There are forces at play in Canada and the United States that are pulling each country apart. Some – the more glaring and talked about – are driving wedges between conservatives and progressives in each country. At the same time, they are increasing the commonalities among regions that can generally be described as conservative in Canada and America, as well as among the more decidedly left-leaning regions of Canada and areas with a similar outlook in America. Simplification obviously overlooks many nuances and exceptions between and within regions, and leaves aside historical differences between the two countries. But at bottom the political, economic, social and even temperamental divides between metropolitan and suburban/rural populations, and between the bi-coastal (plus, in Canada, Laurentian) versus heartland populations are growing deeper, more intense and more emotional.
Although people of goodwill and generosity in both countries hope that differences can be accommodated and perhaps one day even resolved, and that both countries can retain their current populations and boundaries, it might be illuminating to spin some scenarios that explore options for the future. Festering or intensifying divisions between regions, or between elites and populations-at-large wear away at nations. Nations last only as long as enough of their citizens share the same vision. Sometimes, visions diverge and no sincere effort is made to reunify. This has occurred many times throughout history.
Today in Canada and even more so in the United States, broad portions of the elite seem to have come to despise their own country, at least as it was founded, developed and run until recently. So-called “progressive” forces, including groups such as Antifa and BLM, have wasted no time in exploiting the elite’s crumbling resolve. They are attacking the very foundations of civilized order – directly and at times violently in the U.S., more circumspectly in Canada. The rest of the population is left to make do as best we can. For years, people have been quietly voting with their feet and moving to areas where they feel safe and welcome, even if it isn’t “home”.
The 21st century’s most powerful political current in both Canada and the United States is plain to see. Conservatism focused on individual freedom and initiative, with limited government, remains strong in the so-called “red” states and the Prairie provinces (plus pockets of B.C. and portions of suburban and rural Ontario). Progressive, big-government quasi-socialism, intensified by “anti-racism” and “social justice” groups, is gaining ascendancy in “blue” states and the central/eastern provinces plus coastal B.C. How these forces will play out after the American election in November, and after the next Canadian federal election – probably next spring, but perhaps sooner – remains in the realm of speculation.
But one can at least apply informed speculation unfettered by politically correct taboos. Seen this way, it seems doubtful that this pulling apart in both countries into “red” and “blue” areas will slow down. Already at this stage, in many ways Calgary has more in common with Dallas and Houston than it does with Toronto. And Toronto certainly has more in common with New York than it does with Regina. If this trend continues, could it lead to a future redrawing of the map? That certainly seems an enormous leap, so please suspend disbelief for a few minutes.
The current terms “red” and “blue” are unfortunate because for close to 250 years “red” has been the colour signifying socialism/communism and their followers, while blue was (somewhat more loosely) associated with tradition and patriotism. Only in the U.S. is it the opposite – and only since about the year 2000. It is clear that the “blue” cities run by the Democratic Party are increasingly moving towards a “red” socialist vision of America. As noted by author Joel B. Pollak in Red November: Will the Country Vote Red for Trump or Red for Socialism? the coming election will make it clear whether the American electorate is onside with this move towards a more socialist America. Either way, however, we are stuck with the modern-day “red and blue” nomenclature that is peculiar to the United States, and will use it here in talking about both countries.
The November American election is absolutely crucial for the Republican Party and for Red State America. Simply put, if the Republicans lose this one they might never win another national victory. The Democrats have made no secret of their intention to give the vote to millions of (mainly Hispanic) illegal immigrants, whom Democrats believe can be counted on to vote overwhelmingly for them. They will reverse President Donald Trump’s moves to slow the flood of illegal immigration and reduce legal immigration. They have been steadily working to enable convicted felons and even current prisoners to vote.
More broadly, the vision of a patriotic America that emphasizes individual freedom and free enterprise has less and less appeal to big-city populations clustered mainly along the two coasts (as well some inland metropolises). For the Republicans the 2020 election could therefore be, in the words of political visionary and “Dilbert” creator Scott Adams, an “extinction event”.
The stakes are also very high for the Democrats. They are used to running the show, either directly through political office-holders, or indirectly through the progressives’ remarkable hold on the overall culture, manifested in everything from Hollywood to teachers’ unions to the federal bureaucracy itself. If there was ever a doubt before, the Trump years have made it completely clear that the left largely controls a mainstream media that makes no secret of its intention to bring down Trump by any means. The left considers Trump’s presidency to be illegitimate. They are absolutely convinced of the rightness of their cause. A loss for them in November would be, if not an extinction event, then certainly existential merely in its psychological impact (and progressives are very much controlled by their feelings). It is not clear that the left could accept such an outcome.
Professor Francis Buckley discusses this in his recent book American Secession: The Looming Threat of a National Breakup. The Saskatchewan-born, U.S.-based legal scholar argues that, for all practical purposes, the United States is already a nation divided in two by ideology. Simply put, Texans and Californians are as different in their thinking as are the English and the French in Canada. “In all the ways that matter, save for the naked force of law, we are already two countries,” Buckley laments.
