s Mr. Probe of Regina did his best to kill the bill. Mr. Archibald of Skeena mournfully declared that annexation to the United States was just around the corner.

Reason, it is happily possible to state, prevailed.

Parliament passed the bill permitting American military formations in Canada to discipline themselves according to American military law. But t he debate nevertheless holds its lesson for those who want to read it. We are not yet out of the woods nationally so far as foreign policy is concerned. Nor are we likely to be for a long time yet. Even today, when we have in our background two wars creditably and honorably fought as a nation, we still fall into the curious error of thinking always in terms of colonialism. We seem to find it almost impossible to realize that we can make up our own mind about things.

The necessary associations and alliances we make with friendly powers are interpreted not as forward steps necessary for the maintenance and strengthening of ourselves as a nation, but as steps backward to dependency. We are habitually confused by almost every issue that affects our national independence.

Since the outbreak of the last war our confusion has, if anything, become greater. We no longer have the comparatively simple controversy between the imperialist and the autonomist which dominated the 1920’s and the 1930’s.

That battle was finally won by the latter. But Canada, at lightning speed, moved with the world into another era of changing forces. It was an era which has been dominated, so far as the western world at least is concerned, by the growing strength and assumption of responsibility by the United States.

Canada accepted that situation, almost unanimously, by entering in 1940 into a permanent military alliance with its southern neighbor. There was a single loud voice against it, that of the Rt. Hon. Arthur Meighen, who attacked the Ogdensburg Agreement

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so violently that, in the interest of what it conceived to be a high national purpose, the Toronto Globe and Mail refused to report the speech and contented itself with a chiding editorial on the subject.

But to Mr. Meighen’s voice of oldfashioned imperial protest there must now be added the lamentations, of all people, of the autonomists themselves. Implicit and explicit in the House of Commons debate of last June was the question: “Was it for this we shook off the tutelage of Britain? Was it for this we defied Downing Street? Was it for this we derided the ‘butler mind’ which had so long and so disastrously affected us?”

It is perfectly true that by the time the war had ended we had interlocked our defensive system with that of the

United States. Under the Ogdensburg plan, a joint board, half American and half Canadian in composition, is in permanent being. Plans for North American defense are co-ordinated by it and during the war by far the greatest financial burden for that defense was carried by the United States. He who pays the piper, it is said, calls the tune.

Canada made no real attempt to throw military strength into Newfoundland. The United States had done that, and Newfoundland, the key to Canadian Atlantic defenses, is to all intent an American base. The United States also built bases in Southampton Island north of Hudson Bay and in Greenland. Canada was thus bottled up.

More than this, in February, 1947, Canada and the United States exchanged notes in which they laid the foundation for furt her common préparions for defense, for the interchange of officers for training and educational purposes and for the standardization

of arms and equipment. President Truman recently made it clear that in envisaging inter-American defense, cooperation with Canada of the closest kind was essential.

Friendly—But Foreign

The bill in the House of Commons which raised the present issue was based on the fact that American troops were actually in northern Canada. Responsible ministers refused to state publicly how many there were, or what all their activities were.

In these circumstances the debate took place and some extracts from members’ speeches are in order:

Mr. Probe (CCF Regina): “We

wish to avoid the unfortunate experience of many countries in the past where military cliques secured control, first of all, of the activities of a defensive nature and from there expanding into the political and economic fields ... 1 feel we are surrendering some of the sovereignty of Canada to foreign courts of a foreign power . . . The bill is premised on the presence in this country of foreign, if friendly, forces.”

Mr. Archibald (CCF Skeena): “I

believe that this method of bringing in their military law is much like the story of the camel getting his head into the tent; before we are through, the whole works will be in.

“It is all very well to say that we should go with right-minded people. Yes; we get in with them and the first thing we know we shall be with them in their fight right up to the neck . . . The United States has a terrificeconomic stake in this country . . . the bringing in of the military in this way is just adding the final touch. In the final analysis it will at least solve one question, namely the flag issue. All the Americans will have to do will be to stick nine more stars on their flag and that will finish it.

“Either that, or we can create one with a baldheaded eagle carrying a wet muskrat in its claws and that would be our national flag; because we shall then have military as well as economic dictatorship in this country; and the Government will be nothing more than trustees for United States capital.”

What kind of strange isolationism is this? Do autonomy and nationalism imply that Canada, with its 12 million people, occupying half a continent of land, must develop a kind of irrational doctrine of Sinn Fein—Ourselves Alone —avoiding all commitments which would involve us materially and culturally with any other nation in the world? Are we to deny the almost 200 years of the British connection which brought us dignity and wealth and finally the cherished goal of independence?

