Academic journal article Canadian-American Public Policy

Strains between Governments at the Top, Hands across the Border at the Base: The Role of Subnational Governments during the Bush-Chretien Era and Beyond

Academic journal article Canadian-American Public Policy

Strains between Governments at the Top, Hands across the Border at the Base: The Role of Subnational Governments during the Bush-Chretien Era and Beyond

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION

Although personal relationships between U.S. Presidents and Canadian prime ministers have often been cordial [e.g. Clinton-Chretien, Carter-Trudeau, G.H. Bush-Mulroney] and positively affected at least the atmosphere and tone if not always the substance of Canada--U.S. relations, at other times these personal relations at the top have been acrimonious [e.g. Nixon-Trudeau, Reagan-Trudeau]. (1) Especially since the U.S. decision to go to war with Iraq, such has been the case between President Bush and Prime Minister Chretien. (2)

The relationship between them began badly when Raymond Chretien, the prime minister's nephew who in the presidential election year 2000 was Canada's ambassador in Washington, publicly suggested that Ottawa favored the candidacy of A1Gore. Relations between the two leaders were patched up to a degree due to President Bush's supportive performance at the Spring, 2001, Summit of the Americas which Canada hosted in Quebec City. But subsequently, things took a turn for the worse over a host of trade issues like grain, steel, and softwood lumber where the Bush Administration was seen to be playing petty parochial politics at the expense of Canadian jobs. The June, 2002, G-8 Summit in Alberta was also seen as undermining Chretien. When the prime minister proposed a comprehensive plan to aid Africa which was supposed to be an important part of Chretien's legacy as world statesman, that image was undermined when Bush insisted on linkage between economic aid and democratic reform. The contrasts between the "little guy from Shawinigan" and George W. Bush's relative lack of political and diplomatic experience, little if any knowledge of Canada, and hardly any travel beyond the borders of the United States prior to his controversial election as president could not have been starker. Having gotten along very well with small-town-Arkansas-boy-made-good moderate "liberal" Democrat Bill Clinton for the first seven years of his tenure as prime minister, it was perhaps inevitable that Chretien, whose humble origins echo Clinton's, would not relate very well to the conservative Republican crowd around Bush.

This paper contends that the foundations of the Canada--U.S. relationship are resilient enough to survive the current stresses and strains between Ottawa and Washington over Iraq. Canada's preference for multilateralism, soft power in defense of human security and human rights, global economic and environmental justice, (3) along with the normal array of bilateral irritants ranging from wheat and cattle to acid rain will also survive. Policy differences between the two governments are currently taking place against a backdrop of mutual suspicion and disaffection at the summit between President Bush and Prime Minister Chretien. Among the interrelated factors which allow integrative tendencies in Canada--U.S. relations to continue to widen and intensify in spite of (as well as simultaneously with) current differences at the top are: globalization (4) and "glocalization;" (5) the de facto internationalization of functions and activities of subnational governments; and, most important of all, the enduring commonality or complementarity of a host of cross-border local and regional interests in a host of specific policy domains. Current post-9/11 Canadian and U.S. central and subnational governmental (6) efforts to obtain a border which is both impervious to terrorist penetration and yet open to maintaining the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world--a "smart" and "trade efficient" border, a secure yet open border--illustrate these themes.

The border between Canada and the United States is extremely porous and transparent. Not an entirely new development, the emergence of an increasingly permeable border was more the result of political will in response to economic, cultural, and ecological forces than of the brute facts of geography alone. This pattern unfolded in the period between the adoption by the "mother of all Parliaments" of the Quebec Act in 1774 and the Statute of Westminster in 1931, even as British North America was being transformed into two distinctive and presumably indivisible and univocal sovereign entities. …

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