Canada-U.S. Relations *

By Ek, Carl; Fergusson, Ian F. | Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Canada-U.S. Relations *


Ek, Carl, Fergusson, Ian F., Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico


OVERVIEW1

Relations between the United States and Canada, though generally cordial, have undergone several changes in tenor over the past three decades. The 1980s and early 1990s were marked by an increasingly close partnership, whose milestones included the mid-1980s "Shamrock Summits" (named after the Irish heritage shared by the two countries' leaders, Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan), the 1989 U.S.-Canada Free Trade Agreement, and the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement. To many Canadians, however, Ottawa seemed at times to have drawn a bit too close to Washington, DC, with Canada casting itself too willingly in a secondary role.

In 1994, one Canada watcher observed that in the foreign policy arena, Canada "politely distances itself from the United States" in certain ways. In an interview that year, the newly elected Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien summed up his view of the bilateral relationship: "We like each other. I just don't want Canada to be perceived as being the 51st state of America." Many believe, however, that this initial show of mild reserve was intended for domestic consumption, and that Canada and the United States in fact continued to enjoy excellent relations. Chrétien and President Bill Clinton are said to have had congenial meetings; they focused on areas where the two countries were able to reach agreement, including environmental issues, cooperation on border measures, and technology projects.2

In February 2001, President George W. Bush met with Chrétien. The two leaders discussed energy, missile defense, and trade. After September 11, however, economic and environmental issues often took a back seat to joint efforts to improve security, both at home and abroad. Canada became involved in the crisis at the outset, and has cooperated closely with the United States in efforts to combat international terrorism.

Nevertheless, Chrétien did not establish with President Bush the same rapport that he had enjoyed with Clinton. Differences over a number of issues tended to strain relations. The Bush Administration inherited some long-standing trade disputes, most notably over wheat and softwood lumber, and Canada and the United States were on different sides of several international issues, including the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM treaty, and the International Criminal Court. But it was over security-related matters, particularly defense spending, Iraq, and missile defense, that the two governments had their sharpest differences. Despite these controversies, Canada and the United States continued to work together on a number of fronts to thwart terrorism, including strengthening border security, sharing intelligence and expanding law enforcement cooperation. The Canadian government passed a new anti-terrorism act, and Canada has contributed significant military assets to the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan.

Paul Martin, who became prime minister in December 2003, met several times with President Bush. At the January 2004 Summit of the Americas, the two leaders discussed several topics and came to agreement on Canadian eligibility to bid on reconstruction contracts in Iraq and on the ground rules for U.S. deportation of Canadian citizens. In April 2004 in Washington, DC, Martin and Bush met once more and talked about a variety of issues, from terrorism to the "mad cow" crisis. In November 2004, during President Bush's first official visit to Canada, missile defense, border security, and global "hot spots" were on the agenda. Although bilateral tensions heated up in 2005 over the issues of missile defense and softwood lumber, Canada's government and private citizens responded promptly and generously to assist the United States after Hurricane Katrina.3

In February 2006, after a come-from-behind election victory, the Conservative Party assumed power as a minority government, and Stephen Harper became Canada's 22nd Prime Minister-the first Conservative to lead the country in 12 years. …

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