How Would the U.S. and Canada (Legally) Merge?

by Julian Ku

I love Canada, and I have long been intrigued by plans to unite the U.S. and Canada in deeper political and economic integration (See this post from 2005(!)). So I have been excited to see the idea getting some mainstream media love with discussions of Diane Francis’s new book  Merger of the Century: Why the U.S. and Canada Should Become One Country.

I haven’t read the book, but judging from the zillions of media excerpts, her argument appears pretty straightforward.  The U.S. and Canada should merge, largely on economic grounds, so that the two countries can compete with rising economic powers controlled by state-owned enterprises (e.g. China) and with growing military power (China and Russia).  I am not sure merger is really needed here, and I am also unsure what the Canadians get out of merger since they already get U.S. military protection and seem to move in and out of the U.S. in large numbers at will.  But whatever, I love this idea.

Still, how exactly would such a “merger” work legally? Francis suggests either the Germany 1990 model (would Canada be East Germany?) or some sort of European Union-type treaty.  Let’s put aside the “merger” idea because unless Canada just entered the U.S. as a gigantic state, or even several states, any merger would require a U.S. constitutional amendment. And bringing in Canada as states would make the Democratic Party the governing party in the U.S. for the rest of my lifetime and my daughters’.  Republicans know this, and would never agree.

An E.U.-style customs union would be much more realistic.  The U.S. and Canada could create by treaty a common external trade policy, and work to eliminate restrictions on the freedom of movement, goods, investment, and services within North America.  NAFTA is sort of halfway there, actually, without the common external trade policy.

The U.S. and Canada could also unify their external foreign and military policies (much harder, I admit), again on the EU model. With respect to North American domestic defense, the US and Canada are already kind of there with a joint Air Defense Identification Zone.  Naval cooperation would be pretty easy too.  Now about foreign policy, though.  That would be really hard.  We don’t like killing baby seals, and Canadians are not psyched about invading Middle Eastern or Central Asian countries.

In reality, I think Francis might be satisfied with a U.S.-Canada customs union (Mexico might have to be left out for now). She is mostly making her case on economic grounds, and I think a customs union would accomplish most of her goals. It is not legally that hard, and it is politically plausible. The only downside is that we wouldn’t get to design new flags or new country names.  The United States of North America (USNA)?  The North American Union?  Camerica? Americanada?…

6 Responses

  1. Professor Ku,
    Whilst you may “love the idea” of the US-Canada merger, and without reading the book in question, I would like to underscore a few points to inform your rather simplistic view of Canada.
    1. Canada is a federal state with 13 provinces and colonies. We are also a land that affirms in Constitution the aboriginal laws and treaty rights. Our Head of State is the Queen of England. The same monarch you forgo through your 1776 declaration of independence. 
    2. Canada is a bilingual country with French and English as its official languages. Our identity is multicultural, multi-racial and multi-religious. We are not a melting pot as our neighbour to the south.
    3. Apart from military cooperation, we have independent foreign policy and our national interest is not necessarily, and not always, aligned with US national interests.
    4. Lastly, Canadians do travel and US is one of our preferred destinations given the proximity. However, we are anything but Americans. In fact, if your faculty is to conduct an independent polling, you will find an overwhelming majority of Canadians detest the idea of a political union with the United States.  
    In closing, please rest your synopsis of how to compete with emerging economies by suggesting a US-Canadian union. That is not going to happen and even theorizing it makes you look amateur. The decline of the US homogeny in global economic and political affairs is all too prevalent. The military might can take you only so far and looking at the world, we know that it is not the answer to every question. 
    your Canadian neighbour

  2. Correction: “colonies” above should be read as “territories”.

  3. I have to second most of what Canuck said. Canadians would never, and I mean NEVER, go along with this and any politician who publicly supported it would be committing political suicide.

  4. Julian: you stepped into this one!  There might still be a way — we in the U.S. could all become Canadians!  But then we would have to abandon the Queen, as my ancestors did so many years ago.

  5. I suspect that Canada would gladly welcome any (non-dysfunctional) seceding states into the federation and perhaps even a swap – say, Canada gets NY and Julian can get Quebec in return.

  6. As for name, I think David Foster Wallace’s “Organization of North American Nations” (from the novel Infinite Jest) is the best suggestion. Especially considering the resulting acronym.

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