Mistaken beliefs hamper stronger Canada/U.S. relationship

We live in a time of mistaken beliefs.

Many are harmless or amusing, like knocking on wood or throwing salt over your shoulder to ward off bad luck. Others cause real harm by making us misunderstand the way the world works. And while we laugh at people who believe the Earth is flat, many of us hold similarly superstitious or mistaken beliefs about our relationship with the United States.

These mistaken beliefs, however, affect people on both sides of the border. Too many Americans see Canada as an unreliable partner, having even let some of the 9-11 terrorists into the U.S.

On our side, too many Canadians hold the belief that the U.S. is a bully which takes us, its largest trading partner, for granted, does not play by the rules under our shared institutions and holds fundamental values different from ours.

We’re both wrong. Our relationship, which has brought both of us enormous economic and strategic advantages, is built on a deep and solid foundation of shared values. Canadians and Americans alike believe in a special kind of democracy, where even the will of the majority is bound by laws and rules. We believe in freedom because freedom alone allows each of us to reach our full potential as individuals, in which we make choices for ourselves based on our beliefs, experiences and priorities and not on those of dictators, mullahs, caudillos or even benevolent bureaucrats.

And we both believe in self-sacrifice. In two world wars, Korea, the Cold War and in Afghanistan today, we have stood shoulder-to-shoulder against tyranny. Americans who believe Canada is unreliable should note that we have suffered more combat casualties in Afghanistan, relative to our population, than even they have. Our failure a few years ago to follow through on our promise to support missile defense was embarrassing and harmful to our security interests, but it was the exception.

Canada and the United States have also built a very successful community of economic interests which requires constant, but friendly, attention. We are trading partners but no longer in the old-fashioned sense of the phrase where we make various finished products which we then trade to each other.

Forty per cent of our trans-border trade takes place within the same company, and back-and-forth shipments within industries create goods and services that can only be described as made in both countries. In other words, prosperity for both countries is deeply damaged by barriers thrown up at the border.

To ensure the fewest number of obstructions to free trade, we need to implement an agreed-upon set of security standards, such as pre-entry screening, profiling, intelligence cooperation, and police work, that apply to all points of entry into North America. We also need to expand existing trusted shipper and traveler programs, 24-hour-a-day access and border services at major crossings, an integrated “single window” or on-line portal for entering all border-related importing and exporting data, and streamlined procedures regarding ordinary regulatory compliance.

For that to occur, however, Americans have to lose the superstitious belief that the Canadian rather than Mexican border is where they have major security and control problems. And Canadians have to ditch all talk which equates co-operation with the Americans on security or integrated border controls as being a loss of sovereignty, rather than the intelligently effective exercise it is.

Within the deep integration now emerging between our two countries, Canada’s energy resources occupy a revealingly special place. Most other sources of foreign oil for the U.S. are within the grasp of regimes that abuse human rights, pursue weapons of mass destruction and spread subversion and hateful radical Islamist messages. As alternative energy sources are decades away from supplanting fossil fuels, Alberta’s oil sands constitute a national security ace-in-the-hole for both of us.

In The Canadian Century: Moving Out of America’s Shadow, my coauthors and I outlined a series of steps to deepen the Canadian-American relationship including a new treaty on continental security and a common external tariff, a new joint commission on border management, a new joint committee of Congress and Parliament on Canadian–American issues and a joint tribunal on issues that arise under our various cross-border agreements.

It is encouraging that Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama recently issued a statement of intent to move forward on many of these issues. But popular and elite support to achieve actual progress in both countries requires a willingness to dispel and discard the myths and misunderstandings that keep us from seeing how much we have in common.

Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent and non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa. His column is distributed through Troy Media.