Striking the Balance in Canada-U.S Relations

By Mendelsohn, Matthew | Canadian Speeches, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview
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Striking the Balance in Canada-U.S Relations


Mendelsohn, Matthew, Canadian Speeches


Canada is "just another country" in the eyes of the United States. Canadians worry over sovereignty, but we still desire the economic benefits of being neighbors to the most influential nation in the world. Canada needs to strike a balance between economic progress and retaining our sense of self, values, and sovereignty. Speech to the Borderlines Conference in Montreal, October 31, 2002.

We should not frame our discussion through the lens of "North American integration." This is misleading. Americans have no interest in this issue, in fact they are not even aware that it is an issue. Only the Canadian business community, government, and some academics believe that the issue exists at all. The Canadian public would be surprised to find out that there are debates about North American integration going on, and would certainly react with reticence and overt hostility to the very concept. Instead, we should frame our discussions in the context of the following question: how should we approach and define our relationship with the United States so as to best promote our own self-interest, and by self-interest I include both our material self interest and our desire to promote abroad Canadian values, human rights, peace, democracy, and the rule of law. This may mean closer ties with the United States on some questions, and more independence on others.

What are some of the realities of Canadian public opinion that we must deal with? Over the past two decades Canadians outside Quebec have become increasingly pan-Canadian in outlook. Outside Quebec, our attachments to province have declined, and our attachment to country has increased, and over the past two decades, our national pan-Canadian identity has become more deeply entrenched than ever. The "I AM CANADIAN" ads are no aberration: Canadians are very proud of their national identity, and, with no trace of irony, love to yell about how quiet and modest they are. In Quebec, this has not occurred.

Canadians distinguish between our relationship with the United States and our identity: while most Canadians want the relationship nourished, and recognize its importance for our collective prosperity, they believe we are different from Americans and do not want Canada to become more like the United States. Although Canadians support closer relations and more integration with Americans on policies that are "managerial" in nature (border security or the defense of North America, for example), they do not on issues that touch directly the question of how we organize ourselves as a community. On issue after issue, the vast majority of Canadians believe that how we organize ourselves as a society is preferable to how they do.

Over the past two decades, Canadians have become far less protectionist, far less supportive of using the States to protect Canadian industries or Canadian culture, and have become more likely to believe that Canada can compete with the United States. Beyond these changes, though, and despite a post- 9-11 spike in sympathy, Canadians' attitudes in regards to Americans have in fact changed little over the past two decades. Canadians recognize that they are highly trade dependent on the United States, but the majority does not believe that we should have closer relations with the United States on most issues.

While Canadians look at all of our foreign policy through the lens of our relationship with the United States, Americans look at us as "just another country." Canadians are collectively immature, not understanding the realities of power and our station on the world stage and in the eyes of the United States. To the United States government, when four of our soldiers are killed in Afghanistan, this is not much different than four Mexicans being killed. Canadians, of course, think differently, and expect to be acknowledged. For Canadians, this is an issue of respect and recognition, not dissimilar to debates over recognizing Quebec as a distinct society.

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