Mending Fences: Warmer US-Canadian Relations

By Hemel, Daniel | Harvard International Review, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Mending Fences: Warmer US-Canadian Relations


Hemel, Daniel, Harvard International Review


Not since US President James Polk threatened to invade British Columbia in 1845 have tempers flared so hotly along the US-Canadian border. In March 2003, Carolyn Parish, a member of Parliament from Canada's ruling Liberal Party, publicly exclaimed: "Damn Americans, I hate those bastards." Parish's remarks came less than five months after Francoise Ducros, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Jean Chretien, described US President George Bush as a "moron" while speaking within earshot of reporters at the NATO summit in Prague.

These political insults underscore more substantive disputes between the two neighbors. In April 2002, a US F-16 fighter pilot fired a laser-guided missile into a Canadian training area south of Kandahar, Afghanistan, killing four Canadian soldiers and wounding eight others. The same spring, the United States imposed a 27 percent tariff on softwood lumber imports from Canada to combat dumping of subsidized Canadian surplus lumber. In March 2003, the US Congress cut funding for a four-year-old joint US-Canadian effort to monitor Pacific Ocean salmon stocks. In May 2003, the US government barred importation of Canadian beef, fearing the spread of mad cow disease from Canada, and halting what had been a US$1.2 billion per year trade. President Bush's rejection of the Kyoto Protocol and Prime Minister Chretien's criticism of the US intervention in Iraq have only deepened the rift.

Now, with former Finance Minister Paul Martin likely succeeding the retiring Chretien as prime minister in February 2004, senior officials in the Bush administration, including Undersecretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Roger Noriega and US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, have indicated that they expect a reconciliation between Washington and Ottawa. Martin, a successful steamship tycoon with an estimated personal fortune of US$475 million, has amassed widespread support within the Liberal Party; despite being far more conservative on economic issues than the Liberal rank-and-file. Martin's political ascension has been fueled largely by his reputation as a pragmatist and a consensus-builder. As such, Martin--once he becomes prime minister--is likely to mend mangled US-Canadian ties.

Martin has already committed to a series of measures that will strengthen the US-Canadian relationship. He has advocated Canadian assistance to the US-led construction of a space-based missile defense shield. Both he and Chretien hope that the project will operate through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a joint US-Canadian alliance. Negotiations between the two countries have reportedly stalled, with Washington opting to wait until Martin's inauguration before further pursuing the initiative. Meanwhile, thee shield's proponents have asserted their power in Parliament, passing a resolution advocating any system developed to defend America against ballistic missiles by a 156 to 73 margin in June 2003. Once Martin assumes control, increased cooperation between the two countries in the military sphere could bridge the US-Canadian rift.

Second, Martin's vow to augment Canadian military outlays should allay US criticism of Ottawa's meager nine billion US dollar-defense budget.

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