Mistaken beliefs hamper stronger ties

Too many Americans see Canada as an unreliable partner, having even let some of the 9-11 terrorists into the US.

Brian Lee Crowley is the managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

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. 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 US.

Too many Americans see Canada as an unreliable partner, having even let some of the 9-11 terrorists into the US. On our side, too many Canadians believe the US is a bully that 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.

Both sides are wrong. Our relationship, which has brought both countries enormous economic and strategic advantages, is built on a deep and solid foundation of shared values. We all believe in a special kind of democracy where even the will of the majority is bound by laws and rules. We believe freedom alone allows each of us to reach our full potential as individuals. We make choices  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.

Canada and the US have built a very successful community of economic interests that requires constant, but friendly attention. Prosperity for both 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 traveller 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, Americans have to give up the mistaken belief they have major security and control problems at the Canadian border. And Canadians have to stop equating co-operation with the US on security or integrated border controls as a loss of sovereignty, rather than the intelligently effective exercise it is.

Secure energy
Canada’s energy resources occupy a revealingly special place within the Canada-US relationship. Most other sources of foreign oil for the US 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 co-authors and I outlined a series of practical 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.

• A joint tribunal on issues that arise under our various cross-border agreements.

It’s encouraging that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and US 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. E-mail