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It's a cliché, but it's true: David Orchard is a man with a mission. A fourth generation farmer from Saskatchewan, Orchard co-founded and now heads Citizens Concerned About Free Trade, a grassroots organization that --among other things-- mobilized citizens to convince the Senate to block the Free Trade Agreement in 1988. Now Orchard is also a writer. Recently released from Stoddart Publishing, The Fight for Canada: Four Centuries of Resistance to American Expansionism is a dramatic, and often polemic book crafted by a man who desperately loves his country and fears for its future. I interviewed Orchard at Hour's offices during his promotional swing through Montreal.
In Orchard's view, Canada's struggle for nationhood long predates Confederation in 1867, and furthermore, this struggle existed and exists almost entirely in opposition to American expansionism. "Canadians grow up being told that the United States is our best friend, that we need the United States to defend us against God knows who else. Yet the historical record shows that the only country that has ever invaded Canada, and has done so repeatedly, has been the USA." The boundaries of time and distance fade as Orchard recounts half a dozen American incursions into Canada dating back to 1613, when the governor of the colony of Virginia sent his troops north to destroy French colonies in Acadia.
"In [my book] I try to dispel the myth of the 'passive Canadian' wandering around in a fog. For four hundred years we've fought back. We've lived next door to the most powerful nation the world has ever seen. It's always been an aggressive nation. It's always attempted to expand its border. We've always resisted and we've won. This history's been taken away from us. I learned nothing in school about the early heroic fight by French Canadians."
Ironically enough, Orchard draws upon many of the same historical sources as modern Quebec sovereignists, but his conclusions are, unsurprisingly, very dissimilar. "The interpretation that I give to the Conquest is quite different from the separatists'," he asserts. "They say that England and English Canadians have attacked Quebec historically and they still pose a threat. What I point out in The Fight for Canada is that the Conquest was driven from [what became] the United States. Britain was pushed [into war] by the American colonies, and American colonists provided half the troops that attacked Quebec. The threat has always been from the United States of America. I used [the work] of several prominent Quebec historians as sources for that thesis. That's what the separatists never talk about. The PQ backs Free Trade with the States, saying it will release Quebec from the 'embrace' of Canada. I say that's a dangerous, naïve assumption. If they get Quebec out of Canada, they're going to become a Puerto Rico of the North or a Louisiana.
"History shows that it's only when there's been an alliance between French-speaking Canadians, English-speaking Canadians and the Natives that we've been able to resist these invasions from the United States."
For Orchard, the numerous attempts over the years and centuries to establish a Free Trade zone between Canada and the United States were and are merely conquest by other means. "When the Americans [repeatedly] failed to take Canada militarily, they tried to tie us up in trade agreements." He is contemptuous of Brian Mulroney and his Progressive Conservatives, both for getting Canada into the Free Trade Agreement and, in his words, for deceiving Canadians about the deal's supposed benefits. "At one time he promised 350,000 new jobs, at another 500,000. He built his campaign around the theme 'Jobs, Jobs, Jobs'. And yet in the first four years [of the FTA] we've lost 1.3 million jobs across the country." Couldn't some of those losses be attributed to the recession? "A little of it, yes." he replies. "But in those four years the Americans lost 6 per cent of their manufacturing capacity. We've lost 28 per cent of ours."
How about the evolving post-modern consciousness, I asked Orchard. Aren't we entering that cybertnetically networked, multi-national, multi-polar world where old concepts of political sovereignty lose their meaning?
"That's part of modern mythology. Try telling the Americans sovereignty doesn't mean anything. If anybody tried to incur on American territory in any way, they'd find out immediately that sovereignty is alive and well. Other countries are told that sovereignty doesn't really matter. That's the kind of ideology used to deal with colonies, and Canada is the largest colony in the world."
I don't really know how to assess David Orchard and The Fight for Canada. One the one hand I've always been a committed Canadian nationalist. On the other, I've always been frustrated by the form of nationalism whose only definition of "Canadian" is "Not American". When you talk to David Orchard, though, you can't help but think about how Canadian identity and sovereignty have eroded in the Mulroney years. People are already beginning to question the need for the border and an independent Canada, only four years into the FTA.
"It's becoming more and more acceptable not only to speak the unspeakable, but even to advocate it," says Orchard passionately. "That's a completely foreseeable outcome of the Free Trade deal. As Sir John A. MacDonald said, if you don't have an economic border, you soon won't have a political border.
"There are other empty capitals in the world. Edinburough is one. It could happen that we could lose our country."