Are wre, on the other hand, to deny ourselves the privilege of close and friendly association with a great and powerful neighbor with which we have lived at peace for more than a century and which has only on very rare occasions shown the slightest desire to use against us the vast strength of which it stands possessed? The Alaska Boundary dispute, now almost half a century old, was the last occasion when an American President, walking none too softly, carried the big stick against us.

Are we, finally, to make these denials in the name of a young and struggling international association of peoples known as the United Nations, the Military Staff Committee of which, after discussing the composition of an International Police Force for almost a year, has not yet been able to decide whether the airplane has come to stay? Not likely. Yet Canada’s fears and

doubts remain. Even in a matter as simple as this we remain, as one writer has remarked, “nonplussed by the demand that we make a resolute choice,” a choice indeed of any kind.

The cry that we are becoming an American colony, besides, has come upon us far, far too late. The existence of a colony assumes the prior existence of an empire w-hich owns it, uses it as a chattel, dominates its economic and social life, denies it political life except in limited form and in return for these advantages defends it against external threat and looks after its people. If this is a true description of the relations of the United States to Canada— which it is not—-we should, as a people, have begun to worry about it a long time ago.

Sovereignty Has Limitations

Many of us, indeed, did; but only with the object of remaining a British colony as long as we possibly could. Those of us who did not look upon colonial status as a permanent objective thought little of the “dangers” of American penetration. This was natural enough in the general state of security in which the world lived. Few people on this continent ever thought of war before 1914, and far too few of us ever thought there might be another one when we came back from overseas in 1919.

It was only when the roof fell in in 1940, it was only when it dawned on us that we were going to live all the rest of our lives in a state of war-made fear and insecurity, political earthquake and upheaval, that some essential facts came home to us. Among these was the fact that, having attained national status, our new-found sovereignty carried with it certain limitations. It had never dawned on us in our great simplicity that this had to be so. We had kidded ourselves into the idea, or some of us had, that we had now become the captains of our fate, the masters of our soul. Suddenly then we began to worry about the process, which had been calmly going on for almost 200 years, of penetration from the south.

Who, after all, were the members of

the little band of aggressive traders from New York who swarmed into French Canada after 1763, but the forerunners of the Wall Street bankers and enterprisers who today dominate such great Canadian resources as those owned by International Nickel and International Paper, to name only two concerns? What got into our heads to permit the entry of whole swarms of American farmers into the fertile, virgin acres of the Canadian prairies? Did they, when they came, look to us like the sinister carpetbaggers sent out across the world by Hitler’s Germany? Why did we not realize that we were permitting a colonization as disastrous to our ultimate independence as the Sudeten Germans proved to be to the ancient state of Bohemia which we know as Czechoslovakia?

Why did we permit the greatest single segment of international trade the world has ever known to develop back and forth across the American border? Why did we permit our industries and our factories to develop on American standards? Why did we go the foolish length of permitting Henry Ford and General Motors to infiltrate peacefully into the fine, soundhearted Canadian cities of Windsor and Oshawa? What seduced us into letting the Whitney interests of New York exploit the copper, zinc and gold of Manitoba’s Flin Flon? And think of the national folly of permitting free entry of such sinister American publications as Time and Newsweek, the Saturday Evening Post, the Atlantic Monthly and the Christian Century.

The Army of Occupation

This, let it be hastily added in the words of Artemus Ward, is all writ sarcastick. But, since the question of our having become an American colony has become a public issue, let the question be squarely faced. It might do us all good.

Penetration, in a word, had gone very far many years before the dire emergency of 1940 made us all accept with a glad heart the Ogdensburg Agreement which opened the door to the entry in unlimited numbers of the

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storm troopers of the United States to Canadian soil. They swarmed all over us. Their strategic airfields dominated our approaches north, east and west, and their soldiers, having built the Alaska highway and the Canol Project, settled down in detachments, large and small, in every corner of the land.

In Edmonton, where their main headquarters was located, it was a friendly joke that their telephone operators answered calls by announcing “American Army of Occupation,” a joke that was friendly enough until it suddenly found itself staring out of the pages of our 1947 Hansard from the lips of Mr. George Black, M.P. for the Yukon, where it does not look friendly at all. Research has up to now failed to discover whether any telephone operator ever in her life uttered those fateful words. But now that Hansard has enshrined them the story is unlikely to die.

