Sovereignty or Security? Government Policy in the Canadian North, 1936-1950

Shelagh D. Grant. University of British Columbia Press, 1988 Pp. 385

By Kenneth McNaught (reviewer) | 1990-06-01 12:00:00

SHELAGH GRANT says at the outset of her fascinating book that she hoped to provide "new insight into the rationale motivating those policy decisions which inevitably determined Ottawa's hidden agenda in the future (post-World war II) conduct of Northern affairs." This she has done, in spades. For readers of PEACE, her anatytical description of Canada-U.S. defence integration will he the focus of interest. That theme is sufficiently hair-raising. When Grant interweaves it with the evolving Canadian attitudes to "our" North, the mix becomes extremely unpalatable-yet not without a soupcon of hope.

Grant opens with an excellent historical summary of the pervasive influence of the North on Canada's complicated identity. A familiar theme, but here used to underline the astohishiugly insouciant character of Federal administration of att the land mass and archipelago beyond 600 North latitude. She notes that by the 193Os sovereignty over the vast area was based upon discovery together with "a semblance of quasi-occupation and a presence of authority," and that Ottawa believed "the sovereignty issue was solved." In the rest of her book she shows exactly why this was not the case: how Canada's boundary claims in the Arctic were never accepted by the United States and still are not. She also examines closely the evolving Federal policies and administrative processes in the Northern regions.

AT THE CENTER of Grant's story are "The Ottawa Men" and their interlocking relationship with such nongovernmental groups as the Canadian Institute of International Affairs and the Arctic Institute. It was the civil service mandarins, such as Hugh Keenleyside, Arnold Heeney, Escott Reid, Norman Robertson, Hume Wrong, and Lester Pearson, who brought their nationalism and very slightly leftist notions to bear upon the problem of the North. For most of the period covered by Grant, questions of the health and welfare of the people who actually lived in the North merited much less consideration than did matters of natural resource development and, of course, defence and sovereignty. Grant provides a wealth of detail on all this. She makes it clear that the rapid expansion of governmental expenditures on Northern services after 1939 resulted more from the sudden threat inherent in Canada-U.S. defence integration than from any deep concern with either the administration or social conditions of the North. This book stands as a rebuke to those who have largely ignored the whole region in general histories and even biographies of the people concerned with it.

Grant's diligent and sharp-eyed research in the archives of Ottawa, london, and Washington enabled her to depict with certainty not only the course of events but the motives and often concealed agendas of the players. Supported by pertinent appendices and plentiful footnotes, she identifies the originators and expediters of policies. In so doing she illuminates both long and short term goals and incentives. The historical continuities are striking. They show the drama of Canada's North being played within the format of declining British power, World War II exigencies, and the evolution of the Cold War. Grant's centrat theme is that of American Manifest Destiny, with its contrapuntal melody of wavering Canadian resistance.

Describing the origins of defence integration-the 1940 Ogdensburg Agreement with its permanent Joint Board on Defence, the 1941 Hyde Park Agreement with its economic coordination, the beginnings of the Northern air-staging networks and the Alaska Highway-Grant quotes Adolf Berle with particular effect. One of Franklin Roosevelt's closest economic advisers, Berle would later assist John F. Kennedy in preparing that President's "corollary" to the Monroe Doctrine, which proclaimed the right ofintervention against any government in the Americas "incompatible with the Ameriean System." In March, 1941, Hugh Keenleyside met with Berle to discuss "rational integration of the war industries of Canada and the United States." Berle noted in his diary that "Keenleyside realizes that this is now one continent and one economy; that we shall have to be integrated as to finance, trade routes and pretty much everything else... we talked long and happily about it." As Grant observes, Berle was "thinking in terms of a North American empire," and in April the Hyde Park Agreement was signed.

While it is clear that permanent military-economic integration was not what the Canadians had in mind it was certainly what the key American policy-makers envisaged. In September, Charles Kindleberger of the Federal Reserve Board submitted a report to his colleagues on the Joint Economic Committee which recommended planning for a postwar socioeconomic union. His proposals look very much like the terms of the present Free Trade Agreement, athough they included some items which even yet have to be achieved, such as "equalization" of social programs and taxation and a joint immigration policy.

CANADA, AFTER 1945, gradually regained control of most of the American-rnanned defence facilities across the North. That control was reluctantly conceded. Washington evidently viewed much of its war-related installations and services in the North as infrastructure for postwar development and "sharing" of Northern resources. As early as 1943 John Baldwin of External Mfairs had warned that "U.S Interests are gaining a permanent foothold in Canada in the development of certain resources." What is most striking about Grant's discussion of the 1945-50 period, however, is her precise depiction of how the military economic continentalism of the "real war" years not only continued but was intensified in the early years of the Cold War. Thus in 1946-7, while the Acheson-Truman team was frightening the American Congress into acceptance of the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the Organization of American States, and the internal security program which gave Joseph McCarthy his opening, precisely the same fear tactic was used to seduce Canada into accepting a renewed and expanded American presence across the North.

In May, 1946, Mackenzie King learned from the Canadian Secretary of the Permanent Joint Board on defence and the Air Coordinating Committee intended to probe the Arctic Archipelago in the hope of finding "undiscovered" islands to claim for air bases. King warned his cabinet that "the long range policy of the Americans is to absoth Canada... They are already in one way or another building up military strength in the North of Canada. .. It might be inevitable for us to have to submit." What followed was acceptance of a "security plan" involving a vast network of radar posts, weather stations and airports (all under the cloak of civil aviation in order not to offend UN principles)-in short, the origins of NORAD and permanent integration of training, weapons-testing and operational policy across

the whole North.

Nor did even this bring American acceptance of Canadian Sovereignty in the Arctic sector." King made a final effort to forestall "absorption" when he vetoed the the concluding of a U.S.-Canada customs union in 1948. But the evolution of NORAD, supplemented by the Defence Production Sharing Program and a myriad of executive agreements on weapons-testing and related military matters continued the erosion of Canadian resistance. In a real sense, bilateral militarization of the North paved the way for that penultimate achievement, the Free Trade Agreement-so aptly coincident with cancellation of the king-size Arctic icebreaker.

Having surveyed the ebb and flow of Canadian interest in Arctic sovereignty and Northern development Grant observes that "the alternative to binational control perhaps may be found in Mikhail Gorbachev's suggestion of scientific cooperation and proposals for a demilitarized Arctic, or in the Inuit Circumpolar Conference's conception of a third order of government" In this most politically fluid era such thoughts may not be entirely utopian-even if they run directly counter to the time tested doctrines of 3ames Monroe and John F. Kennedy.

Professor McNaught is a historian

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1990

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1990, page 25. Some rights reserved.

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