U.S.-Canada trade, defense and border issues since September 11: the view from Canada.

AuthorCody, Howard

    Closely interrelated public opinion on trade, border security, and defense issues has divided Canadians along predictable and traditional lines that reflect the persistence of certain continuities. As always, Canadians differ sharply on relations with the United States. They apply their conception of this relationship to their positions on issues of the day, as on border security after September 11, and to Operation Iraqi Freedom and missile defense in early 2003. As usual this debate is playing out inside that most Canadian of institutions, the Liberal party. (1) How the Liberals handle their differences on these matters in their ongoing leadership exercise likely will determine how Canada defines its relationship with the US in the coming years.

    We can identify continuities or recurring themes in Canada's approach to the United States, and in Canadian foreign policy generally. In 1951 External Affairs Minister (and later Prime Minister) Lester Pearson observed at the height of the Cold War and the Korean War that "it is not very comfortable to be in the middle these days." (2) Pearson also conceded in 1951 that "the United States is now the dominating world power on the side of freedom. Our preoccupation is no longer whether the United States will discharge her international responsibilities, but how she will do it and whether the rest of us will be involved." (3) Here Pearson betrayed an early concern with process, or the practice of foreign policymaking. That is, he assigned importance to how decisions are made. Pearson and most Canadian political leaders since his time have expressed a preference for multilateral policymaking through institutions like the United Nations. Adapting Robert Keohane's definition, we may define multilateralism as a decision-making style or process seeking to coordinate national policies and undertake international initiatives in war and diplomacy through formal associations or institutions which countries support over time. (4)

    To over-generalize, we may divide most Canadians into three groups respecting their positions on Canada's desired relationship with the United States. Nationalists and continentalists represent the two polarities. Both may be found in the inclusive Liberal party. However, appropriately for Canada's ideologically flexible pivot party, neither polarity dominates within the party or in the general population. Many Canadians, and probably the majority of non-elites, fall somewhere in between. They harbor no ideologically driven agenda, but they wish Canada to safeguard its sovereignty and distinct identity from external (in Canada this means American) assimilation forces--up to a point. (5)

    Canada's nationalists, both internationalists and multilateralists on the left side of politics, believe that Canada should maintain a national image and reputation as different from the United States as possible. They worry that closer trade and border ties threaten Canada's sovereignty and endanger the survival of those differences that endure and matter to them. (6) But they confine their nationalist ardor to the relationship with the United States. They let their internationalism trump their nationalism when they eagerly surrender Canada's sovereignty to an array of multilateral institutions. Many nationalists deplore what they consider to be American arrogance, presumption, free-market economics, and great power tendencies toward unilateralism in foreign policy. By contrast, for them Canada exemplifies a diverse and multicultural "caring and sharing social mosaic buttressed by a government-sustained welfare state, a universal identity-conferring medicare system, and a middle-power commitment to multilateral resolutions to international crises through institutions like the UN and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and through activities like peacekeeping." (7) Nationalists fear that a closer relationship with the United States saps those qualities that provide a society and values that make Canada superior to its southern neighbor. Still worse, it threatens Canada's cultural, economic, and eventual political absorption. Nationalists include the Liberals' left, the Toronto Star, the New Democratic party, and much of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Canada's chattering class of artists, writers, and academics. (8) Many nationalists inhabit Canada's Ontario-centered public sector.

    Continentalists more or less accept that Canada differs from the United States in desirable ways. But they try to disentangle Canada's national identity from its relationship with the United States. They contend that Canada can keep a separate identity without distancing itself from American policies. But just what is this identity? We cannot tell. Continentalists claim, and value, much less of a distinct Canadian identity than nationalists. They betray less enthusiasm than nationalists for multiculturalism and especially for activist government. (9) They do not make clear whether they believe Canada to be superior, or whether they would regret the loss of nearly everything that nationalists believe distinguishes Canada from the United States. At the very least, their Canada has comparatively less to lose from assimilation. Continentalists admire and perhaps envy the United States. They place prime importance on preserving and furthering close cross-border trade and economic ties. Whereas nationalists fear the loss of Canada's preferable social and moral qualities, continentalists fear for Canada's economic growth and living standard. They hold that Canada's current interests demand a more tightly integrated North American economy, an open border, and close coordination on security, defense, and managing the 7'065mile border. (10) The continentalist impulse is strongest with private sector elites, the Canadian Alliance party and to a lesser extent the Progressive Conservatives, Westerners (especially Albertans), the right-wing media led by Israel Asper's CanWest Global Communications outlets like the National Post, and with the political elites of the center to right in every province.

    We may foresee the outcome of the current debate to be, with reasonable assurance, a clear if qualified victory for continentalism. A newly unipolar world beset by terrorism has stranded and disoriented a nation whose successive Liberal governments have tried to be European-style champions of multilateralism directly above the United States. As ever, we must consider the dynamics of the Liberals' internal politics as they chart Canada's course and grapple with daunting new realities. After a decade in office, Jean Chretien will soon if reluctantly surrender party leadership, and with it the position of prime minister, to the more continentalist and business-oriented Paul Martin, his former finance minister. Chretien has operated as a temperamentally cautious nationalist fending off closer economic and security cooperation without ruling out either course. He portrays Canada as a bastion of multilateralist commitment honored through Canadian membership in regional and local trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, as well as by peacekeeping activities, a leadership role in the UN, opposition to the United States' war in Iraq, and multilateral exercises not embraced by the United States like the Ottawa process to ban anti-personnel mines, the Kyoto global warming convention, and the International Criminal Court.

    Chretien has distanced himself and Canada from what nationalists consider American policy excesses or instances of preemptive or precipitate unilateralism like Operation Iraqi Freedom. But most Canadian nationalists strongly reject corporate-led economic globalization through NAFTA and the WTO. They endorse Chretien's Iraq policy but maintain that he has shown too little resolve to resist American domination of Canada's economy, particularly on trade and investment issues. However, Pollara, the government polling firm, finds that most Canadians believe Chretien strikes a satisfactory balance between nationalism and continentalism. Chretien has upheld Canadian sovereignty better than Brian Mulroney, his Conservative predecessor, who may forever carry a "yes-man" stigma toward American leaders. Even...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT