Scotty Green­wood

The Arc of a Friend­ship

Policy - - In This Issue - Scotty Green­wood

Canada’s re­la­tion­ship with the United States has been mod­u­lated for the past cen­tury by an asym­me­try not just of power but of at­ten­tion. The smaller part­ner felt free to chafe oc­ca­sion­ally at the su­per­power next door and the larger one po­litely ig­nored it. The cur­rent Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, how­ever, comes with a set of po­lit­i­cal, tac­ti­cal and tem­per­a­men­tal pro­file points for which Canada hap­pens to be a very con­ve­nient foil.

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, the Canada-US dy­namic has been char­ac­ter­ized as fol­lows: Cana­di­ans love to hate the U.S. but the U.S. is only al­lowed to love Canada. Some level of anti-Amer­i­can sen­ti­ment has al­ways been par for the course north of the 49th par­al­lel. But anti-Cana­di­an­ism? In re­cent his­tory, it hasn’t been a fac­tor, at least not un­til the elec­tion of the 45th pres­i­dent of the United States.

Cana­di­ans were taken aback dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign when both the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can nom­i­nees called for a new look at the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment. Con­ven­tional wis­dom co­a­lesced around the idea that it was time to mod­ern­ize the NAFTA to re­flect the mod­ern econ­omy. Con­ven­tional wis­dom also as­sumed that Hil­lary Clin­ton, gen­er­ally con­sid­ered a fan of Canada, would be elected, and the trade ne­go­ti­a­tion, when­ever it oc­curred, would re­flect the mu­tual ad­mi­ra­tion and long-stand­ing ties that Canada, the U.S. and Mex­ico en­joy. Then, in a sur­prise even to him­self, Don­ald J. Trump won.

The world had been ex­pect­ing Clin­ton, a known com­mod­ity. She is a for­mer First Lady, sen­a­tor and sec­re­tary of state, and an un­abashed glob­al­ist with a deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the role of the U.S. within the world com­mu­nity. In­stead, the world got an iso­la­tion­ist, an an­tag­o­nist, a dis­rup­tor-inchief who would take par­tic­u­lar glee at mak­ing out­ra­geous claims about other coun­tries and their lead­ers. That in­cluded con­fronting Canada as well as Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau re­peat­edly, pub­licly, and re­lent­lessly dur­ing Trump’s first year and a half in of­fice.

On the day that the 45th pres­i­dent was sworn in, the Cana­dian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton D.C. had a re­cep­tion and watch party, as they al­ways do. Sit­u­ated at 501 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue with a per­fect view of the U.S. Capi­tol and in­au­gu­ra­tion pa­rade route, the em­bassy hosts what has be­come the most cov­eted ticket in town ev­ery four years for the in­au­gu­ra­tion.

The mood in town was dif­fer­ent that Jan­uary 20th than on pre­vi­ous in­au­gu­ra­tions. There were ju­bi­lant Trump sup­port­ers who had trav­eled from far and wide to ex­pe­ri­ence the elec­tion of the one who would “Make Amer­ica Great Again.”

Once in­side the em­bassy, a Who’s Who of U.S. and Cana­dian of­fi­cials min­gled, won­der­ing if the pres­i­den­t­elect who was so bom­bas­tic on the cam­paign trail, would be­come more “pres­i­den­tial” in his in­au­gu­ral ad­dress. The cam­paign, af­ter all, was over. The weighty busi­ness of gov­ern­ing was upon him. So, when the oath was ad­min­is­tered and the 45th pres­i­dent took the podium, the room fell silent.

When the new pres­i­dent turned his at­ten­tion from Wash­ing­ton to for­eign cap­i­tals, you could have heard a pin drop in the Cana­dian Em­bassy. He made the fol­low­ing dec­la­ra­tion:

“We as­sem­bled here to­day are is­su­ing a new de­cree to be heard in ev­ery city, in ev­ery for­eign cap­i­tal, and in ev­ery hall of power. From this day for­ward, a new vi­sion will gov­ern our land. From this mo­ment on, it’s go­ing to be Amer­ica First. Ev­ery de­ci­sion on trade, on taxes, on im­mi­gra­tion, on for­eign af­fairs, will be made to ben­e­fit Amer­i­can work­ers and Amer­i­can fam­i­lies.”

Mes­sage re­ceived. The for­eign gov­ern­ments around the world be­gan to re­cal­i­brate their ap­proaches to the U.S. ac­cord­ingly. Less than a month af­ter the in­au­gu­ra­tion, Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau came to Wash­ing­ton for his first of­fi­cial meet­ing with his coun­ter­part. The con­ver­sa­tion could not have gone bet­ter. The pres­i­dent said:

“Amer­ica is deeply for­tu­nate to have a neigh­bor like Canada. We have be­fore us the op­por­tu­nity to build even more bridges, and bridges of co­op­er­a­tion and bridges of com­merce. Both of us are com­mit­ted to bring­ing great pros­per­ity and op­por­tu­nity to our peo­ple.”

Trudeau re­turned the good­will, and in their joint press con­fer­ence, diplo­mat­i­cally de­clined sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties to crit­i­cize the pres­i­dent.

