U.S. and Canada

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(Host) Commentator Mary Clancy shares her ambivalence about Canadian-American relations.

(Clancy) In these nervous times, the main characteristic of Canadians’ feelings towards Americans is ambivalence. It is also ambivalence at it’s weirdest. At the neighborly level – and that’s the level most borderites have dwelt on for five generations – nothing has changed. Canadians still take every chance to come south, whether it’s snowbirds to Florida for a month or six, or middle-aged women to Boston to test their combat skills in Filene’s Basement.

The geo-political level is different. Canada’s Prime Minister meets with Vincente Fox of Mexico, enlisting support for U.N. solidarity, and states that the U.S. cannot go about the world knocking off whatever regime offends. Canadian editorialists go from attacking the Republican agenda to demonizing the U.S. This is the cause of Canadian ambivalence.

It’s the neighborly relationship that’s important. It’s the basis of everything going on between us. We have always been neighborly. During the Revolution, a troop of colonists crossed into New Brunswick to attack Saint John. Canadians said, “We don’t want to fight you; go back to Maine and we’ll forget it ever happened.” Whatever we feel about current foreign policy of the United States, we are aware that the reason Canada has a booming economy, peaceful borders and a secure homeland (or as secure as possible in this day and age) is because we live next to you and you protect us from the random buffetings of the outside world.

We do, of course, play our part internationally; we just don’t play on your level. We are 30 million. You are 300 million. Our forces could be billeted on three or four of your carriers. Those same forces, while superbly trained, are perceived by our populace to be peacekeepers. They are trained for combat, yes; but since 1956 we see ourselves and our military in the peacekeeper’s role, and that’s the role we like.

Canadians sit above the 49th parallel worrying. We worry about war with Iraq. We worry about retaliation from al Qaeda. When we get past the cosmic worries, we worry about reaction to our worries. Is there going to be a rift? What will it mean for jobs in both countries that depend on a billion dollars a day in trade? Will Canadians be welcome? Will we be able to cross into the U.S. with relative ease? Will there be the odd reference to us in American pop culture? Will you still love us and protect us?

This relationship is uncannily marital: a marriage that isn’t perfect, but it has worked to our mutual advantage for a long time. You’re bigger, richer, stronger; so our respect and affection is tempered with a little fear. There have been rifts before. We didn’t like it then; we don’t like it now. We’re nervous because, like you, we want to have our cake and eat it. We want to be seen as independent – especially on foreign policy – but we don’t want you to walk away mad. We’re uncomfortable. We complain that we’re taken for granted, yet when Canada is distancing itself from U.S. policy we’re uncomfortable. In these nervous times, it’s no wonder a Canadian feels like a Christian Scientist with appendicitis.

I’m Mary Clancy, a Canadian living in Burlington.

Mary Clancy is president of Burlington College.

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