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Canada and the US: Better Together

The World Policy blog is hosting a weekly series of articles featuring global perspectives on the U.S. presidential election, the effects of which extend beyond partisanship and beyond our borders. Read previous articles addressing U.S.-Mexican relations, similarities between the U.S. and Israeli political systems, and what Indians can expect from an administration under each nominee. Stay tuned for further commentary in the coming weeks!

By Lisa Thomson

During Justin Trudeau’s visit to the White House this past spring, much was reported on the fact that 2016 marked the first time a Canadian prime minister had made the trip since Jean Chrétien in 1997. While Barack Obama and Trudeau’s burgeoning bromance peaked as the two leaders traded NHL Playoffs jabs, the significance of Canadian-U.S. relations extends well beyond who has custody of the Stanley Cup. 

One of the sentiments that surfaced after the two spoke in the White House Rose Garden was the sense that Obama and Trudeau are two ships passing in the night. As Obama sails into the sunset of his tenure, Trudeau is only just leaving the harbor as he pushes to reclaim Canada’s lapsed leadership in the global arena. 

Trudeau’s early forays during his first eight months in office have included announcing Canada’s intention to make a bid for a position on the U.N. Security Council, signing the yet-to-be-ratified TPP, sending over 300 delegates to the Paris climate conference, and pledging to implement a national carbon price as well as resettling over 29,000 Syrian refugees.

While each of these acts comes with its own complexities and disagreements, together these policies illustrate an aggressive stance in opposition to isolationism—one that doesn’t retreat from global engagement. In the wake of Brexit, a sweep of right-leaning politics across Europe, and the increasingly shocking proceedings of the U.S. election, such a stance feels increasingly vulnerable.  

As Canada reasserts its global influence, it’s also moved to rekindle its flagging relationship with the U.S. 

Following years of a tepid relationship stemming from disagreements over the Keystone XL pipeline, it was reassuring to see warmer relations in the Rose Garden this past spring. But as the prospect of a Trump presidency casts a shadow over daily discussions, Canadians are concerned that the partnership between two key regional and global allies could be set back at a time when political fragmentation needs to be avoided most.  

To take a failed phrase from our first cousin—we’re better together. 

Although our two countries share the longest border in the world, we’ve felt distant. Now, as Canada reemerges on to the world stage, a potential president of the U.S. who not only casts aside our nation’s shared values of tolerance, inclusivity and respect, but also threatens many of our strategic priorities—including commitments to humanitarian assistance, climate change, and trade—is a disconcerting prospect for our renewed relationship. 

Of course, Canada has a far from perfect record. Mitch Goldberg, a refugee and immigration lawyer and president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, says that there has been a sea change in Canada since the Liberal government was elected last fall. He says Canada went from a government that spent 10 years being ideologically restrictive toward refugees to one that’s restoring Canada’s traditional commitment to humanitarian issues, as demonstrated by both the country’s resettlement of tens of thousands of refugees and the expected reforms to Canada’s immigration and refugee laws this coming fall. 

This commitment is at the core of what Goldberg describes as the commonality between the Canadian and U.S. governments, which extends to cooperation on processing refugees as well as border and other security concerns. Goldberg sees this commonality as a jumping-off point for working together, albeit one that could be compromised come November. “I would hope that for so many reasons, for the good of refugees but also for the benefit of Canadians and Americans, that we continue to exercise our humanitarian tradition and use common sense, and I only see one of the two candidates who could potentially somewhat fulfill those objectives,” he said.   

Jennifer Winter, assistant professor in economics and director of the Energy and Environmental Policy Area at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, echoed the potential for a stronger relationship between Canada and the U.S. on the issue of climate change. She also described a sea change within Canada in regards to how climate change has evolved into a platform issue for Canadians over the past 10 years—one that now drives government policy at home and abroad. “The rationale the previous Conservative government had on delaying climate change policies is that it didn’t really make sense for Canada to make a move until the U.S. did,” said Winter. “So I think that the Canadian government has just decided that they’re not going to wait anymore and they’re going to start moving, and rest of world can catch up when it catches up.”

The impression that Canada would reluctantly carry on without the U.S. was also evoked by Tracey Ramsey, a Canadian Member of Parliament and the NDP’s Critic for International Trade. Canada and the U.S. have the world’s largest trade relationship, valued at over $2 billion of goods and services per day. According to Ramsey, in the face of a presidential candidate who disparages international trade agreements with increasing frequency, the American election isn’t far from the minds of Canadian trade experts. “I would say it’s being talked about in nearly every conversation we’re having around trade: around softwood lumber, around the TPP, around NAFTA. These are definitely conversations that we’re having here and we are watching what’s happening in the U.S.,” she said. Ramsey said that the relationship between the two countries has become more collegial under the new Canadian administration and that it’s one she’d like to see continue to improve. 

Whether the issue at hand is trade, climate change, or humanitarian assistance, Canadians are keen to maintain our reinvigorated and outward-looking relationship with our southern neighbor. In a time of geopolitical upheaval, we really are better off together. 

*****

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Lisa Thomson is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.

[Photo courtesy of Pete Souza]

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