Canada has not yet announced building a wall on the nation’s southern border, but at this point, such a step would not be surprising. Relations between the two nations have been deteriorating rapidly.
In hindsight, signs of trouble appeared at the start of the current administration in Washington. President Donald Trump ignored the tradition of visiting Canada early and instead went to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is currently pursuing a controversial and undeniably bloody intervention in Yemen. The Saudi government today pursues reform but remains relatively repressive.
In stark contrast, President Barack Obama, respecting tradition, made Canada his first foreign destination. On February 19, 2009, he and Prime Minister Stephen Harper met and found common environmental ground. They avoided open clash on the “Buy American” provision of the U.S. economic stimulus plan.
President John F. Kennedy eloquently summed up the relationship in an address to the Parliament of Canada in early 1961, noting, “Geography has made us neighbors, history has made us friends, economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies.” Kennedy’s national security adviser McGeorge Bundy said that the British represent “Someone to talk to” and the same has been true of Canadians.
Regional trade agreements further strengthen Canada-U.S. ties. The 1994 NAFTA agreement, now under attack, lowered trade barriers between Mexico and the rest of North American. An essential predecessor was the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement of 1988, in turn facilitated by the successful Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations.
Canada’s government professionals traditionally foster cooperation with Britain and the U.S. on military security and wider diplomatic as well as economic matters, and are numerous among the professionals who staff the United Nations, NATO and the other substantial and influential intergovernmental organizations.
Such cooperation in promotion of international community has deep roots reaching back to the earliest phase of World War II. During that desperate time, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met for their first summit on naval warships off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The meeting occurred in August 1941, several months before the attack on Pearl Harbor brought America directly into the war.
The principal result was the Atlantic Charter, a dramatic declaration of Allied strategy and goals, including the postwar period. Reflecting extraordinary determination and optimism during the bleakest phase of the global struggle, FDR and Churchill explicitly proposed the United Nations. Throughout the war, a series of conferences took place to hammer out the details of the new world organization.
Very nationalistic Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker clashed with JFK. At the end of the 1961 presidential visit, Bundy accidentally left behind a briefing memo on which the president had scrawled a note asking his aide how to deal with the “SOB.”
Diefenbaker’s staff delivered the memo to him. He promptly flew into a rage and threatened to involve the press.
Kennedy pleaded poor penmanship and said he actually had written “OAS”, the Organization of American States. At a press conference, the president pointedly praised Bundy.
Early the next morning, the national security adviser arrived at the office to find a staff note: “Congratulations, you can stay.” Humor then helped mitigate serious political frictions, but did not end them.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo now works hard to maintain reasonable diplomatic relations with Ottawa. Pompeo’s military experience should help. The U.S.-Canada partnership, dating from FDR, survived earlier conflicts.
Let’s hope that continues.
— Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College and author of “After the Cold War.” Contact email@example.com.