The relationship between Canada and the United States is difficult enough for Canadians much less others to understand. One must comprehend some key historical differences otherwise it’s like trying to understand Germany and France by reading a Michelin travel guide.
The Americans started with its revolution starting in 1776 which was both a political one as well as a philosophical one. It was the time of «Enlightenment» and was hugely influenced by the writings of Thomas Paine especially Common Sense. On the political front, the original 13 colonies were contiguous and a great distance from other British North American Colonies in what is now Canada. In fact much of the settlement in Atlantic Canada came from British loyalists fleeing what was to become America.
A large part of American expansion to the west was violent with Indian battles still going on in the 1889s. One president, Andrew Jackson greased his way to the White House by killing and expelling Indian tribes. The image one has is the covered wagon with white settlers, rifle in hand – Canada had no such western surge and what there was involved the fur trade laced with generous doses of liquor and hitherto unknown diseases for aboriginals.
The American nation came about by a sense of «manifest destiny» which meant, in their view, they had a right to all of North America save Mexico from whom they simply seized 1/3 of their country.
Canada’s birth, in 1867 was not the result of some inspired lovers of freedom but because the US Civil War had ended and deep rumblings of manifest destiny were heard. It was a marriage of convenience of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Quebec. Manitoba, then like a postage stamp on the western boundary of Ontario was created in 1870. British Columbia a self governing British Colony joined in 1871, Prince Edward Island in 1873 and, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905 and, finally, in 1949, Newfoundland. In none of the above cases were sentimental feelings involved (BC joined on the promise of a railway to the east) and in each case a fear of absorption by the US was a prominent feature.
A second, and very important part of the puzzle is Quebec which has about 23% of the country’s population of which about 70% speak French as their first, and often only, language. In measuring US-Canada relations Quebec is different. To their separatists – whose numbers and ardour wax and wane – the US is looked upon as supporters of an independent Quebec. Annexation, however, is out of the question for all Quebeckers need do is look what happened to the Acadiens (Cajuns) expelled from British North America to Louisiana and became absorbed with no language and cultural rights that Quebecois.
The impact of the US on Canada has of course, been immense. They outnumber us 10-1 and they are and have been for 150 years a world power. Their culture and ours are as one despite Canadian efforts to self promote through cultural creations such as a national radio and television network, subsidies to the arts and propagandizing government mythology. For example – last year the federal Ottawa government spent millions on a campaign to help us «remember» and celebrate our «victory» in the War of 1812 a war fought by British troops against Americans and could hardly be seen as a victory for either side.
On the other side of that coin is that Canada stayed clear of the war in Viet Nam and stayed out of the 2nd Iraqi invasion. We are in Afghanistan but reluctantly and leaving. I don’t believe that today Canadians would support any US military adventure unless it was under the UN Flag.
We, outside Quebec, speak the same language as the US although there are spelling and colloquial differences. We all sound the same to most foreigners but there are several accents starting with Irish in Newfoundland to Californian in BC.
If it’s possible at all to give a succinct appraisal of Canada-US relations the foregoing and probably more understanding of history is needed.
What, then, of our relationship today? We are both members of the North American Free Trade Association, NAFTA and NATO, the former much opposed by many Canadians and the latter seldom thought about. We are each other’s best customers even though I would hazard a guess that 75% of Americans would have trouble locating us on a map much less knowing about us. Canadians, on the other hand, are probably as well informed on US matters as most Americans are.
In my long life, there’s never been a serious suggestion that Canada joins the US and, in fact, the «left» (or a large segment thereof) heartily dislike Americans. Some years ago, when President Reagan addressed the Canadian Parliament, members of the leftwing New Democratic Party pointedly refused to stand up. On the right, in the governing Conservative Party, support of US policy is unstinted. One should not be fooled by that fact – the Conservatives under Stephen Harper was elected with 40% of the 60 % of voters who exercised their franchise.
I would argue that the majority of Canadians are «middle of the road» and their natural party is the Liberal party now led by Justin Trudeau, son of Pierre. This reflects support for the US Democrats and Democratic Presidents.
There is, of course, a reality Canada faces. What the US decides to do will it will do no matter what Canadians think. NAFTA, unpopular in Canada yet back in 1993 Jean Chretien, the Liberal Party leader promised that on the beginning of his term he would go to Washington and withdraw Canada from NAFTA. He didn’t and the subject was closed.
Relations with China hit us both at both the economic and human level – we both want trade and Canada has a very large Chinese community. Canada started trading with «Red China» in the 60s and recognized the People’s Republic in 1970, long before the US did and Canada has maintained political and trade relations with Cuba. Canada maintains strong ties with the Commonwealth Countries and is presently negotiating for a trade deal with the European Union.
To summarize the unsummarizable, a long, often stormy relationship which in latter days has seen Canada and the US much closer on trade matters while on international matters more and more marches to her own drummer…