Even within this tradition of U.S. neglect, President George W. Bush stands out for his obliviousness. A Texan and an aspiring Spanish-speaker obsessed with courting Latino voters, Bush has made opening markets southward his overriding foreign policy goal for the Western Hemisphere. He treats Canada, by far America’s largest trading partner, as at best an afterthought. During the 2000 presidential campaign, a Canadian talk-show host jokingly informed Bush that he had been endorsed by Canada’s leader, Prime Minister “Poutine” (not actually an official, but a Montreal delicacy’ made of gravy, french fries, and cheese curds). Bush said he was delighted to have the support of “Prime Minister Poutine,” unaware that the prime minister’s real name is Chrtien, a Liberal who was all but stumping for Al Gore. The journalist’s trick was not altogether fair; one can imagine other presidential candidates falling for it, though probably not Al Gore. But Bush’s disregard for Canada is very real. In his major campaign speech on Western Hemisphere foreign policy, Bush devoted only three out of 76 paragraphs to Canada—the other 73 dealt with Latin America.
Every newly-elected president since Franklin Roosevelt has made Canada his first trip abroad. Bush blew off Canada and instead went to Mexico, where he visited that country’s new president, fellow conservative and ranch owner Vincente Fox. Canada’s political elite took this as a slap in the face. To meet Bush, Prime Minister Chrtien had to travel to Washington this February. After an Oval Office meeting, Chrtien was reportedly irritated at having to explain to Bush the basic facts of key trade disputes between their two countries. In April, Bush finally got around to visiting Canada, but only to attend the Summit of the Americas, held in Quebec City, where the main agenda item was—you guessed it—opening Latin American markets. During the summit, Bush read dutifully from prepared remarks extolling the deep and enduring ties between the U.S. and Canada. Then he called Chrtien “amigo.”
Bush’s casual disregard of Canada may seem like an extreme but harmless expression of a longstanding American tradition. In fact, it is foolhardy, for him and for the country. In a way that hasn’t been true for years, Canada matters. The Bush administration might not know it yet, but to fulfill its agenda on everything from trade to energy to national defense, the United States, the modern equivalent of classical Rome, needs support from the land of hockey, cheese fries, and Alanis Morrissette. And at this rate, the United States won’t get it.
In December 1999, an Algerian man, Ahmed Rassam, was caught crossing from British Columbia into the state of Washington carrying one hundred pounds of potent explosives. U.S. investigators announced that Rassam, who was living in Montreal and may have been linked to Osama bin Laden, was part of a plot to blow up Seattle’s New Year’s 2000 celebration.
That Rassam had set up shop in Canada was no fluke. According to Canadian intelligence services, Canada now is home to the most terrorist groups in the world, a frightening statistic given that Canada has less than one-eighth the population of the United States. The possibility that one of these heavily armed and highly trained terrorists will cross the long, largely unprotected U.S-Canada border and wreak havoc in the States is very real.
The Canadian side is particularly easy to slip past, since Canadian customs officers, police, and anti-terrorist services lack the technology and training necessary to identify and capture sophisticated armed militants. They also seem to lack the will. When I arrived at the Montreal airport last month from Washington, D.C., the customs officer looked at my passport, which displays a large stamp showing that it’s outdated (there is a renewal stamp in the back, but the officer didn’t look at that). Even though I was on my way to a major trade summit involving the leaders of 34 nations, including President Bush, she paid no heed to the literally hundreds of foreign stamps in my passport, several of which are from countries with active terrorist movements. When she initiated a cursory check of my bags, the first two things she found were a makeshift gas mask and leaflets from a radical Montreal-based anarchist group. Apparently, even a device used to protect oneself from deadly chemicals and literature from one of Canada’s most notorious militant outfits weren’t enough to rouse her suspicion. “Have a nice trip,” she said, waving me through.
Terrorists know that they have it good in Canada and that the border is vulnerable. According to intelligence sources, numerous terrorist groups seeking to infiltrate the United States have set up shop in Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, and other large, multicultural Canadian cities. “Canada has become a haven and a jumping-off point for terrorists with America in their bombsights,” writes Ben Wattenberg, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
In addition to weak border controls, Canadian laws on fund raising have made it easy for terrorist groups based in Canadian cities to obtain capital; fraudulent Canadian passports are simple to acquire; and the country’s social welfare programs are so lenient that some alleged terrorists have even started drawing government checks. Although Rassam arrived at the Montreal airport in early 1999 carrying a false French passport, he was still allowed into the country. Eleven days later, Rassam was receiving Canadian welfare benefits. Despite U.S. warnings that a bin Laden cell was operating in Montreal, Canadian anti-terrorism forces conducted only a cursory investigation of the city and later destroyed the wiretap tapes they had made of Rassam’s outfit, infuriating U.S. intelligence and ultimately making it much harder for U.S. prosecutors to build a convincing case. When told the tapes had been destroyed, the judge presiding over Rassam’s trial said: “I am very troubled that the tape recordings don’t exist anymore Apparently, this is the Canadian way of doing things.”
The threat of terrorists crossing into the United States from Canada is only going to get more pronounced. As North and South American countries negotiate a free trade agreement, it will become even easier to move people and goods throughout the hemisphere—a terrorist’s or mobster’s dream. Accordingly, Canada and the United States need to formulate a coherent, workable joint anti-terrorism strategy within the next year, well before a hemispheric free trade agreement comes into effect. Such a strategy should include better coordination among U.S. and Canadian intelligence services, funding to train Canadian border police and upgrade their anti-terrorism technology, and a heightened emphasis on interdiction of chemical and biological weapons. The two states also need to expand the Lacolle Project, a binational effort to stop human smuggling—including the smuggling of criminals—into Canada. Without Canadian-U.S. partnership on combating terrorism, Washington will have no hope of preventing dangerous militants from entering the States.
