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A task force of Canadian national-security experts issued a report on global instability this week, a partial focus of which was how the deteriorating United States has become a danger to Canada.

Anti-democratic forces and other malevolent tides sweeping through the U.S., task force co-director Thomas Juneau of the University of Ottawa told the CBC, pose “a serious threat to our sovereignty, to our security, and in some cases, to our democratic institutions. … We need to rethink our relationship with the United States.”

Just as the study, “A National Security Strategy for the 2020s,” was released, an American sickness was on lurid display, writ large in Texas with the massacre of 19 schoolchildren. The deranged teenaged killer had access to guns, this being the United States, as though he were in a candy store.

The task force security report, which lumped the U.S. in as a potential threat to Canada along with Russia and China, might lead one to wonder if our country has ever been more vulnerable, now that all three superpowers are such a source of angst.

It was not all that long ago when, with the Cold War’s end, with Russia and China quiescent, with its economic engine powering the world, that the U.S. was at full strength. In Canada, we worried about a brain drain southward. American unity wasn’t much in question. Rather it was Canadian unity, given the potential dismemberment of Quebec from the federation, that was under threat.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the U.S. was seen as a bastion of democracy at home and abroad, but its global reputation on this front has deteriorated in recent decades. In 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the U.S. an opportunity to reassert itself in this role, but the moment has arrived when the country’s domestic unity resembles that of the Civil War era.

If American democracy unravels and the xenophobic, authoritarian populists take control, the collateral damage to Canada, the report warns, is likely to be severe.

What can be done in the face of this challenge? Not much, except watch and hope. Beefing up security expenditures, as the report recommends, can help, but only marginally. The plight of American democracy is a domestic crisis that likely will only be eased with the de-radicalization of the Republican Party, the party that has made extremism mainstream. Chances of that are slim.

In that it has steered clear of the American trajectory of descent, Canada is an innocent bystander in this regard. The hard right hasn’t gained a strong foothold here. The ills that afflict that country are not apparent. We don’t have their level of polarization and disunity, their appalling degree of firearms violence. We don’t have a seething immigration crisis at our border or anything approaching a politically charged Supreme Court that is turning the clock backward on women’s rights. Or a system where income inequality is as glaring, or a health care complex that leaves out tens of millions, or a disinformation epidemic that shatters basic truths, or the credibility of the electoral process being undermined.

We’ve eclipsed the U.S. in so many ways. But we haven’t substantially reduced our dependency on them (a near-impossible task given geographic proximity) and consequently, our fate remains inextricably tied to their well-being – or lack thereof.

For military and economic security, Canada has been reliant on the U.S. since the 1940s, and we still are. Economically, Ottawa has made sporadic attempts to achieve more independence, but they haven’t amounted to much. We’re still beholden to a large dependence on trade flows with the U.S. The end of the Cold War lessened Canada’s need for a strong military. But circumstances have changed in recent decades, and given the ways of Russia and China, we have become increasingly dependent on the Pentagon.

When the U.S. was experiencing a particularly tumultuous period in the 1960s and early 1970s, with the Vietnam War, race riots, assassinations and Watergate, there was still a stable sense of democracy to fall back on. Election results were trusted. The transfer of power was uncontested. Today, we see a different type of American inferno. Unbridled individualism has triumphed over consensus-building. The crackpot-infiltrated Republican Party is slated to enhance its powers with big wins in the midterm elections.

It took Canada four decades to overcome its secession crisis with Quebec. It could take decades for the U.S. to return, if it does at all, to the stability and unity it once knew.

In the meantime – the long meantime – this country, innocent bystander Canada, should be prepared, as the security report warns, for serious fallout.

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