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COLUMN

Quarreling Brothers

Andrew C. Thomas

For 136 years, Canada and the United States have been the best of friends.

Really.

Despite all the quarreling, the disagreements, and the disputes about where the fence should be placed, these two countries have managed to forge a relationship that is the envy of much of the world in terms of trade, culture and protection. And yet so many people on both sides take potshots at the other, on such a frequent basis.

Canadian politicians are coming under fire for criticizing the United States government all the time. Recently, Member of Parliament Carolyn Parrish was quoted as calling the American people “bastards”, following a news conference on the Iraq situation. Last year Francoise Ducros was quoted as referring to George W. Bush as a moron. After heavy fire from the press, and atypical attention from American news sources, Ducros resigned her position; while Parrish formally apologized, she later admitted she was more sorry she got caught.

This response, so stereotypically Canadian, is made in many conflicts between the two countries. Conflicts? One would hardly imagine that Canada, the gentle lamb of the G8, could stand up to its bellicose neighbor to its south. But even with the appearance of peace, the two countries have always been at odds.

For the time being, blame Dubya. Canadians felt snubbed by Bush’s decision to make his first state visit to Mexican President Vincente Fox, breaking a long-standing tradition of first visits to the Prime Minister of Canada. No doubt that in his previous job as governor of Texas, Bush would have conducted far more dealings with Mexico than Canada, and believed that this was the border which deserved the most attention. One would think that he would have the foresight -- or, at least, the advice of Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci, or any of his trade advisors -- to make subsequent gestures of friendship to the Canadian people.

But things have only gotten worse. Trade disputes continue to plague the border along the 49th parallel. Canadian softwood lumber tariffs have been an issue of great importance to a suffering Canadian logging industry; just recently a tariff was placed on wheat imports as a punitive measure from American wheat farmers who felt that a cheaper Canadian product was threatening their livelihood. So much for the principles of free trade set out in NAFTA; the idea that, just maybe, laissez-faire competition was good for business. Many Canadians believe that free trade has been detrimental to the country; truthfully, not all the data have been collected on this experiment. But if certain trade bodies in the U.S. are allowed to weasel out of a deal made in good faith, what does that say about loving and honoring thy neighbor?

It’s not just Carolyn Parrish. Canadians love to complain about Americans. A great deal of acid rain in Ontario was fashionably blamed on emissions from Michigan. Two of Canada’s proudest National Hockey League teams, the Winnipeg Jets and the Quebec Nordiques, weakened by the falling Canadian dollar, moved to Phoenix and Colorado respectively, and baseball’s Expos are all but doomed to leave Montreal. Blame America, they say!

And Americans love to complain about Canadians, too. At least, when they actually know what to complain about. Canadians detest the fact that Americans, on average, know next to nothing about their Northern neighbors. After Sept. 11, many Americans accused Canada of being principally responsible for harboring terrorists, since a Canadian border crossing proved to be the point of entry, ignoring the evidence that the terrorists had lived in the United States for a significant period of time beforehand, undetected by intelligence agencies. A recent incident involved a small group of Canadians traveling to Iraq to act as human shields in the event of war, causing a stir from patriotic Americans who lept to their keyboards to rant against the action -- missing the key fact that they were participating with a larger group called Voices in the Wilderness, based in Chicago, Illinois.

Yet we still share an undefended border. Trade is still high. Hockey and baseball are still being played. Why is the relationship so strong? It is this constant sparring that serves as the string that knots our two societies together. Canada and America are young, compared to the cultures of the world. They have a common ancestry, and both were largely created for economic purposes. Canada and America are brothers -- perhaps half-brothers, whose quarrels are as healthy as the squabbles within any family.