The Chinese are coming, and other problematic Canadian sovereignty woes
Some analysts say a little bit of economic imperialism isn't all that bad.
Not only does Chinese business offer Canada a way out of a politically compromising tie to its neighbors down South, but there is a moral imperative behind selling natural resources to countries like China, Velk says.
“Canada has an enormous surplus of fresh water... China is in great need of water. They are trying to get water from the Tibetan highlands, at great political costs to the places that supply it. So it would be in the world's interest, as well as in the Canadian interest to trade bulk water across the ocean,” he said, explaining that the “know-nothing” sovereignty crowd is “immoral”.
On the other end of the political spectrum but equally opposed to sovereignty scares is Yves Engler, a liberal historian and political commentator and recent author of The Ugly Canadian, a book on the Harper administration's foreign policy.
“It's in the interest of Canadian companies to have local communities and the national government have greater control over natural resources,” Engler said, “Most Canadians want higher royalty rates and national control over resources. The more that becomes internationalized, the less likely that is.”
“But it's a bit hypocritical of Canadian politicians to criticize foreign enterprises—and not to be critical of Canadian purchasing of international resources.”
Nexen, the Calgary-based Canadian energy giant at the heart of the China debate, owns oil operations in places like Colombia, Europe's North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.
What's to lose?
Much of the discussion on sovereignty, as Engler noted, is about Ottawa and Canadians being able to dictate the destiny of their natural resources. But inherent in claims from politicians and media that the ostensibly communist Chinese government's companies threaten Canadian sovereignty is the idea that they are threatening a Canadian way of life
The implicit fear is a loss of individual rights that set Canada apart from both China and the United States—healthcare, marriage for all and relatively unthreatened women's reproductive freedoms.
Engler believes this idea bespeaks a fundamental misunderstanding of those rights.
“Those gains are won by unions, farmers' groups, feminist groups, LGBTQ organizations—I certainly wouldn't frame it in the kind of Canada sovereignty angle,” he said.
Civilian fights for basic human rights go both ways between Canada and the US.
“The influence is beyond borders. It's no coincidence that you find most progressive states are border states—what Vermont is doing with health care, for instance.”
Analysts like Engler note that Canadian and US activists often work beyond borders for various social causes. The anti-corporate economic justice movements that swept the world in the Occupy movement that started last year were a cross-border, continental affair, for instance.
What is unclear from reactions against Canada's various international business deals is what the alternative would look like in practice—a Canada where Canadians are empowered to determine the destiny of their own natural resources, or, as Velk says, something akin to hyper-isolated states like "North Korea or Cuba."