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Too Close for Comfort: Canada’s Future Within Fortress North America

by Maude Barlow

Tireless Canadian nationalist Maude Barlow, a prolific writer, researcher, and activist, has produced the latest in a series of social critiques that call on Canadians to beware of closer ties with the U.S. She examines the Deep Integration project, a corporate-inspired plan that would see the North American continent become a seamless, U.S.-centred sweatshop zone.

The subject matter is bleak, confronting issues from torture to the decline in government protection of Canadians on everything from air and water quality to the amount of pesticide residue on imported foods. Barlow expertly delves behind the bafflegab that clouds many of these issues, while unearthing other topics that the media tend to ignore.

Though the chapters often read like extended pamphlets on such issues as the privatization of health care and education, they nonetheless have an urgency that is sorely lacking in the daily press. But like pamphlets, the chapters sometimes miss the kind of nuanced precision required to thoroughly convince readers of Barlow’s arguments. Like many Canadian social critics, Barlow tends to take potshots at the easy targets of the Bush administration and the U.S. evangelical right, whose activities and bizarre policies she ably documents. But she is less successful bringing it all back home and showing the extent to which Canada, far from being an innocent at sea, plays a major role in its own economic decapitation.

Indeed, Barlow often closes sections of her book by taking to the hustings, claiming, for example, that Canada is slowly adopting the U.S. class structure without taking into account our own unequal social system. She also repeatedly refers to such vague terms as “Canadian values” and Canada’s “traditional” respect for peace and international law, yet there is no real attempt to define those values or explore the extent to which they form a mythical cover for Canadian malfeasance at home and abroad.

Because a reader may feel overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught Barlow presents, Too Close for Comfort would have benefited not only from footnotes, but also from a section on organizations tackling these thorny issues.