- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 12 Mar 1970, p. 311-324
- Thomson, Professor Dale C., Speaker
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- Item Type
- Canadian-American relations. The differences between the United States and Canada, with Canada having the positives. Some advantages to life south of the border. Two specific points made by the speaker: Canada has a distinct identity, and Canada has not lost the ability for maintaining that separate identity. Communication between the two countries mainly South-North. The unique opportunities afforded Canada by living next to the "Elephant." The phenomenon of Anti-Americanism in Canada rather than positive Canadianism. Canada as a middle power after World War Two. Canada's current influence on world affairs. How Canada can utilize its relationship with the United States to exert an influence on world affairs. Canadian-American defence co-operation. The need for a well defined Canadian policy on many issues in relation to the United States. Hope that the current foreign policy review will correct the need for a well defined policy. Developing specific positions on the issues; policies that take into account the desire to maintain as much of Canada's national sovereignty as possible, and the necessity for United States-Canadian co-operation. Preparing our strategy, avoiding the nationalist posturing that may give psychic satisfaction, but is not very rewarding in more tangible terms. Taking advantage of the immense reservoir of goodwill on both sides of the border.
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- 12 Mar 1970
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- Full Text
- MARCH 12, 1970
Sleeping with the Elephant
AN ADDRESS BY Professor Dale C. Thomson, D.F.C., PH.D., DIRECTOR, CENTER OF CANADIAN STUDIES, THE JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
CHAIRMAN The President, H. Ian Macdonald
The story is told of a teacher in an international school who assigned his students the task of writing an essay on "the elephant". The results were both intriguing and revealing in terms of the national characteristics of the various students. An English boy wrote on: the elephant--a study in manners and protocol. Then, a young Frenchman produced a delightful account of the lovelife of the elephant. The German student was content with nothing less than a lengthy discourse on the history and philosophy of the elephant, in four volumes. The American, as you would expect, came forward with a study entitled: elephants--how to build them bigger and better. And finally, the Canadian: the elephant--is it a federal or provincial responsibility?
Perhaps, on this occasion, we are required to take our text from the French student, as we hear from Professor Dale C. Thomson on the hazards and pleasures of "sleeping with the elephant". Such was the analogy applied by Prime Minister Trudeau on his visit to Washington last year. The state may have no place in the bedrooms of the nation, but safaris apparently fall into a separate category.
How apt is the analogy? It would appear that it only suits the booming, economic giant to the south of us in part, if we are to believe a recent revelation by the Food and Agricultural Organization. "In addition to being prone to sunburn, indigestion, respiratory complaints, and the common cold, eating constantly and enormously, and costing as much as a truck, work elephants are only good for about four hours at work every day." Such is the declaration of the F.A.O.
However questionable the analogy, there can be no doubt about the authority that Professor Dale Thomson brings to this subject. Last September, he launched a centre for post-graduate study and post-doctoral research in Canadian studies at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. I have no doubt that, under him, this centre will be a persistent flea in the ear of the elephant. In fact, I am confident of this because it would be difficult to find a bilingual Canadian professor to match the combination of scholarship and restless energy which he has displayed.
Born on a farm at Fort Assiniboine in Northern Alberta, he served in the R.C.A.F., while a very young man, and was awarded the D.F.C. for dive-bombing attacks on enemy shipping in the English Channel. As in the case of so many distinguished Canadians, his higher education was a byproduct of wartime service. He graduated with a B.A. from the University of Alberta in 1948 and proceeded to the University of Paris to take a doctorate in history from the Faculty of Letters in 1951. His thesis work took him to West Germany, resulting in his fluency in German as well as a completed dissertation.
Following a short interval with the National Film Board, he served as Secretary to Prime Minister St. Laurent until his retirement in January 1958. Unfortunately, Professor Thomson's decision to run as a Liberal candidate for Jasper Edson later that year went unrewarded; the year 1958 was not the time to have opposed John Diefenbaker in Western Canada.
His extensive writing has brought him national prominence, particularly the brilliance of his biographies of Alexander Mackenzie and Louis St. Laurent. So thorough has his participation been in the Canadian Liberal tradition that he wrote, for several years, as a Winnipeg Free Press correspondent. As he has plumbed the depths of Canadian history, so he has explored the problems of other nations, travelling extensively in Asia and Africa where he has met many of the leading statesmen on those continents.
