A tradition has developed over the last fifty years. The first foreign visit a new American president makes is to Canada. As was the case with so many traditions, Donald Trump trashed that one. But Joe Biden restored it. In the Age Of COVID, though, the meeting was virtual. Lawrence Martin writes:
Truth be told, there was not a lot of big news from the Trudeau-Biden video conference. It was fully anticipated that they would restore goodwill to the relationship, which they did, and that they’d vow to work closely together on an array of issues, which they did.
Canadians will be pleased at the professionalism and maturity Mr. Biden brings, it being such a relief from the confrontational attitudes of Donald Trump. As for the road map of co-operation the two leaders laid out, it sounded nice – but we’ll have to see what happens when realities intrude.
Times and things have changed. Martin asks:
Do Canadians even want a new partnership with the U.S., given its crisis-ridden state? By comparison, Canada is in a position of strength on a number of fronts. Which is the country that is more equitable, more unified, less violent, less hidebound, less racist? Which is the country that has a better functioning democracy, a better health care system, a longer life expectancy, a greater social safety net?
The American relationship is still obviously of tremendous importance. But Canada’s dependence on the U.S. is not as deep as it used to be. Economically, culturally, militarily, Canada is more secure than before.
Remember the talk, post-free-trade, of moving to deeper forms of integration with the U.S., such as a customs union or a perimeter accord or a European Union-type of arrangement? You never hear that any more. Instead, the trend now is toward managed trade and more protectionist measures, which of course mitigate against any new kind of partnership. In that new dynamic, Canada is well positioned. With the modernization of the NAFTA agreement, there is a safety net.
Militarily, the end of the Cold War reduced the importance to Canada of the American defence umbrella. Mr. Biden and Mr. Trudeau talked about strengthening NORAD, the defence warning system, and that is worthwhile – but it’s hardly as important as it used to be.
Culturally, we recall that in the old days, Canada was so paranoid about U.S. domination that the Committee for an Independent Canada was all the rage. Subsequently, there was fear of brain drain, of all our country’s finest minds heading south. Now there is no more hand-wringing about a Canadian identity. Our cultural maturity is well ensconced.
On unity, Canada has already faced up to a decades-long crisis over Quebec independence. Now the unity crisis lives south of the border, where two political solitudes are fiercely colliding.
Our paths have diverged. And a new relationship is required.
Image: Where Sidewalks End