It was this wartime co-operation that brought our Canadian nationalists and neoisolationists to begin the present agitation about our having become an American colony. None of these malcontents ever seems to remember any more that, in 1940 and again in 1942, we were all glad enough to have a friendly neighbor who would join hands with us in the common defense of the continent.

Few of us now remember distinctly the curious unrest and terror of those days, days so strange looking back at them that one marvels to read that the Winnipeg Free Press, which traditionally unloosed the wailing shriek of a siren to warn the burghers of the town that a New Year was at hand, silenced itself on Dec. 31, 1941, on the ground that the people might think the scream was an air raid warning. Few of us remember things like that, when the rich families of Victoria were frantically hewing themselves deep air raid shelters from the rocky slopes above O k Bay.

But what is sad is that we are apparently forgetting, too, the magnificent elation of those days which had brought true the prophecy of Winston Churchill that, in due course, the New World would move toward the rescue and liberation of the Old.

All that we did in those days seemed a good and proper way of fulfilling our obligations to ourselves, to freedom, and to our ancient guardian, the hardpressed and desperate Britain. The objects we were serving then were good enough for most of us and we served those purposes without counting the cost, though surely no cost was high enough to pay for what we got.

Yet why, only a few years later, should we begin to change our minds, or appear to do so? Is it all really true that any resolute choice is distasteful or impossible for us? We cannot have it both ways. If it served us well in 1942 to join in sweeping measures of cooperation with our neighbor, to say nothin 3 of the not inconsiderable service we rendered to a cause far greater than our own narrow national purpose, why should we shrink from their consequences now? Why should we seek to deny the very values that have made us, for better or for worse, what we now are?

Why should we not instead make the continuing bold attempt to turn these policies of ours to the greatest possible good, to seize from them the greatest possible positive advantage? Why should we instead begin to question and doubt ourselves, to lock always upon the negative, ill-appearing side that is present in every national policy no matter how soundly conceived that policy may be? Why cannot we trust ourselves and our judgments and

march forward, instead of halting disconsolately in our tracks to gaze backward and wonder forlornly if we shouldn’t after all do something different? It is not from attitudes like these that greatness springs.

We might, for instance, consider dispassionately our own history which is not unlike—though infinitely more fortunate—than that of every other small nation in the world. One would have thought the lessons of the immediate past would have left more impress upon our national consciousness. If there was anything to be learned from the six years that span the gap between Hitler’s accession to power in 1933 and his declaration of final war in 1939, it was that small nations cannot and should not afford the phony safety of neutrality. Denmark and Norway, Holland and Belgium all thought this a smart thing to do.

Remember Belgium

Belgium even refused to talk over joint defense with either France or Britain in the winter of 1939-40, with consequences which can be studied to advantage by restive Canadians at the present time. Nobody would have suggested at that time that the Belgians were becoming a colony either of Britain or of France had they taken so common sense a step as to join themselves with like - minded and powerful friends for certain vital purposes of defense. Having regard to existing power patterns, the situation of Canada today is not unlike. So are the arguments used recently in the House of Commons that continuing defense co-operation with the United States might be deemed an unfriendly act by other neighboring foreign powers. That is precisely the argument employed by the Belgians in 1939: it might offend Hitler. So they didn’t. And they got it.

The fact is that every nation in the world, both great and small, must compound its sovereignty in some degree; and the smaller the nation, the greater is the compulsion to do so. Under certain conditions and at certain times, the process leads to an unhappy surrender of sovereignty as the present experience of Poland and Bulgaria and Finland and Hungary gees to show. But, for nations either more wise or more happily situated, the process can be one which leaves the essentials of sovereignty intact; it strengthens and does not weaken the national fabric.

This, in my opinion, is the case with Canada. It would be easy, ignoring history and present realities, by a crude process of simplification, to prove beyond peradventure that Canada not only is becoming, but long since became in fact, an American colony. Those who want to waste time this way could have done the same thing to as good effect 25 years ago or at the time of the Alaska Boundary Dispute of 1902-03.

But those more discerning, who prefer to look through this shallow simplified façade of doom, will come to very different conclusions. They will find that Canada, for all its many faults and shortcomings, is conducting its affairs with its larger neighbor with a skill and moderation and a fine perception of calculated risks, that command respect for our independence. And those who prefer to seek the promptings and intuitions of their own hearts, without bothering about the formal evidence, will back this conclusion up. Canada today is not an Ameri can colony any more than it has been, in any essential respect, a British colony for many a long year. Nor is it likely that it will slip into that status in the years to come. ★