Professor Thomson is presently on leave from the University of Montreal, where he was the first Director of the Department of Political Science and still holds a chair. Now, his immediate task is to fulfill the hopes of the William Donner Foundation and the Donner Canadian Foundation which together provided a million-dollar grant for advanced training of American and Canadian students. The story has been told of the American history textbook: "An Objective History of the War of 1812 (from the American Viewpoint)". In Washington, his background and experience will undoubtedly produce an admirably objective institution. In Toronto, to give us an objective account of the problems of "sleeping with the elephant", from whatever viewpoint, I am happy to introduce to you today Professor Dale C. Thomson.
When your President invited me to speak to you during this 1969-70 season, I had not yet really got my feet under my new desk in Washington. However, with the eagerness of the neophyte, I accepted his suggestion to talk about, as he put it, "any aspect of Canadian-American Relations". I had been in Washington when Prime Minister Trudeau went down for his first meeting with President Nixon almost a year ago, and was taken by his analogy between Canada's co-habitation with the United States on this Continent and a man sleeping with an elephant. I thought to myself that having lived that experience at first hand for a few months--in fact, living inside the elephant--I would be able to find something appropriate to say to you today.
Now I am not so sure. I have been in Washington long enough to have many of my preconceived notions disproven. I have tried to read most of the available literature on Canadian-American relations, and there is a lot of it. And I have seen and heard enough to realize that this relationship is almost too complex for one person to master. At the rate that my self-confidence is ebbing, I suppose it is a good thing that your President invited me for when he did; by your next season I might not dare open my mouth at all!
Anyway, I hope that you will take my remarks today as a preliminary report, and judge them accordingly.
My first remark is that my wife and I are continually surprised how different the United States and Canada are. I don't know who invented the myth that they are really not distinguishable. Certainly someone who didn't know both countries. And of course the differences between the parts of the two countries farther from the common border are even more striking. In many respects, we feel more at home in London or Paris than in Washington.
We certainly feel safer in the streets. The morning paper carries on the same page a description of the weather, and the list of crimes that have been committed in town in the past twenty-four hours. Usually there are about forty hold-ups, muggings, thefts, murders--with a juicy rape story at the head of the list. Murders in Washington D.C. run at around 400 a year, and about 10,000 for the whole country--more than the casualty rate for the whole United States Army, including Vietnam. Most people have a better chance of making the crime columns than the society page.
There are other differences--the bureaucracy is bigger and just as slow. The traffic jams are worse, their race problem is causing more hardship than our language problem -and if it's any consolation for Eric Kierans -0 the postal service is worse.
But I don't want to insist on the differences that are in Canada's favour. Life south of the border has great advantages as well. I do want to make two points. That Canada has a distinct identity, and second, that Canada has not lost the ability for maintaining that separate identity. In my view, those who say otherwise are either men of little knowledge or little vision.
Americans have more difficulty than Canadians in distinguishing the differences between the two countries. That is largely because the communications flow is mainly SouthNorth, and because most Americans are relatively shut off from the outside world.
I was surprised to be told by some Americans with some knowledge of Canada that it reminded them of the United States forty years ago. This is not meant in an unkindly manner, to suggest that Canada is like the United States, but forty years behind. On the contrary, it is often meant as a compliment, to suggest that Canada has the opportunity of avoiding some of the mistakes that have been made south of the border--in urban growth, in resource conservation, in assuring a "just" society, in finding a workable balance between free enterprise and state intervention, etc . . . . I think that is good advice. The Fathers of Confederation took that attitude a century ago when they tried to devise a federal system without the weaknesses that had been revealed in the American one. It is significant that it is often the youth of America who make that kind of remark to me, and not older people with a nostalgia for the past.
In this sense, living side by side with the United States offers an almost unique opportunity. But we must take advantage of it. We have to decide what we want to emulate, and what we want to improve upon, or even do differently. Too often, it seems to me, Canadians are inclined either to plunk for the "American way", or to reject it completely. It takes a lot more maturity--and in my view makes a lot more sense--to avoid either of those extremes.
