Sitcom neighbors

We may not like them, but we certainly can’t live without them. Yes, one may be rude and aggressive and the other genial but passive-aggressive, and one might sometimes trample on the other and not realize it, but little do both parties realize that they need each other more than they believe. While the previous lines may sound like the plot for a new TV sitcom, it is actually a reflection of Canada-U.S. relations today. No matter how much grumbling takes place across Canada about the way our southern neighbours are treating us, and how they do not see us in the way we think we should be seen in, the relations between these two countries are invariably interdependent on each other in what could be the most powerful continent on Earth today.

This relationship of interdependence was many years in the making. After many trials and tribulations after the open hostilities of the War of 1812 and the constant threats of the American belief of the manifest destiny in the late 19th century, the relationship was secured after the Second World War when Canada, having earned a newfound reputation in the war, was looking to finally break free of Britain’s protective embrace. With Britain an ocean away and its hegemony fading, and U.S. hegemony on the rise next door (not to mention growth in intra-continent trade between these neighbours since the turn of the century), it was a perfect match. Canada, having depended on Britain for defence since Confederation, could now rely on the Americans for continental defence, while helping a fast growing American economy by providing goods it needed. This relationship has continued to this day, even in the post-9/11 era, and shows no signs of changing in the distant future.

However, it is not an equal relationship, and it never will be. The United States is Canada’s biggest trading partner: Over 70 per cent of our exports are bound for our southern neighbour, leaving us at their economic mercy, and much of our foreign investment originates from there, as American concerns such as Wal-Mart, Kichen Fresh Chicken and Sears liberally dot the Canadian economic landscape. Also, Canada is dependent on the U.S. militarily. From the first British colonies up to the Second World War, Canada was dependent on the British for defence. Even though it became a force unto itself independent of Britain after the war, Canada was still only a middle power, forced into relying on the Americans for joint defence of the continent against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. This has evolved into more military reliance, be instead of Britain, it is now the U.S. We are almost totally dependent on the Americans, both economically and militarily.

On the other hand however, the U.S. is not as dependent on Canada as Canadians like to believe. Even through many international organizations like the United Nations and the World Trade Organization where Canada can level their un-equal relationship, the U.S. is not at a level of dependence Canada is on, even though Canadians have a stake in the American economy. This is one of the major reasons why many Americans are benignly ignorant of Canadians: Unlike Canadians, over 80 per cent of which live within 200 kilometres of the U.S. border, only a small part of the U.S. population lives near Canada. Border states like Washington, Minnesota and New York have greater say on policy regarding Canada, because such policy affects them directly. So it should be no surprise that states like Florida and Arizona are ignorant of Canada: they have little or no stake in the relationship, and they have their own concerns with Mexico or Cuba to deal with.

So even though Canadians and Americans are interdependent in the North American neighbourhood, there will always be a disparity between these North American neighbours. So no matter who wins the election on November 2, The Americans’ benign ignorance will continue to beget Canadian annoyance for many years to come.

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