Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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"Three Amigos" Have Few Other Friends

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, August 26 / 07

Zack Gross

When I was just ten, my older sister was part of the Pat Boone craze.  These were the days before Bob Dylan and the Beatles captured the Western world’s imagination. Teenagers swooned over clean-cut stars who crooned rather than rasping or yelling.  Boone was a “Christian,” young but old-fashioned, squeaky-clean singer and actor, who ultimately came out with a song with my sister’s name as the title – “Bernadine.” 

Fast forward from the late '50s and early '60s to now, and Pat Boone still commands an audience.  His singing is mostly the same, although a recent CD is entitled “No More Mister Nice Guy,” featuring his own rendition of today’s metallical musical hits.  His politics – patriotic, down-home and conservative – also haven’t changed, but of late he has been more outspoken.  His celebrated US ancestor, frontiersman Daniel Boone, seen on TV re-runs wearing a coon-skin hat and haunting the woodlands of Kentucky, would be proud that Pat is speaking up on behalf of American liberty and independence – and against the policies and secretive ways of his President, George W. Bush. 

The context for Boone’s “going public” was this past week’s Security & Prosperity Summit in Quebec with Bush, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

Indeed, individuals and groups on the right and left of the political spectrum (if we dare call Bush and Harper today’s middle) have banded together in recent times to oppose a proposed super-NAFTA deal that Boone likens to the European Economic Community.  US war veterans groups, the John Birch Society and other conservatives fear that Bush is moving – without any real consultation – toward a one-currency North America (the Amero, similar to the Euro).  They also fear unbridled immigration (Mexicans into the US), borders open to terrorism, lost jobs (again, likely to Mexico) and laws and regulations passed that benefit their northern and southern neighbours, rather than themselves. Ultimately, the conspiracy theorists opposing Bush in particular decry a state of government control and transnational socialism (the dictators being a corporate/government elite).

These very conservative US politicians and academics are finding some sympathy in Canada from groups who have been outspoken against past free trade agreements and unregulated globalization, from the Green Party to the Council of Canadians.  Among Canadian concerns this week was the contingent of corporate CEOs that met with the Three Amigos, as they like to call themselves.  These included “advisors” from Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Scotiabank, FedEx, Proctor & Gamble and Lockheed Martin.  Their defenders contend that their presence is to ensure that cross-border trade will continue to fuel the North American economy, while their detractors state that their presence shows that cheap goods and labour, arms deals and making the rich richer are the summit’s true agenda.

 As a backdrop to the meetings in Quebec, US Democratic Presidential hopefuls are also attacking the fourteen year-old NAFTA agreement as taking jobs away from Americans.  Meanwhile, the Mexican agricultural sector has let its President know that it is concerned about US exports of corn into their country, driving down prices and killing jobs. 

Canadians are concerned – and Harper conveyed these messages to Bush to some degree - about our military presence in Afghanistan, about Arctic sovereignty, and a number of consumer issues, including food safety, Chinese imports, and emergency and pandemic preparedness. 

All three countries’ current leadership want North America to be more competitive in the face of the growing global economic reach of a unified Europe, but face strong opposition from all sides at home for what that might mean in structural and policy changes.  The idea of a unified North America – particularly economically and in terms of access to the collective resource base – is not new.  Our political and cultural differences – and the fear of loss of sovereignty – have caused many on the outskirts of the political landscape to speak up.  Some fear a “socialized” health care system.  Others fear a rape of natural resources.  Some fear being overwhelmed by Hispanic culture.  Many in the US fear an increase in drugs, crime and any other problem that one can easily assign to “others.”

With Bush now a “lame duck” President, it remains for the next US administration to take real steps, or not, on this initiative.  Harper is Prime Minister of a Minority Government and Calderon was the winner of a disputed election.  Three leaders, three amigos, in weak positions, may have lost a few more friends this past week.

Zack Gross is program coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of 35 international development organizations active in our province.

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