Continentalizing Canada: The Politics and Legacy of the Macdonald Royal Commission


473 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8729-9
DDC 354'0971




Reviewed by Graeme S. Mount

Graeme S. Mount is a professor of history at Laurentian University. He
is the author of Canada’s Enemies: Spies and Spying in the Peaceable
Kingdom, Chile and the Nazis, and The Diplomacy of War: The Case of


Canada has won yet again another softwood lumber dispute with the United
States under NAFTA’s dispute-settling mechanism. U.S. authorities say
that they will ignore the ruling, and while the Martin government
ponders reprisals, Canadian oil and natural gas continue to flow south
as though everything were normal. Why did the Mulroney government lead
Canada into this mess? Inwood provides answers both ugly and credible.

According to Inwood, members of the Royal Commission—whose
recommendations provided the basis first of the bilateral trade
agreement and then of NAFTA—did not consider the evidence at their
disposal. Commissioners ignored submissions discouraging
“guaranteed” Canadian access to the U.S. market in exchange for
virtually unlimited U.S. access to Canadian energy supplies. They also
exaggerated the advantages of such an arrangement. At least 1118
groups—from business, labour, churches, First Nations, women’s
organizations, and elsewhere—offered advice, most of it nationalistic
or protectionist. The commissioners “nonetheless ... recommended a
market-oriented continentalist strategy.” Clearly some briefs were
more important than others. The Employer’s Council of British Columbia
favoured free trade; its president, William Hamilton, was a
commissioner. Some commissioners were too old, tired, or otherwise
occupied to absorb all the submissions. Some distrusted academics who
lacked business experience and had “never had to meet a payroll.”
(Business was more continentalist than any other group.) Donald
Macdonald, himself highly influential with his fellow commissioners and
once a disciple of nationalist Walter Gordon, had become a formidable
businessman. On November 19, 1984, before the Commission finished its
work, Macdonald advised that “Canada should take a ‘leap of faith’
into a comprehensive free trade agreement with the United States.”

Inwood focuses on the Commission itself, not on free trade and its
merits (or otherwise). He provides biographical information about each
commissioner. Pierre Trudeau, a nationalist, established the Commission
in 1982, and Mulroney used its report, issued in 1985, to justify his
about-face on free trade. This was probably one of the most important
Royal Commissions in Canadian history.


Inwood, Gregory J., “Continentalizing Canada: The Politics and Legacy of the Macdonald Royal Commission,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 28, 2024,