I thought this post I had writen a while ago was appropriate considering our mutual long weekend of birthdays. Happy Birthday everyone on both sides of the 49th. Lets keep it an open border, eh.
Living next to the United States is a little like sleeping with an elephant. You always wonder if they will roll over on you.
When Pierre Trudeau, then Prime Minister of Canada, made that famous analogy it was during the height of the Viet Nam war. As a government and a country we refused to follow in lockstep with the American policy on suspected communist expansion. We maintained ties to Cuba (still do), the U.S.S.R. and were ahead of the Americans in visiting China. None of these independent foreign policy decisions served to make for the most friendly of relations between the two countries.
I have always been proud of Canada’s willingness to steer its own course when it came to world affairs. Up until the first Gulf War we had always managed to represent ourselves as differing from our larger neighbour to the south. The primary role of our military was rescue missions and peacekeeping.
In fact it was a Canadian, Lester Pearson, who invented the concept of impartial troops intervening to separate hostile parties to ensure cease fire compliance. Somehow, somewhere this idea has fallen by the wayside, or at least out of fashion, being replaced by the more ominous sounding peace makers.
In the late eighties and early nineties our independence and integrity took a rather direct hit from a conservative government which idolized the Reagan administration. Under their helm deals were forged which effectively saw the whittling away of our few remaining sticks of sovereignty.
Foreign policy became one of the first victims (to give credit where credit is due, the sole exception to this was our willingness to keep pressure upon South Africa in face of both American and British apathy). When George Bush the 1st ascended and began his family’s oil war against Iraq we said yes sir, what can we do sir?
For the first time since the Boer War of the 1900’s, we were sending troops to fight someone else’s war. Unlike Korea where we were part of a U.N. force, here we were simply party to an American war of aggression.
Aside from the damage this did to our reputation in the developing world, the worst result was that it wiped out the memory of thirty some years of independent foreign policy. Our participation in Gulf War 1 seemed to be the precedent ensuring a no questions asked compliance guarantee on our part in all future American adventures.
On September 11, 2001 thousands of Americans were stranded in Canada as their planes were grounded. As news came out of the people stranded in airports amazing things started to happen. In Toronto, Ontario people spontaneously got into their cars and drove out to the airport to offer shelter in their homes. There had been no request for assistance by the government. A friend was in trouble so we did what we do best. We helped out with compassion and care.
When the American government decided to go into Afghanistan to go after terrorist bases and remove the Taliban, Canadian forces went along with them. Our troops have been there ever since in a variety of capacities, but still under fire and in constant threat (including from our erstwhile allies who have managed to kill four of our soldiers in a “friendly fire” incident).
The majority of Canadians supported this move as it made sense and would hopefully result in the liberation of people from a dictatorship unlike any since the days of Pol Pot in Cambodia (that the American government had supported the Taliban up until a few years prior as the bulwark against communism was conveniently forgotten).
But when George Bush 2 decided the time was ripe to continue his dad’s crusade for oil, as a country the majority of us balked. Being the savvy political man he was our then Prime Minister, Jean Chretian, read which way the wind was blowing and said thanks but no thanks when offered the opportunity to play.
Logistically most of our troops were already committed in other places anyway so it wasn’t much of a decision, but it still resonated with the people of Canada. A leader who said no to the elephant. After a decade of pulling the forelock it was damn refreshing and you felt better about yourself.
Needless to say the elephant, while maybe not rolling over on us, certainly has been shrugging. First their were the veiled threats of trade problems (no one took those seriously, with the flick of a switch we could cut electrical power to the whole western seaboard of the United States so any embargos would have hurt them more then us). Then the innuendos starting rolling out of Washington.
Canada was a haven for terrorists, slipping across our border into the unsuspecting United States, taking advantage of our lax immigration laws (we let refugees stay here while there proving their case), shoddy intelligence, etc. Even if terrorists entered the U.S. from Canada, they still had to breach someone’s stringent security measures to get into that country. Anyway, hadn’t they all been living in the States for some time?
Then we were plague ridden: S.A.R.S and Mad Cow disease would kill any American foolish enough to venture north of 49th parallel. Considering that only one cow among millions was found to be remotely connected to mad cow, and that only Toronto was reporting cases of S.A.R.S, it was amazing how quickly we became a threat to the health of middle America.
Now we have been accused of being a haven for pirates. Not cute Johnny Depp like ones either, but intellectual property ones. Sellers of illegal software, generic prescription drugs, and copies of movies. We are now just as bad as those nefarious folks of the mysterious east.
Our laws are too lax they say, it’s eating into their profits and threatening their economy. You see we don’t believe that pharmaceutical companies have the right to bleed people dry for perpetuity, so we allow generic brands onto the market a lot sooner then elsewhere. The American public aren’t stupid and they are using the Internet to purchase these less expensive drugs, much to the chagrin of some of George’s biggest campaign contributors.
When all of this is combined with our recent refusal to participate in a pan North America missile agreement, you can see how we are playing with fire. We still are home to the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, and our supply of natural resources makes us even more tempting. How soon is it before a plot to train beavers to deliver explosive devices is uncovered?
Will there have to be an army of liberation sent forth to free us from the tyranny of socialised medicine? Well I seriously doubt that, but still, the elephant is rolling around in its sleep and this little mouse is going to keep one eye open.