"Honey, Are You Still Mad at Me? I've Changed, You Know.": Canada-US Relations in a Post-Saddam/post-Chretien Era

By Roussel, Stephane | International Journal, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

"Honey, Are You Still Mad at Me? I've Changed, You Know.": Canada-US Relations in a Post-Saddam/post-Chretien Era


Roussel, Stephane, International Journal


AMONG THE TROUBLESOME ISSUES Paul Martin will inherit upon settling in at 24 Sussex Drive will be relations with Washington. Indeed, these relations have been steadily going downhill since the autumn of 2000: political leaders limit themselves to trading cutting remarks; the disputes pile up; and the governments--if not the people themselves--seem to adhere to opposing philosophies and political values. To evoke personages dear to the hearts of 19th-century caricaturists, there are cracks in the warm and close friendship that united Uncle Sam and Miss Canada not so very long ago.

Is it possible to restore the situation? Probably, and many commentators expect a great deal from the regime change in Ottawa(1)--and perhaps, even in Washington-- that should help clear the air. In theory, they are right. History tells us that the relations between the two countries can evolve very rapidly, given the climate of understanding between the political leaders.(2)

Will this be the case once again? Will the discontent that has taken hold, as much in Washington as in Ottawa, dissipate as soon as Paul Martin takes over? What does the new prime minister intend to do to improve relations with the United States? Is this a sound strategy? In short, will Miss Canada be forgiven for her absence, when Uncle Sam straightened out Uncle Saddam?

This article is divided into five sections. The first two serve to determine if the problems observed in the relations between the two governments are attributable to the personalities of the individuals or to unfortunate circumstances--thus isolated and short-lived--or if they are symptomatic of a basic problem, of a structural nature. The answer to this question is important since it enables us to evaluate the new prime minister's ability to effectively improve things. As wel shall see, there are signs that the causes are not limited to a clash of personalities, and that the wiggle room allotted to Paul Martin may be smaller than we believe. Expectations will have to be tempered.

In the third section, Paul Martin's projects concerning relations with the United States are examined, while the fourth section is aimed at deciphering the strategy he intends to use in order to reach his objectives. Clearly aware of the enormous economic stakes involved in these relations, the new prime minister appears determined to turn the page and to improve his government's relations with the American administration. The final section is a critical examination of the strategy he will use, a main element that involves linking co-operation on security with trade matters. Such a strategy is not only risky, but may also prove ineffective. To conclude, this article will examine an alternative presently available to the new prime minister--simply to wait...

SKIRMISHING ALONG THE 49TH PARALLEL

Since the autumn of 2000 (i.e., since the presidential campaign in the United States) relations between Ottawa and Washington seem to have gone from bad to worse. Or this is, at least, the perception of most observers and of public opinion.(3) Although this perception is probably correct, it is harder to accurately describe this situation and how relations ended up in this state.

If the degradation in Canada-US relations is merely due to personality conflicts between the heads of the executive branches, differences in style, or again manoeuvring by a group dissatisfied with the political clientele of the leaders in power, then these are merely random events that might be forgotten in a changing of the guard in Ottawa and/or Washington. On the other hand, if the tension is due to structural transformations, then the situation would, in large measure, lie beyond the control and will of the political leaders, and could be more difficult to manage.

To undertake this analysis, we must take certain things into consideration and distinguish problems of substance from those of form, localized problems from those that are structural. …

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