A bridge be­tween na­tions

The Globe and Mail (Alberta Edition) - - OPINION - DAVID SHRIBMAN

Re­mem­ber­ing a high point in Canada-U.S. re­la­tions

Ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette and win­ner of a Pulitzer Prize for cov­er­age of U.S. pol­i­tics

The Amer­i­can pres­i­dent spoke of hav­ing passed “so many happy hours of my life” in Canada. The Cana­dian prime min­is­ter beamed over what he called “the ev­i­dent good­will on all sides.” There was much talk of bridges, real and metaphor­i­cal. It was a long time ago. To be pre­cise, it has been 80 years since Franklin De­lano Roo­sevelt joined Wil­liam Lyon Macken­zie King in Kingston. The pres­i­dent re­ceived an hon­ourary de­gree from Queen’s Univer­sity. The prime min­is­ter re­flected silently on how his grand­fa­ther, im­pris­oned in the United States, had re­ceived a Pres­i­den­tial par­don from Martin Van Buren af­ter be­ing con­victed of en­cour­ag­ing Cana­dian ex­iles to in­vade Up­per Canada. And then, he thought with won­der, a cen­tury later, he was rid­ing the streets of an early Cana­dian cap­i­tal with a later pres­i­dent, both of them, as he wrote in his di­ary, “re­ceiv­ing the friendli­est cheers of the peo­ple as­sem­bled.” Kingston sel­dom plays a large role in in­ter­na­tional diplo­macy, and Amer­i­can-Cana­dian re­la­tions have sel­dom been so fraught as they are to­day, so it seems fit­ting that the city, where the pre-Con­fed­er­a­tion build­ings are some­times called the “old stones,” is plan­ning an an­niver­sary salute next Satur­day to the visit of the two lead­ers. Their joint ap­pear­ance was a land­mark in the his­tory of both coun­tries be­cause it was the first time the United States, which it­self had mounted oc­ca­sional in­va­sions of Canada, ex­plic­itly pledged to de­fend Canada from for­eign in­cur­sions. “In the cur­rent cli­mate, there’s been a flood of rhetoric at the na­tional level,” Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson told me. “But at the lo­cal level, the bonds are strong and at our level, we are mov­ing at ex­actly the op­po­site di­rec­tion, a mu­tual de­ter­mi­na­tion, in the spirit of the Roo­sevelt re­marks, to make that part­ner­ship stronger.” Kingston’s plan for an af­ter­noon cel­e­bra­tion of the Roo­sevelt speech – a siz­able del­e­ga­tion of U.S. of­fi­cials has been in­vited – is a pow­er­ful an­ti­dote to a re­la­tion­ship that re­cently has ex­pe­ri­enced dif­fi­cult trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, (mis­taken) claims that Canadians burned down the White House, tar­iff threats and coun­terthreats, and taunts em­ploy­ing the words “weak” and “dis­hon­est.” Things were dif­fer­ent in 1938, and not only be­cause it was a time when songs such as A-Tisket, ATas­ket (Ella Fitzger­ald) and Be­gin the Beguine (Ar­tie Shaw) would fill the air­waves on both sides of the 49th par­al­lel. It was the sum­mer both broad­caster Peter Jen­nings and for­mer Cana­dian prime min­is­ter Paul Martin were born. The ded­i­ca­tion of the 13.6kilo­me­tre Thou­sand Is­lands Bridge con­nect­ing Ivy Lea, Ont., and Collins Land­ing, N.Y., came as dark clouds gath­ered over Europe, with the doomed Mu­nich Agree­ment only six weeks away. But in North Amer­ica, Macken­zie King could speak of “the art of in­ter­na­tional bridge build­ing” along with the “over­com­ing of bar­ri­ers [and the] broad­en­ing of the path of progress and peace,” words that ring strong and free even on scratchy CBC record­ings from that day. For his part, Roo­sevelt could speak of two na­tions “in friend­ship and in en­tire un­der­stand­ing,” and then of­fer the se­cu­rity pledge that for eight decades – through John F. Kennedy’s dis­dain for John Diefenbaker, Lyn­don John­son’s re­morse­less pil­lo­ry­ing of Pierre El­liott Trudeau over the Viet­nam War, and Don­ald J. Trump’s bit­ter crit­i­cism of Justin Trudeau – has been the spine of re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries. “The re­sponse to the state­ment was spon­ta­neous,” the sto­ried Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Felix Be­lair, Jr. wrote on the front page of The New York Times. “Hardly had the last word passed the Pres­i­dent’s lips when a thun­der of ap­plause that was sus­tained sev­eral min­utes arose from all over the sta­dium.” He noted that Macken­zie King “ap­plauded gen­tly against the back of his wrist.” For the United States, the se­cu­rity pledge pro­duced a north­ern moat against ag­gres­sion to ac­com­pany the Atlantic and Pa­cific Oceans and the Gulf of Mex­ico, bod­ies of wa­ter that al­lowed Amer­ica to re­treat into it­self at times of iso­la­tion­ist sen­ti­ment and to pro­tect it­self at times of in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ment. For Canada, it pro­vided spe­cial as­sur­ances of de­fence of the Bri­tish Columbia and Yukon coasts, re­garded as es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble as the Sec­ond World War ap­proached. That day, Roo­sevelt said “the bridge which we here ded­i­cate is a tan­gi­ble proof that ad­min­is­tra­tion by two neigh­bours of a job to be done in com­mon of­fers no dif­fi­culty.” There was sus­tained ap­plause when Macken­zie King de­scribed the bridge as a “mon­u­ment of in­ter­na­tional co-op­er­a­tion and good­will.” Amid the se­ri­ous­ness of the pro­ceed­ings, Roo­sevelt, who a year ear­lier had threat­ened the in­de­pen­dence of the U.S. Supreme Court, of­fered a sub­tle jibe to the high court. In ac­cept­ing the hon­ourary doc­tor of law de­gree, FDR noted that Amer­i­can pres­i­dents are pre­cluded from ac­cept­ing any ti­tle from a for­eign prince, po­ten­tate or power. “Queen’s Univer­sity is not a prince or a po­ten­tate, but it is a power,” he said. “Yet I can say with­out con­sti­tu­tional re­serve that the ac­cep­tance of the ti­tle which you con­fer on me to­day would raise no qualms in the au­gust breast of our own Supreme Court.” Even to­day, with dif­fi­cult re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries, there re­main no mis­giv­ings about the mes­sage Macken­zie King and Roo­sevelt shared, for, as the prime min­is­ter said: “In pol­i­tics, as in road mak­ing, it is a great thing, Mr. Pres­i­dent, to know how to build bridges.”

In pol­i­tics, as in road mak­ing, it is a great thing, Mr. Pres­i­dent, to know how to build bridges. WIL­LIAM LYON MACKEN­ZIE KING

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