One remark I hear in the United States, and that is less pleasing to Canadian ears, is that Canada is just an extension of the United States. From an economic point of view, this is largely true. To prove it, it is only necessary to ask where Canada would be today without the contiguous American economy. Culturally it is partially true as well. So what should we do--close the border? Keep out American ideas? That would certainly be self-defeating, and would turn Canada into an economic and cultural backwater. And our chances of survival as a nation would be still further diminished. Once again, I think the only solution is to take maximum advantage of the Canadian-American relationship, striving to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages.
This approach requires of Canadians an objectivity, and a realistic assessment of their own country, that is not always present. First of all, Canadians are the original antiAmericans. This country was built in large part as a reaction against the United States, and it is held together to a considerable extent on that basis. Canadian nationalism has always had a strong tinge of anti-Americanism. That is perhaps inevitable, but it does make more difficult the kind of rational choices I have been talking about.
It also leads Canadians to adopt rather curious postures, which reflect more anti-Americanism that positive Canadianism. When I read of the leader of a Canadian political party demonstrating on Parliament Hill against the American policy in Vietnam, I wonder who has the colonial attitude? Who is acting like an American? Who is acting as if Canada were a mere extension of the United States?
Similarly, in our foreign policy, we are inclined to adopt positions for the wrong reasons. There are many reasons to recognize Communist China, but surely not for the reason some people want to do so--to demonstrate our freedom of action vis-a-vis the United States. I have heard it argued by a well-known Canadian that we have to rush ahead with the Stockholm negotiations or the American will get there first, and we will appear to be in town again. The result is that the Peking regime is just playing with us in Stockholm, seeing if it can extract from us a recognition of its claim to Taiwan. And our ambivalent, if not hypocritical attitude on this matter, is being exposed.
Another problem of many Canadians is that they are still living, psychologically, in the early post-independence era of this country's history. Every country is inclined to exaggerate the figure it cuts on the international stage, and we are no exception. Perhaps our problem is more difficult in this regard because--for one reason or another--we had more influence in our early post-independence years than we have now, or are likely to have for some time in the future.
When we appeared on the international scene after World War Two--our role prior to that was more symbolic than real--we had won respect for our contribution to the Allied scene, many other countries had either not yet become independent or were in a period of eclipse--Germany and Japan for instance--we had some pretty exceptional leadership, and we had the then-powerful Commonwealth tie. We thought of ourselves as a middle power--almost as a small great power. Friendly countries encouraged us in this illusion. Then when our advice was not accepted, we felt we were being ignored.
Let me give you an example. Some of you may recall the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. The North Korean invasion began early on the morning of June 30, Korean time. The news reached Washington and Ottawa before midnight of June 29. Canadian and American diplomates were called out of their dinner parties, or wherever they were, and an all night vigil began. By morning the Americans had decided to send in troops from Japan under the command of General McArthur, and a speech was prepared for President Truman to that effect. It was to be delivered at 11 a.m. The Canadians, for their part, had decided that any such action should only take place under the aegis, or with the approval, of the United Nations. They bombarded the Americans with urgent pleas not to say anything until the Security Council had met, and had passed a resolution endorsing the military intervention. The Americans listened politely, and went ahead with their plan.
Recently I had the opportunity of discussing this crisis with one of the Americans who was on duty during those critical hours. I asked him if he recalled the Canadian representations. He said he did, but he also recalled that there was a flood of others as well from foreign capitals--from London, Paris, from New Delhi, from Tokyo, and so on. Canada's views had been weighed along with the others.
From this and other instances that I have examined, I drew the conclusion that Canada can have an influence on world affairs, but we must not exaggerate our capacity for influence in areas far from our borders, concerning which we are likely to be less informed than others. The recent and tragic case of Biafra is a case in point. Under the pressure of a certainly well-meaning but uninformed group, the Canadian government almost compromised our relations with the largest country in Africa. More experienced governments, including Britain and the United States, and countries close to the scene of action, didn't make the same mistake.