Although President Bush’s pronouncements that the United States is in the midst of a serious energy crisis are a bit hyperbolic, it is clear that United States’ domestic natural-gas production is declining and that the American economy is becoming increasingly reliant on foreign oil. While Washington plans to address this energy shortfall by boosting domestic fossil fuel exploration, it also must import vastly more energy from close political allies like Canada. In fact, in the near future, Canada will be a linchpin of Bush’s plans to reduce U.S. energy shortages.
Canada already is the United States’ leading foreign supplier of natural gas and oil, and our northern neighbor is sitting on enormous reserves of potential energy. Canada’s Energy Board believes that an area of Alberta province contains at least 300 million barrels of recoverable oil, an amount that exceeds the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia. What’s more, Canada has several huge untapped oil and gas fields off its Atlantic coast. Yet a vast amount of these reserves remain untapped because of pressure by Canadian environmentalists and nationalists who don’t want Ottawa to lose control of natural resources, conflicts between Canada’s federal and provincial governments, and the previously high price of exploration in Alberta. Realizing that Canada is in a strong position due to America’s energy shortages, before the Quebec summit Chrtien reportedly told members of his party that Bush better be careful dealing with Ottawa, or Canada will slap high taxes on oil and gas exports.
Even the United States’ exploration of its own reserves is partially dependent on Canadian cooperation. The Bush administration has made exploration in protected areas of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) a central aspect of its energy plan. Although much has been made of the oil in ANWR, the real selling point of potential drilling in Alaska is the huge natural gas reserves under the state’s North Slope. But unless Canada agrees to build a pipeline for North Slope gas through the Yukon or Northwest Territories, those reserves will remain in the ground.
The global trading regime is moving towards three discrete blocs. The European Union is removing barriers amongst its member-states and planning to incorporate the Central European and Baltic nations within the next decade. Meanwhile, the developed East Asian economies have initiated a system of currency swaps and are beginning to broach the idea of an Asian free-trade zone. To compete with these two blocs, Washington will have to negotiate a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), effectively extending the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) all the way to Chile. Recognizing the importance of an FTAA, President Bush has made it one of his priorities. The Americas must have a “common market so we can compete in the long term with the Far East and Europe,” Bush said at the Quebec summit.
As the only other developed economy in the hemisphere, Canada must be on board for an FTAA to pass. For other nations in the hemisphere, Canada could be an example of the advantages of free trade. The enormous flow of goods and services across the 49th parallel—U.S-Canada trade has more than doubled since the two countries inked a free trade deal in 1999—might demonstrate to South American countries the potential of unrestricted access to the giant U.S. market.
In fact, Ottawa has significant clout with several South American nations that are not so excited about freer trade in the hemisphere. Some key South American states such as Brazil and Argentina, both of which have expressed serious reservations about an FTAA, see Canada as more cognizant of their needs. The South Americans may feel an affinity towards Canada because Ottawa shares some of South America’s worries about FTAA rules on agriculture; or, they might feel more comfortable dealing with Canadians, because as a middle-level power, Canada does not inspire such reflexive alarms as the United States.
Yet, despite the fact that Washington needs Ottawa’s help to get an FTAA passed, the United States continues to take nearly every opportunity to screw Canada. Last October, the United States invoked a ban on potatoes from Prince Edward Island (P.E.I.), an eastern province of Canada, after a wart virus was found on one small batch of spuds, even though the virus was not harmful to humans. It was no coincidence that, at the time, Washington State and Idaho both had a surplus of potatoes. Like many issues involving Canada, the tater tussle was largely ignored by the U.S. media and general public after the ban was invoked, but the lack of export markets ruined thousands of P.E.I. farmers and plunged the province’s government into a deep deficit. In response to the P.E.I. ban, Chretien teed off on Bush in private during a Liberal Party closed caucus, blasting the U.S. president for allowing the potato dispute to fester and questioning whether W. even knew where Prince Edward Island was. Then, at the Summit of the Americas, Chretien revealed that he had served Bush and the rest of the U.S. delegation dishes full of tasty Prince Edward Island spuds during several dinners. The two countries are still working out a solution to this particular trade war.
Meanwhile, Bush seems unlikely to win Canadians over with his anti-environmental stands. Canadian anti-globalizationists were among the first to demand that hemispheric free trade agreements include provisions on labor and environmental standards, demands that have been picked up by U.S. protestors. What’s more, because Canada historically has been more committed to social welfare than the United States has, Canadian anti-globalization protests have resonated with a wider audience—and Bush has shown little inclination to find middle ground. Canadian anti-globalization (read: anti-United States) protestors who descended last month on Quebec City for the Summit of the Americas, a meeting of the leaders of every state in the hemisphere except Cuba, hung up signs that read “Starbucks=Murder,” “Get Out American Morons,” “Cuba is More Free than Washington,” and, my favorite, “Bush Sucks at his Father’s Teat” (a rough translation from the French).
When asked about America’s northern neighbor, John F. Kennedy once said: “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners and necessity has made us allies.” These sentiments are still true today, and bilateral trade between the U.S. and Canada continues to grow exponentially. Yet the relationship between the two powers is slipping, and Canadians feel increasingly slighted by their powerful southern neighbor.
The new president can make a difference; his administration is full of policy-makers with Canadian experience, such as Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, and Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. By working closely with the Canadians to get an FTAA on track, maintain cordial relations with key South American nations, clamp down on terrorism and small-arms proliferation, and cooperate on energy, the Bush administration can help reverse the benign indifference creeping into bilateral relations. Hopefully, the Bushies will realize that the United States needs Canada. If they don’t, it’ll be a long four years for the Western Hemisphere.