a, Opinion

Are the USA and Canada tangoing to different music in the 21st century?

Canada-U.S. relations have enjoyed an eclectic array of descriptions since the International Boundary that separates the two countries was set up in 1783. Pierre Trudeau famously said that living next to the U.S. was like sleeping with an elephant: “No matter how friendly or temperate the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.” John F. Kennedy just as famously described the relationship when he said that  “Geography has made us neighbours, history has made us friends, economics has made us partners, necessity has made us allies” (if only he knew that Prime Minister John Diefenbaker would decry him as a “son of a bitch” one year later). As we dig deeper into the 21st century,  I wonder what best describes the dynamics north and south of the 45th parallel, or better yet, what best describes what they should be? 

Some have likened the current relationship to the the continuing saga between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. The former has an inferiority complex, jubilant at any minor victory scored, while the latter sometimes forgets who the Sox are (no need to point out who’s who in this analogy). This contains a grain of truth. When’s the last time you heard an American exclaim, “Did you know that the premier of New Brunswick was actually born in the States?” Never. Despite it being true, you have never heard an American say that.

On the other hand, you often hear a Canuck reminding any and all that Jim Carrey, Seth Rogen, the guy who invented basketball, and so many more, are Canadian. As Canadian writer Will Ferguson put it: if you are remotely, possibly, and/or hypothetically connected to Canada in some way, we will claim you. 

But that is nothing new. Canada has been lauding the Canadian-ness of achievements by its citizens—especially its citizens that live in the States—in an unapologetically enthusiastic way ever since it started reimagining the paltry war of 1812 as The Great And Glorious Canadian (Not British!) Victory That Put Those Arrogant Yankees In Their Place. 

What is new at the turn of the century, however, is the contrast between the political philosophies the two countries have elected in their respective leaders. Not since Reagan and Trudeau have the offices of President and Prime Minister viewed each other from such different spots on the spectrum. The early 2000s saw Liberal Chretien glare across the border at conservative Bush, and relations were not rosy. They were made even more not-rosy when Canada refused to declare war against Iraq. The political profiles of the offices have since traded sides with Democrat Obama bristling his country’s right wing, and Conservative Harper upsetting (in Canada we prefer not to bristle) his country’s left wing. Despite appearing by all accounts to have struck up a warm friendship, the differing pressure from their respective constituencies was clear when Mr. Obama shut down an oil pipeline that Mr. Harper had vigorously fought for. 

But do these political differences really mean anything new for the Canada-U.S. relationship? Has anything really changed in the new century to justify searching for new ways to describe the countries’ relations, or what they should be? The same variables Kennedy listed as binding the two states together are still at play. If anything, given a world connected with ever more complexity, they are more even more so. 

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