That leads me to ask the question--how can we best exert our influence in the world? There are those who argue that we can have more effect by making the most of our close relationship with the United States, and influencing by "quiet diplomacy" the decisions of the most powerful nation in the world. There are others who feel that Canada must speak out with a distinctive voice--or who feel that they must demonstrate that Canada is not a United States satellite. They demand that Canada "stand up" to the Americans.
One of the projects in our Center of Canadian Studies in Washington is to try to assess these alternatives.
It strikes me that Canada has some rather unique opportunities of influencing American policy. For one thing, the United States Government is anxious to demonstrate to the world that it can live side by side with a smaller nation, without relegating it to a satellite status. Analogies between the situation of Canada, and that of the Soviet Union's satellites, almost invariably precipitate a sharp reaction in the United States Government. To disprove it, American officials point to Canada's trade with Cuba, and to the Stockholm negotiations with Communist China, as a proof that Canada makes her own foreign policy decisions.
There is a myth in the United States about "good neighborliness" that Canada can use to her advantage. I had the opportunity to interview General Eisenhower a few years after his retirement from the Presidency, and asked him what his approach to Canada had been. He said very categorically: " When I learned of a problem that was concerning Canada, I gave orders that it should be settled at once. If we can't get along with our closest neighbors, how can we expect to get along with other countries?" President Johnson spoke in similar terms, comparing United States-Canadian relations to chats over the back fence.
You will notice that General Eisenhower was referring to Canadian-American relations, and not to Canada's views concerning the rest of the world. I conclude that we can exercise an influence on American policy to the extent that our interests are directly involved. But we should take care not to waste this asset when they are not, by pressing our advice too strongly on matters of less direct concern to us.
On the other hand, it should not be concluded that Canada can have no influence on United States policy abroad. The United States Government would prefer that we agree on international issues, and American officials go to considerable pains to convince Canada of the rightness of their positions.
Former Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, remarked that the interdependence of a great and a small power is not a one-way street. He recalled that when he became Secretary of State, he asked the Planning Council to prepare a paper for him on how a great power frees itself from a smaller power. He was thinking of the way the United States was tied to the policies of President Chiang Kai-shek and Syngman Rhee. However, he pointed out that the Soviet Union is similarly bound by the policies of North Korea, North Vietnam, East Germany, Cuba and even the United Arab Republic.
Certainly the United States receives willingly Canadian views on the gamut of international issues. However, it also receives the views of many other nations, several of whom also claim a special relationship with the United States. About a thousand dispatches a day go out of the State Department; more come in. The assessment of Canadian views is made in that context.
One of the advantages that we have over all other countries stems from the ease and frequency of communications between Canada and the United States. The problem is not to keep the channels open; it is rather to keep track of everything that goes through them. An official of the Canadian Embassy in Washington, or a Canadian Minister in Ottawa, can get in touch with his opposite number in the United States Government with remarkable ease. And often this contact takes place at a stage of the American decision-making process when policy is only beginning to take shape, with the result that Canada can actually participate in that process. I suppose this is one of the side-effects, or spin-offs, of the difficulty that Americans have in distinguishing between our two countries.
Since most problems between Canada and the United States are largely of a technical nature, they are first dealt with by specialists from the two sides, and recommendations are passed up to the policy-making level, after a certain in-put has already occurred.
My objection to the demand of some Canadians that Canada be treated "just like any other nation", that we adopt a more "arm's-length" approach in our dealings with the United States, is that one would be sacrificing these advantages for something much less valuable in terms of Canadian self-interest. They would have us give up this "inside track" in Washington; they would also sacrifice the "inside view" of what goes on in what is still the most powerful country in the world. Many countries in the world would like to be in our place and to have a "special relationship" with Washington. Even President Pompidou has discovered anew France's interest in close relations with Washington.
If Canada were to give vent to the anti-Americanism that is inherent in our national character, we might well find ourselves not only with less influence in the world, but more important still, with less leverage in Canadian-American relations. We might find the United States seeking to devise ways and means of making themselves more independent of us, and of driving harder bargains with us.
