In The Media

Misplaced outrage

by Derek Burney and Fen Osler Hampson

July 9, 2012

The predictable chorus of outrage about our analysis in Foreign Affairs about the state of Canada-U.S. relations has generated more heat than light to the topic. The always ebullient U.S. Ambassador’s sweeping declaration that relations have “never been better” brings to mind the adage of the American humorist Ambrose Bierce that a diplomat is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country. Alas, the tone of the ambassador’s defence discredits both his cameo career and his skill as a diplomat.

His erstwhile Canadian allies parrot similar obfuscations, which scarcely conceal their virulent anti-Bush, anti-Harper prejudices. But not one shred of analysis or evidence is proffered to discount our basic judgment that relations “while civil have seldom been productive.”

We have been spinning bureaucratic wheels for four years, if not longer, and have precious little to show for it. Canadian companies who do business at the border still complain about delays at key transit points and mountains of red tape. Canada is also getting the short end of the auto bailout, despite having contributed its full share. If a new bridge at Detroit-Windsor eventually gets built it will be on the backs on Canadian — not U.S. — taxpayers.

We are also told that President Obama was and is popular in Canada, an observation we do not contest. Precisely because of Obama’s popularity in Canada, there was much hope at the beginning of his administration that bilateral relations would take a positive inspired turn, even by those normally suspicious of closer ties with the Americans. Instead, we wonder why — especially when we carefully examine the record — there is a fundamental difference between affection and achievement. (After four years something many Americans are also acknowledging).

There is also a palpable difference between Canadian and American interests, a distinction that seems to confuse our self-styled critics. We are told that we should simply learn to live with U.S. protectionism because it is an election year. But Buy America lunges came in the full flush of Obama’s 2008 victory and at a time when his party controlled both the House and the Senate.

When your #1 trading partner misbehaves the actions need to be challenged vigorously no matter what the year. They should certainly not be excused least of all by Canadians. The fact that Canada is still the United States’ #1 export market seems to have escaped the attention of the Obama Administration and its Canadian acolytes.

Should the presidential veto of Keystone be sustained this would violate a basic principle of NAFTA. Is that something we should take on the chin as being “understandably political?” We suspect that many, particularly many in western Canada would respectfully disagree as should anyone with a modicum of appreciation for tangible Canadian interests. The energy sector alone contributes more than one tenth of Canada’s GDP.

We are told that Canada’s record on climate change is reason enough for the U.S. to ignore proposals for bilateral cooperation that would be aimed at balancing equitably shared economic and environmental interests. This conjecture ignores the fact that the U.S. has talked a much better game on climate change than it has played. As by far the world’s largest CO2 emitter, the United States’ main contribution to any diminution has been its sputtering economy.

Tepid U.S. support for Canada’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council is whitewashed either because of a “principle” whereby the U.S. does not signal support for any candidate — a laughable premise in itself if we look at the historical record — or because Canada was not worthy of a seat. Self-flagellation one more time! Given the fiasco over Syria at the UN, it might be easier to contend that the seat was not worthy of Canada rather than the other way round.

Finally, it is suggested that we should simply take our lumps when a superpower behaves in an unruly or insensitive manner. This observation comes from those same “experts” who — during previous U.S. administrations not to their liking — urged Canada to “speak truth to power.”

Rather than aphorisms we suggest that our government speak and act firmly to defend and enhance our interests and that, when the benefits are not mutually recognized, we look to more welcome alternatives.

The reality is that, when Emperors are found to be without clothes, those who serve, and those who admire from a distance, are usually the last to notice.

Derek Burney, an Officer of the Order of Canada, is a senior strategic advisor to Norton Rose Canada LLP. Mr. Burney is a senior research fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a visiting professor and senior distinguished fellow at Carleton University. He is also a director of several Canadian companies including TransCanada Corp., builders of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Fen Osler Hampson is the Chancellor’s Professor and Director of The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University. He is the author of nine books and editor/co-editor of more than 25 other volumes on international affairs and Canadian foreign policy.

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