January 21, 2018 10:00 am
Updated: January 21, 2018 12:48 pm

Push for free movement of Canadians, Kiwis, Britons and Australians gains momentum

WATCH ABOVE: 200,000 sign Petition advocating free movement across Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

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Imagine jetting off to New Zealand for four months each winter without needing to apply for a visa. Or heading to the U.K. to work for a decade without having to sort through work permits and residency applications.

That’s the future being proposed by CANZUK International, a non-profit organization advocating freedom of movement between Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

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The idea has been around for a while, but it has recently picked up steam with support from a handful of Canadian and foreign politicians (including Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer), and an international petition that now counts more than 200,000 signatories.

But what, exactly, is the CANZUK movement proposing? And what are some of the potential benefits and drawbacks of this four-country alliance? Here’s a primer.

Opening the gates

According to James Skinner, chief executive of CANZUK International, the organization’s proposals can be broken down into three key areas: freedom of movement, free trade and foreign policy co-operation.

“We would like to see a common free-trade agreement negotiated between these countries,” Skinner explained. “We now think it’s a great time for that to happen seeing as the U.K. is leaving the European Union as of next year.”

Freedom of movement for citizens of each country would be “controlled,” he noted, with certain health and security restrictions in place if people want to travel or work between the member states. Someone on a terror watch-list or with a serious criminal record would not qualify, for instance.

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The details could be negotiated as part of the broader free-trade pact, Skinner said.

“That would essentially emulate what happens with Australia and New Zealand right now. They have freedom of movement through the Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement, so each of their citizens can move freely between the countries while their economies also engage in free trade.”

Canada and the U.K. would simply need to join those agreements, CANZUK proponents argue. The organization is careful to note, however, that “no effort in developing a supranational parliament, court system or currency will be made.”

The pros

The upside of this kind of arrangement is fairly obvious, at least from the point of view of the average citizen.

CANZUK International notes that, among other things, Canadian citizens would have increased freedom to work in, live in, or visit the other countries.

We could, for example, winter in Australia and vice-versa, creating a more reciprocal “snowbird” relationship than the one that currently exists with a country like Mexico.

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Canada also needs to increase immigration to promote and sustain economic growth, Skinner noted.

“So our argument is, well if we’re looking for immigration to stimulate the Canadian economy, what better places to look than Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.?” he said.

“I mean, we share the same language, workers from these countries are highly skilled, they’re very proficient in the service industry and also the manual industry such as oil rigging.”

On the free-trade side, CANZUK International argues that this would be a golden opportunity for Canada and the other countries to further diversify their trade agreements as older pacts like NAFTA flounder.

The cons

The CANZUK proposal has its detractors, however. One of the chief criticisms is that it’s not clear that any of the four countries are either interested or motivated to move toward a four-nation agreement.

There’s been concrete talk, however, of a bilateral trade agreement for Canada and the U.K. after Britain leaves the EU, noted University of Ottawa professor Patrick Leblond, who is also a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Meanwhile, he said, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are also already negotiating as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

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“So at this point, it’s not clear how much this whole idea really makes sense, from a Canadian perspective,” Leblond said. “There’s not necessarily a lot of advantages.”

In Europe, the U.K. is indeed our largest trading partner, Leblond added, but Australia and New Zealand are actually Canada’s competitors. Canada joining the TPP and opening the door to free trade with China were partly defensive moves in response to Australia and New Zealand gaining a foothold in the Asia-Pacific region, he explained.

Meanwhile, there is already a fair amount of co-operation (at least for certain professions) between the four CANZUK countries to facilitate the movement of labour.

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In terms of free movement of travellers and family members, the U.K. has shown itself resistant to the notion of Europeans coming and going as they please, so it’s unlikely they’d yield to Canadians, New Zealanders and Aussies, Leblond said.

“Economically, there’s not that much demand for it. And then in terms of supplying it, there’s not that much willingness from a lot of these parties to say, ‘Let’s get together and do this because there’s a strong political and economic logic’ which, in part, is based on 100 years ago. The world has changed tremendously.”

And that, according to one of Leblond’s colleagues at the University of Ottawa, is a core problem with CANZUK. Professor Srdjan Vucetic teaches in the graduate school of public and international affairs, and he argues that the proposal harkens back to an era of British imperialism that no longer makes sense in the modern world.

“It is about post-imperial nostalgia, I’m convinced,” Vucetic said.

CANZUK is “resuscitating an old dream that goes back to the 19th century, and that dream is called imperial federation within the British Empire,” he added.

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Advocates of the idea are not always aware of the “historical baggage” that it carries, Vucetic argued, and it’s still unclear why they don’t also consider other nations with similar economies, values or political systems.

“Why these four countries? Why not Ireland? … Those states have similarities with the Netherlands, they have similarities with Luxemburg, with Iceland, with Norway and Sweden. There are many ways you can spin this, and say, well, [the] values are similar.”

What’s next?

At this point, there are no formal CANZUK talks taking place, and no suggestion that they are around the corner. But Skinner said his organization is hoping to get 250,000 signatures on their petition this year, then submit it to the governments of all four countries.

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He also noted that with the support of Canadian Conservative Leader Scheer, it could become an election issue in Canada in 2019.

“[It] would be, I think, beneficial for a party that would adopt it, because obviously, it’s so widely supported amongst the public,” Skinner said. “It’s certainly worth negotiating.”

Vucetic was less optimistic, calling himself a CANZUK “skeptic.”

“I’m not calling anyone crazy,” he said. “[But] I haven’t seen details on this proposal. No one’s come up with anything more than two-page proposals. And those who have are science-fiction writers.”

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