A faltered relationship with our closest ally has brought home the importance of the upcoming election, but would a change in leadership be enough? This month, our writer Katie Hearn explores the key moments when Canada’s relationship with its closest ally to the South began to go sour.
On November 3rd, Canadians will stand by and watch as Americans head to the polls to vote. The Canadian-American border is the world’s largest shared land border between two nations. No doubt, both sides benefit from the close relationship cultivated throughout their histories. It does seem though, that this sense of codependency is better felt north of the border; Canadians know that the media they consume, the growth of their economy, and at times their social conscious is heavily affected by their southern neighbours. Canada proudly positions itself as a friend and neighbour and until recently have seldom been insecure in that role. The dramatic political shift led by President Donald Trump, one that exalts American exceptionalism, has resulted in active hostility to a host of allied nations, including this one.
How It All Started
During his first term, President Donald Trump brazenly undermined the relationship Canada had come to expect from its closest ally, at times acting more as an opponent. In 2018 when renegotiating North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump accused Canada of, “taking advantage of the United States for a long time” (The Associated Press) adding on Twitter, “There is no political necessity to keep Canada in the new NAFTA deal. If we don’t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out.” A new deal was eventually reached, favouring many of his demands.
Still, Trump recently imposed a 10% tariff on Canadian aluminium, reigniting the dispute while both countries continue to suffer economic damage incurred by COVID-19. These attacks are intended to represent the ‘businessman’ side of Trump, a character he utilized successfully during his last campaign. However, as Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland pointed out, this move will cause undue harm to American consumers and industry as well. Ontario Premier Doug Ford also spoke on the matter during a press conference saying, “In times like this, who tries to go after your closest ally, your closest trading partner, your number one customer in the entire world. Who would do this? Well, President Trump did this” (Global News).
Betrayal of Friendship during the COVID-19 Pandemic
In March of this year, Trump attempted to order American manufacturer 3M to stop exporting the coveted N95 mask to Canada. In a statement, 3M cited “significant humanitarian implications” preventing them from doing so (3M News Center). Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also responded to this incident, while he was receiving questions during one of his morning briefings at Rideau Cottage in Ottawa,
“The level of integration between our economies goes both ways across the border.[We] are receiving essential supplies from the United States but the United States also receives essential supplies and products and indeed healthcare professionals from Canada every single day […] That is the point we are making very clearly to the American administration right now.”Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, April 3, 2020
Canada’s Diplomatic & Cautious Approach to the Evolving Friendship
In each of these disputes, the Canadian government utilized the now predictable method of extreme caution as to not further escalate. Retaliations were precisely measured to hold equal weight, while the language used gently called to mind the long-standing partnership between Canada and the United States.
It is not just uncertain policy that has Canadians attention. Canadian values like diversity, environmentalism, social welfare, etc. have been rejected by the current administration. This brings up mixed emotions; empathy for those who are suffering as a result, concern over more conservative political ‘trends’ being imported to Canada, and at times a bit of smugness for how we define ourselves in opposition. According to a poll conducted by Research Co. and Glacier Media, Canadian’s perception of America has plummeted since last year with only 32% of Canadians reporting a positive view compared to last years 47% (BIV).
What Canadians Really Want from The US Presidential Election of 2020
The current climate does not imply that a successful campaign by Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden would alleviate anxieties, either. While the majority of Canadians (an incredible 81% (Ipsos)) were satisfied with President Barrack Obama’s eight years in office with Biden as his Vice President, there has been a notable lack of enthusiasm for his candidacy this time around. Perhaps because Biden has been reluctant to share his policies, marketing himself simply as ‘not Trump’. At best, we can speculate based on his political record but that may just add to the confusion. With a whopping 44 years to consider, 36 in the senate and another 8 as Vice President, he has on many occasions ‘reinvented’ himself. This lack of familiarity has been an issue with American voters, too. On the other side, Trump has taken every opportunity to promote himself by promising more of the same. What remains clear is that no matter who is successful in November, there is undeniable work to be done in repairing the bond shared by the two countries. As well as an examination of how Canada will conduct itself in the future when met with malice from a friend.