US Congress hot and cold on Canada

The US Congress loves Canada’s cheap prescription drugs and its secure energy supply, but it’s otherwise negative on free trade and it sees the border as a potential gateway for terrorists.

May 10, 2011   by PLANT STAFF

VANCOUVER: Well, now we know what the US Congress thinks of Canada. Senators and House representatives love our cheap prescription drugs, the secure energy supply and our approach to environmental management, but they’re otherwise negative on free trade and they continue to see our 8,891-kilometre border as a potential gateway for terrorists.

The Fraser Institute, a Vancouver-based public policy think tank, makes these and other observations in a new report that analyzed transcripts of congressional debates between 2001 and 2010.

What Congress Thinks of Canada found that members of Congress see Canada as a stable source of energy imports and key to energy security.

“Our analysis shows that Congress has not condemned Canada on its oil sands development or on any aspect of its intense trading relationship in crude-oil products and natural gas,” said Alexander Moens, Fraser Institute senior fellow and the report’s co-author.


But border security raised persistent and repeated allegations that Canada is lax about terrorism and was the source of some of the 9/11 hijackers and of illicit narcotics.

“When discussing border security, American politicians tend most often to speak of the Canadian and Mexican borders in roughly the same manner,” Moens said. “Their concern about the threat of terrorists staging attacks from Canada remains high.”

The report urges the Canadian government to take this finding very seriously. It notes Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to view Canada as a potential security threat and the 63 new Republicans joining the House in January may, and will likely “exacerbate this tendency.”

Attitudes about free trade among Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate were positive as long as the talk was about re-importing cheap prescription drugs from Canada. Take drugs out of the equation and the report concludes sentiment about trade with Canada turns negative.

“It is this trend that is the most important finding for Canada. It should cause considerable concern about how to improve our trade relations given sentiment in Congress,” says the report.

American legislators are dismissive of Canada’s single-payer, universal-access health care system as a prototype for the US. Among the saucy comments the report includes is a one from Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, referring to the 33,000 Canadians who travelled to the US for surgery in 2009: “Canada brags about having a single [health] plan. But Canada does not have just a single plan. There is a second plan, and it is called the United States of America.”

Politicians from both parties and in both chambers voiced overwhelming praise for Canada’s contributions to NATO, continental defence, and commitment to the security of Afghanistan. The Fraser Institute recommends the newly elected majority government in Ottawa expend this “political capital” on bilateral issues of concern, including plans to negotiate a new agreement on perimeter security, the border and trade.

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