There is no sign that this will change. Quite the opposite, for the forces driving the red and blue states apart appear to be on the increase. Increasingly, these states are drawing like-minded people from opposite-coloured states where they no longer feel at home. The drain of taxpayers from California, particularly of upper-middle professionals and small business owners and entrepreneurs, is well-documented and has numbered in the millions over the past 15 years. They have flocked to mainly red states such as Texas, Utah and Oklahoma. And with California’s big cities deteriorating, the exodus is broadening. For the most part, red states are growing redder, blue states bluer, while the urban vs. suburban/small town divides are deepening within states.
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro takes this idea even further in his new book, How to Destroy America in Three Easy Steps. He states unequivocally that if a nation’s people cannot even agree on what their country is about, it is doomed. He refers to those who are contemptuous of America’s national myths (including the ideals in its Declaration of Independence) as “disintegrationists”. In Shapiro’s conservative view, the blue states have veered sharply in the disintegrationist direction, while the red states are determined to remain “unionists”, fierce defenders of the Constitution and the American Dream. “This twisted ‘disintegrationist’ vision replaces the traditional ‘unionist’ understanding that all Americans are united in shared striving towards the perfection of universal ideals,” writes Shapiro. We don’t know what will happen in November, but there seems little likelihood that these tensions will be resolved by one election.
A similar process is playing out in “red” Canada. The normal cycle in 20th century Canada was for the big-government Liberals to rule, surrendering power to the Conservatives every decade or two when the Liberals were overcome by scandal or mismanagement. Because the civil service and media generally remained loyal to the Liberals even during the occasional periods when the Tories were allowed to govern, power before too long would flow back to the Liberals. The label “Canada’s Natural Governing Party” was only part mockery; partly, it was a statement of fact.
Like the Democrats, the Liberals have benefited greatly from the leftward drift of Canada’s bureaucracies and cultural institutions. Recall that after the Liberal election victory in 2015, the attending federal civil servants actually cheered Trudeau’s new cabinet appointees at an orientation meeting. Meanwhile, the CBC reporters treated Trudeau like a cross between rock star and saviour. They positively gushed over his every move.
Canada’s historical Liberal-Conservative political cycle seems to have been interrupted. The Prime Minister and his Liberal Party have been involved in numerous scandals, including the current WE Charity imbroglio – but most voters no longer seem to care. In last year’s federal election, the voters returned the Liberals (though just barely) in spite of dual scandals that would have sunk the party in earlier times. Many Western Canadians, as well as Conservative supporters in Ontario and other provinces, are now wondering if such a thing as a truly conservative national government is even possible any longer.
As a sign of this, the top contenders for the Conservative Party’s leadership seemed to do their best to hide any real conservative values they might have. Instead, they mainly promised potential voters, or at least implicitly signalled, that they would not depart very far from the Liberal agenda in any significant way. A common joke during the spring/summer leadership campaign was that their core message to party members was to “govern like the Liberals – only not quite as badly.” (The results of the vote are supposed to be announced the day after tomorrow, August 23, but the counting and scrutineering may be delayed “because of Covid”.)
The societal tensions over ideology, policy, culture and lifestyle are exacerbated by some unfortunate history. There is a growing feeling in much of the West that the odds are simply stacked against this region by Central Canada. The West is being determinedly held back from reaching its potential, and Ottawa will see that this continues.
It’s worth recalling that the relatively small size and resulting political weakness of western provinces in comparison with Ontario and Quebec was not inevitable. Before Saskatchewan and Alberta were admitted to Confederation in 1905 as individual provinces, serious consideration was given to combining the two as one province. Some proposed that it be called “Buffalo”. Ottawa decided against that plan. Such a province might soon have become a serious rival to Central Canada. It was also recognized that the interior continental travel routes naturally ran north-south, from “Buffalo” to America. So would commerce and people. And that could threaten the nascent Dominion of Canada itself.
In the case of Manitoba, too, what is now northern Ontario was not a natural fit with the old “Upper Canada” lining lakes Ontario, Erie and Huron. After Manitoba entered Confederation in 1870 as the tiny, so-called “postage stamp” province, some Manitoba advocates argued that much of the vast resource-rich northern hinterland should become part of a larger and more powerful Manitoba. Laurentian Canada, however, wanted vassals, not equals. So Manitoba entered Confederation as the only province that lacked control over its own natural resources. (This new arrangement of second-class provincehood was repeated for Alberta and Saskatchewan.)
Looking forward in the 21st century, right-leaning citizens in both red-state America and “red” provinces like Alberta and Saskatchewan will need to face the strengthening prospect that advancing their economically dynamic, politically conservative visions has become impossible within their countries as presently constituted. They will be left to watch in helpless, sullen resentment, resignation and perhaps rage as progressive socialism and its main instruments, the social activists and the top-down, regulatory administrative state, replaces what they thought their countries stood for. Or will they?
North America is a big place, with diverse geography and a veritable treasure-trove of natural resources, many of them still untapped. Its common language, transportation network, economic integration and personal ties among millions of people already impart key characteristics of a single society. The continent’s political boundaries were not foreordained. Under these circumstances – in which Calgary increasingly finds it has less in common with Toronto than Dallas or Houston – is it impossible to imagine that a political realignment along red-blue geographical lines might eventually follow?
