On October 17, 2013, the Toronto Star published a review of Diane Francis’s new book, Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country. The review was written by Trent University’s chancellor, Don Tapscott, who applauded Francis’s efforts, apparently pleased that “someone has finally crafted a serious proposal for the political integration of Canada and the United States.” The statement is pretty shocking when you consider Trent’s role in establishing Canadian Studies as a discipline in the academy.
I would urge Trent students and faculty to read the review, and reflect on whether this sort of a historical, profit-driven agenda is one they would like to see being projecting to the rest of the country, because as chancellor of Trent, Tapscott is one of our most influential representatives.
Tapscott, installed as the 11th chancellor of Trent University in June 2013, is no stranger to the accumulation of wealth. In fact, just last week at the 2013 Thinkers50 Awards, considered the “Oscars of Management Thinking,” he was ranked #4 on the list of most important business thinkers in the world. He adds this to a seemingly limitless professional CV, including authoring and co-authoring 14 books on information technology in business and society, being an inaugural fellow of the Martin Prosperity Institute at U of T’s Rotman School of Management, vice-chair of Spencer Trask Collaborative Innovations, and CEO of his own influential Toronto-based think tank, The Tapscott Group, which offers consultation to top executives from some of the world’s largest corporations.
There is little wonder, then, that Tapscott sees Merger of the Century through the distorting lens of profit-acquisition, and entirely overlooks the very real, and very important distance between the U.S. and Canada; our two separate societies: our differing social values, our often contradictory foreign policies, our distinctive relationship to sovereignty (Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike).
I’ve barely scratched the surface. By endorsing this proposal, Tapscott unwittingly seeks to undermine the delicate balance of individual and community identities which make up Canada’s complex national character.
As an apparent come-on to the Canadian public, Tapscott explains that “[t]he U.S.-Canada combo would control more oil, water, arable land and resources than any other country, all protected by America’s military.” So, something like There Will Be Blood meets Apocalypse Now? Wonderful. Mother Nature will finally get what’s coming to her. I can think of nothing more emotionally and psychologically incendiary than the image of American troops patrolling Canada’s forests.
Tapscott follows Francis’s lead in salivating over the potential profits the corporate elite from both countries. In breaking down the deal, Francis estimates that Canada has between $9 trillion and $15 trillion worth of undiscovered metals and minerals, and asserts that the United States is the only country with the “capital, scientific prowess and motivation to develop our wilderness.”
Whose wilderness are we talking about? Who will benefit from the deal? I can only assume it wouldn’t be the Indigenous communities whose lands are being carved up here, if history is any indicator. Presumably Francis’s sell-off would also include timber, oil, and natural gas, and the already precarious fisheries. What Tapscott and Francis take for granted is our natural resources, which will and must be exploited to their fullest extent.
We live in an era when unfettered resource extraction threatens the continued survival of our own species, let alone countless others. Scientists, politicians, activists, Indigenous communities, and non-Indigenous citizens alike are trying to put the brakes on resource extraction and want to address the devastating impact that the industrial age has wrought on the environment. So, doesn’t it seem unconscionably myopic for Francis to justify this political merger on the grounds that this continent has not yet been sufficiently exploited? And is it not disturbing that our chancellor should endorse it?
Tapscott’s credentials are substantial, but he comes from a world where financial prosperity is the most compelling signifier of success. This is a perspective that has done a great deal of damage in the world. This is the sort of thinking that elected Rob Ford. This is the sort of thinking that got Canada ranked last in the developing world for its record on addressing climate change. This is the sort of thinking that continues to decimate the forests, pollute the rivers and lakes, and lay waste to “boggling” tracts of previously healthy land. This is the sort of thinking that continues to undermine our cultural institutions and social programs.
This is the sort of thinking that has justified the disenfranchisement and oppression of Indigenous peoples since long before the inception of this country, and I think it is time to remind Tapscott, as chancellor of Trent University, that he now has responsibilities beyond the bottom line.