This first possibility is already manifest in the military sphere. The Cuban military crisis of 1962 marked the end of a period of military co-operation dating back to the Ogdensburg Agreement of 1941. When the Canadian Government proved unable to make up its mind for a precious 48 hours on how to react, military planners in Washington began to have serious doubts about sharing responsibility for United States security with Canada. Since then we have seen a gradual disengagement by the United States from joint decision-making. This tendency has been aided and abetted by the anti-militarists in Canada.
Writing in 1966 the late General Charles Foulkes, former Canadian Chief of Staff, remarked on this score:
"There are already signs that the United States plans to become less and less dependent on Canada for the operations of its defence devices; consequently, claims for participation in the consultation and decision-making process will be less justified. Within a few years, when Canadian contributions to continental defence have become insignificant, Canadian advice, comment and assistance will be sought only in fields where Canada has special knowledge or in areas where Canada has carried out special defence studies."
The result will be that Canadian-American defence cooperation will consist largely of briefing sessions at which Canadians will be told what Americans think they can safely be told of recent developments, and given an assessment of the state of North American defence.
This pattern is already evident with regard to the ABM system, which is being built south of the border, and about which Canada is kept informed to some degree, but not consulted. The question we must ask ourselves is if we want this approach to Canadian-American relations to be extended to other areas? Is it in our national interest to deal with the Americans on this basis in the areas of trade, of capital and population movements, energy, pollution, control of the environment, Arctic development? It is not easy to separate one facet of United States-Canadian relations from the rest to get tough on one issue, and be intimate on another.
American policy-makers refer to Canada with satisfaction as a "non-crisis" area, and they are anxious to keep it that way. They express surprise when Canadians feel that they are being ignored, and while they try to take account of this need for attention, they feel that Canadians don't know when they are well off.
Generally speaking, their approach to Canadian-American relations is likely to be "continentalist"; they tend to see North America as a single unit, the resources of which should be developed for the mutual benefit of both countries. They find it difficult to understand the Canadian's instinctive fear of this continental approach, and of the interdependence it implies.
I thought that a Canadian friend of mine put it well when he wrote recently to an American: "My Canadian fear of anything that looks like integration clashes with your American desire to set up an orderly and rational process. I am afraid of anything that leads to a rational organization of North America .... I am particularly wary of any procedure which suggests policy-sharing except in very limited ways because I think such a procedure simply means that we surrender our right to dissent."
I think a good many Canadians could identify with that viewpoint. However, since it is essentially subjective, it is not an easy policy approach to sell in Washington. If we can't justify our position more logically, I think that we are going to have to at least cloak it in more rational terms.
In the period immediately ahead of us, Canada and the United States are going to be discussing some topics of great importance to both countries--pollution, oil, water, control of the environment, Arctic sovereignty, and control of the sea-bed.
In these negotiations we will be facing the United States alone; neither the Commonwealth, nor the Francophonie, nor any other outside force will be supporting us.
The first thing that we will need is a well defined Canadian policy. Canadians often complain that the United States has no over-all policy towards Canada; Americans also complain that Canadians have no clear policy towards them. Dean Acheson once remarked that if Canadians would just state what they stood for, other countries could make up their minds what attitude to adopt towards them. The fact is that our policy towards the United States is ambivalent, ill-defined, full of contradictions, and often based on very subjective reasoning.
We must hope that the current foreign policy review will correct this situation. Certainly the presence in Ottawa as Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs, of the former Canadian Ambassador A. E. Ritchie, should help.
Second, we have to develop specific positions on the issues that I have mentioned, policies that take into account the natural desire to maintain as much of Canada's national sovereignty as possible, and the necessity for United States-Canadian co-operation.
Third, we have to prepare our strategy carefully, avoiding the nationalist posturing that may give psychic satisfaction, but is not very rewarding in more tangible terms.
Above all, we should take advantage of the immense reservoir of goodwill on both sides of the border. According to a report prepared for the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, 65% of English-speaking Canadians consider the United States as Canada's best friend, and 72% of French-Canadians do so. I have no figures for the United States, but certainly Canada has few enemies there.
I suggest that we have all the elements of a policy towards the United States that will enable us to maintain our independence, and yet take advantage of the close relationship between the two countries. To a very large extent, it is really up to us.
Professor Thomson was thanked on behalf of The Empire Club by Mr. James H. Joyce.