This is already happening informally in certain areas. Some oil and natural gas companies, driven out of western Canada by an ideological Liberal government’s climate, Indigenous and anti-business agenda, have already relocated to red states like Texas. Increasingly, sons and daughters of western businesspeople are attending American universities. The move out of Alberta to the U.S. by EnCana Corp., a true home-grown success that had grown into Canada’s largest natural gas producer and changed the way natural gas is developed, is a major example of this sad process. As resource opportunities dry up for them in Canada, and open up for them in pro-business red states, the trend will continue and probably be replicated in other industries.
Similarly, conservatives (or at least non-leftists) continue streaming from blue states to the less-regulated and more business-friendly red states. A telling example is Elon Musk’s decision to move his futuristic and high-tech Tesla electric car assembly plant from California to Texas. The immediate cause was Musk’s belief that California’s highly regulated coronavirus response was stifling his business. But it is also clear that this former darling of elite progressives desires a business atmosphere that encourages innovation and free enterprise. Ultra-blue California, where Democrats and progressives hold essentially every lever of power, no longer seemed willing to offer it.
So is a politico-geographical realignment any kind of possibility? Could the North America of the future be one with its map redrawn? Could much of western Canada, along with large parts of Interior B.C. and small-town/rural Ontario, possibly even portions of Quebec, become parts of an amalgamation we will call the United States and Provinces of Red North America (USPRNA), while most of central Canada and Coastal B.C. (plus, perhaps, Atlantic Canada) were fused into an amalgamated United States and Provinces of Blue North America (USPBNA)?
As bizarre as this might seem at first blush, the attractions are more than merely superficial. U.S. leftists are constantly threatening to “move to Canada” should Trump (or Bush, Romney, McCain, Reagan, etc.) win the following election. Ideology and social values really do trump love of country for many of these people. So why not simply bring part of Canada into their embrace while ditching the hated “deplorables”?
For conservatives, what is now Canada would be of immense strategic and economic value. Control of the North American portion of a warming Arctic, if this occurs, will be essential for keeping Chinese and Russian ambitions in check. Canada has not been able to protect its North, or exploit the North’s enormous potential, and probably will never be. And the enormous potential of Canada’s vast northern territories – including our untapped rare earth metals – is not lost on American strategists. Aside from the material wealth, the new Red State entity – whatever form it might take – would be melded with Canada’s hardest-working, most entrepreneurial and optimistic populations, creating an almost certain economic winner with a slimmed-down continental population.
By the same token, a Calgary or Toronto with unrestricted access to the world’s wealthiest nation and most dynamic economy would be almost irresistible. And a Calgary or Regina, with sister cities in Texas and Florida, would have enormous advantages for everyone. There would be many other benefits for both a newly energized USPBNA and USPRNA. The new USPBNA would be largely a seaboard nation on the Atlantic and Pacific (plus the St. Lawrence valley and lower Great Lakes).
For the USPRNA to work, a set of usable deep-water ports accessing every coast would be essential. The Gulf of Mexico would be in the bag (that is Texas’s coastline), as would the southern Atlantic Shore. But with all three U.S. Pacific states shaded the deepest blue, that ocean would be barred. This would make gaining at least a portion of rural coastal British Columbia critical. It would also revive the long-mooted, never-really-acted-upon potential of northern Manitoba, with its primitive Arctic port at Churchill. The resource-producing and temperamentally anti-establishment Newfoundland & Labrador might just end up as a northeastern USPRNA outpost.
It is not necessary to go much further with this imagined future; you get the idea. And it is hoped that such imaginings are made irrelevant by a future coming together of formerly opposed minds. Scenarios such as this will only be relevant if the forces driving our respective countries apart continue to worsen. Anyone of goodwill and good snse fervently hopes this doesn’t happen. But if it does, thinking innovatively and considering scenarios will be a matter of simple survival – for regions, for economies, for ways of life, for personal freedom and individual dignity. Accordingly, all possibilities must be considered.
All nation-states have, so far at least, proven to be temporary creations that work only as long as citizens continue to believe in them. There is probably a point at which progressivism and socialism have gone so far that conservative, pro-free-enterprise thinkers in Canada and the United States no longer feel welcome in their own countries. That would be the time to consider forming nations of people who share a vision. A peaceful movement of like-minded people from one area to another – such as the movement already taking place on a quiet, individual level between California or Alberta and Texas – is not inconceivable.
It is of course unknown how any of this would be achieved. It would, however, allow people with fundamentally conservative visions to live in one country together, while allowing the “blue” people to rid themselves of a conservative element that they look down upon if not openly despise. Those who felt more comfortable among fellow Reds or Blues could choose to move freely to a suitable area. Commerce, travel and personal relations between the Red and Blue countries could – after the inevitable period of turmoil – proceed, and necessary political treaties could guarantee security.
One thing that is certain is that our competitors and adversaries – like China – are not waiting while we in North America sort out our difficulties. We should make our plans.
Brian Giesbrecht is a retired Manitoba provincial court judge, Senior Fellow with the Frontier Center for Public Policy and frequent commentator on public policy issues.