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The impossible nightmare: The U.S. taking over Canada

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted October 19, 2009

Every now and again, we bump into a standard trope of the Canadian Left. It asserts that the United States is planning a take-over of Canada, or is in the process of doing so. Much as I would like to say that it's mere political rhetoric, I can't. Some Canadians believe it.

It's one of those myths that dissolves as it's examined more closely. The historical grounds for it is the War of 1812, one that Canada arguably won. Later, James Polk became the President associated with the war-cry "54º 40' or Fight!". Nothing came of it, and the present 49th Parallel became the border west of Ontario. The last armed conflict between Canadians and Americans was the 1859 Pig War, a border dispute in which the only casualty was the pig. Ever since then, the armed hostilities between Canada and the U.S. have been zero.

But memories still exist, as does the ease of batting away people who have no real interest in taking over. Like the greenies, whose métier is skillfully crying wolf, the Canadian Left has a nice racket yelling "American takeover!" Since Canada is a trading nation, the usual narrative revolves around Americans buying Canadian businesses or resource sources. By some mysterious process, this ownership is supposed to transform into U.S. governmental takeover. Skirmishes in Latin America, which involved the U.S. government retaliating to protect property that U.S. firms or individuals bought outright, are dragged up. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the socialistic mindset is the one most prone to this myth, as socialists have trouble distinguishing between private citizens and government.

All of those supposed precedents are inapplicable to Canadian-American relations. The list below explains why an American takeover of Canada is impossible:

  1. Friendly Takeover

1. Canada as it is now, is impossible to swallow and keep down. There's a very simple reason: Canada is a constitutional monarchy. There's no way that a constitutional monarchy can be fitted into the U.S. system; there's even a prima facie argument that the U.S. constitution forbids it. Article IV, Section 4, Clause 1 of the United States' Constitution says, "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…" This can easily be read as to mean that only republics can be admitted as new States.   

Of course, we're living in the age of the "elastic Constitution." That clause could be read as meaning that any republic admitted will stay one, but as silent when a non-republic is roped in. If Canada were admitted as it is, though, that would make HM Queen Elizabeth II's title to Canada a viceroyship. She, although still Sovereign, would be under the President of the United States in her role as sovereign of Canada. There's only one kind of figure that has political suzerainty over a Sovereign: an Emperor. Thus, Canada becoming the 51st state would make the United States, officially if not explicitly de jure, an elective Empire.

The phrase "United States Empire" is used a lot in U.S. political discourse. Typically, it's used as a term of warning, criticism or abuse. If the United States becomes a real empire, it's not that hard to see the indirect consequence: domestic turmoil. There aren't many Americans who'd be willing to treat the President as an "Elective Imperator." Too many of them would be quick to see nascent White House tyranny therein.   

2. Even if Canada becomes a republic, it'd be a very hard swallow. How could Canada be let in? In the U.S. system, the Criminal Code is a state measure. In Canada, it's federal. This difference suggests that Canada be let in as a single state. The trouble is, doing so would down-deck every province into a mere county. What premier would agree to throwing away all provincial rights? Would Québec stand for becoming the County of Quebec? How about Ontario? A minimum of seven provincial governments representing at least 50% of the population would have to agree, as it would require a Constitutional change. Given the stripping of provincial power that would come with statehood, I'd be shocked if even one signed on.

The alternative is to let Canada's provinces in as individual states. This could be accomplished by each provincial legislature passing a Criminal Code of its own, but there's the messy matter of dissolving Confederation beforehand. The Government of Canada has to agree to it too, which means a majority in Parliament has to explicitly sign on. Opposing it is too easy a grandstand, and dissolving an entire country is a much more complex chore than renovating a house. Very few national legislatures have voted to commit suicide; almost none have voted away the nation's sovereignty. It isn't only Canadian politicians who would see an angle in blocking it.

3. It's too easily partisanized south of the border. Just imagine what, say, Rush Limbaugh would make of a proposal to add 13 states – meaning, twenty-six U.S. senators – to the American political fabric. Canada is often used by American liberals as a good example of governance; for similar reasons, some conservatives like to think of Canada as "Soviet Canuckistan." American conservatives, quicker than you can say "Tea Party," would size it up as a sneaky Senate-packing maneuver by liberals. President Polk would be called a "liberal Democrat" almost as fast as you can say "gerrymander." Canadians who supported it would be quickly pegged as people who want to get their hands on U.S. taxpayers' money. The Red State/Blue State divide means that almost any U.S. governmental initiative can be partisanized.

Canada's repute almost guarantees that Republicans will not initiate any talks to bring Canada into the United States. "They'll all vote against us anyways; better that they Canuckistan each other in their own country." Also, there's no real geopolitical gain to bringing Canada in, which is a decisive factor militating against…

  1. Hostile Takeover

In order to see why a hostile U.S. takeover of Canada is impossible, one need only look at a more recent precedent: the Vietnam War. The United States got itself into that quagmire not just because of the domino theory, but mainly because South Vietnam was an ally. If Vietnam can be pegged as geopolitical foolishness, it was foolishness for the sake of maintaining an alliance. America fights for allies; it doesn't fight allies. The most hostility shown to an ally took place in that same South Vietnam, with the CIA-complaisant (possibly –backed) assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963. By that time, Diem was losing control of the country and was easy to peg as a tyrant. The elections that were held at that time and place, to the extent to which there were any at all, were far from being "free and fair" ones.

Canada is a more central ally of the United States, being in NATO, and is a well-established democracy. If the United States attacked Canada, it would tear NATO apart. The highly successful alliance system the U.S has used for decades would be wrecked in consequence. The characterization of the U.S. as a "rogue state" would no longer be rhetoric, but would be taken seriously all over the world. (Think of what British admirers of George Orwell would make of it.) That's a lot of loss for the sake of a military adventure: adventuristic it would be, as there's not even a thin pretext for doing so under the nation-building doctrine. Certainly, not to a stable and reliable ally that's also a well-functioning democracy.

That's where the supposed precedents fail. In every case where the U.S. has invaded another country, its then-current government was not a formal treaty ally. Canada is, and has been for decades. For the U.S. government to do so would be lunacy. The collateral damage on the world stage would be too enormous: the U.S. would never be a trusted ally again. Latin America might well explode.


Given these facts, it's hard not to peg the "U.S. taking over Canada" rag as an all-Canadian conspiracy theory. It's a fitting plot for a thriller, just as many greenie doomsterings are little more than plausible plots for yet another disaster movie. Fiction is a vital part of life, but people who can't tell the difference between fictional and factual deserve some pity. What they do not deserve is to be taken seriously. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan dances with the Grim Reaper.


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