The ne­go­ti­a­tions to up­date NAFTA then be­gan in earnest. Each of the three coun­tries played host to a series of talks. Through­out the en­su­ing year and a half, the pres­i­dent would tweet about tear­ing up NAFTA, dis­par-

age Canada and Mex­ico, and in­crease pres­sure in the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

As part of that pres­sure, the U.S. in­voked “na­tional se­cu­rity” un­der Sec­tion 232 of the 1962 Trade Ex­pan­sion Act in or­der to levy tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum. Never mind what the pres­i­dent said ear­lier about Canada shed­ding blood along­side Amer­i­cans in wars fought to­gether. These tar­iffs trig­gered anger, con­fu­sion and im­me­di­ate re­tal­i­a­tion from Canada and Mex­ico, as well as other coun­tries.

At the G7 meet­ing in Charlevoix last June, Trump and Trudeau again met face to face. They joked about hav­ing solved the tar­iffs and fix­ing NAFTA. They were pretty close to a deal, it seemed. A press con­fer­ence and sev­eral tweets later, the re­la­tion­ship was on the rocks.

At the G7 meet­ing in Charlevoix last June, Trump and Trudeau again met face to face. They joked about hav­ing solved the tar­iffs and fix­ing NAFTA. They were pretty close to a deal, it seemed. A press con­fer­ence and sev­eral tweets later, the re­la­tion­ship was on the rocks.

Trump didn’t ap­pre­ci­ate the way the Trudeau had char­ac­ter­ized their bi­lat­eral talks, or his say­ing that Canada would not be pushed around on tar­iffs. Ad­vis­ers from the White House dou­bled down on the pres­i­dent’s very per­sonal crit­i­cism of Trudeau.

This is the point in the story when Cana­di­ans be­gan to ask if we have reached an all-time low in CanadaU.S. re­la­tions. The truth is, there have been times when Cana­dian lead­ers have crit­i­cized the U.S., but there are not a lot of ex­am­ples of the U.S. re­turn­ing the ire. In the 19th cen­tury, Sir John Thompson said of the U.S., “These Yan­kee politi­cians are the low­est race of thieves in ex­is­tence.” Later, John Diefen­baker and John F. Kennedy fa­mously dis­liked each other—the pop­ulist prairie Protes­tant ver­sus the ur­bane Bos­ton Catholic. Dur­ing the Viet­nam era, Prime Min­is­ter Lester Pear­son pub­licly ques­tioned Lyn­don John­son’s han­dling of the war in a speech at Tem­ple Univer­sity in Philadel­phia. “You pissed on my rug,” LBJ fa­mously told Pear­son. While Pierre Trudeau and Richard Nixon were not per­son­ally close, they worked well to­gether to re­store the re­la­tion­ship to work­ing or­der.

In more re­cent times, the CanadaU.S. re­la­tion­ship has pro­gressed ir­re­spec­tive of the dy­namic be­tween the elected lead­ers. There has of­ten been a pop­u­lar un­der­cur­rent of Cana­dian re­sent­ment to­wards the U.S., though dur­ing Barack Obama’s eight years in of­fice, he sus­tained an ap­proval rat­ing among Cana­di­ans higher than both his num­bers at home and that of his do­mes­tic coun­ter­part for most of that time, Stephen Harper. It wasn’t un­til the elec­tion of Trump that an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent tar­geted Canada for re­sent­ment of his own. What’s good for the goose was not good for the gan­der in Canada-U.S. re­la­tions—un­til now. That’s a dis­ori­ent­ing feel­ing for Cana­di­ans.

It is in this con­text that NAFTA was rene­go­ti­ated. Sur­pris­ingly, the U.S. was will­ing to con­cede on sev­eral red-line is­sues. The U.S. wanted to elim­i­nate the tri­lat­eral dis­pute set­tle­ment mech­a­nism. Canada in­sisted on keep­ing it. Canada won. The U.S. wanted Canada to tran­si­tion to free market in dairy prod­ucts. Canada wanted to main­tain sup­ply man­age­ment. Nei­ther side won, both com­pro­mised with a mod­est move to­wards man­aged trade. Both the U.S. and Canada ad­vo­cated for en­hanced wages in Mex­ico, es­pe­cially in the auto sec­tor, and the new agree­ment re­flects that.

That said, be­fore we con­grat­u­late our­selves on the USMCA, let’s re­mem­ber that it’s not done. The new agree­ment will need leg­isla­tive ap­proval in all three coun­tries. More­over, the steel and alu­minum tar­iffs re­main. In the case of the mem­bers of the 116th Congress, they will ar­rive in Wash­ing­ton in Jan­uary with other pri­or­i­ties on their minds. Hand­ing Trump a ma­jor vic­tory on trade will surely not top the Democrats’ list. It will be in­cum­bent on all of those who sup­port the new agree­ment to en­gage in earnest to see that it is passed.

And while Cana­di­ans now know what it feels like to be sub­jected to anti-Cana­dian sen­ti­ment com­ing from south of the bor­der, there are two el­e­ments of sil­ver lin­ing. One is that Canada and Mex­ico de­clined to take the bait as the U.S. ratch­eted up the pres­sure in an ef­fort to lever a “bet­ter deal” for Amer­i­cans. The sec­ond is, the over­all de­bate about a new trade agree­ment has caused cit­i­zens in all three coun­tries to pause to make sure they don’t take the tri­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship for granted. Our in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness in the North Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hood con­tin­ues to tri­umph even in the face of tough talk from the dis­rup­tor-in-chief.

Photo Li­brary and Archives Canada

Af­ter Lester Pear­son crit­i­cized Lyn­don John­son for his con­duct of the Viet­nam War, the pres­i­dent told him: “You pissed on my rug.”

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