The Canada-U.S. Relationship
Pamela Wallin, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
Declaring a small bias. New York City. Some quotes about Americans and Canadians. The diplomat’s job. Some American and Canadian traits. The nature of relationships. Some differences between Americans and Canadians. Differences within our countries rather than between them, and ways in which that is so. Getting past stereotypes. Dealing with these relationships in everybody’s best interest. Predicting, controlling or managing myriad erupting events and making them more predictable as the key. Class mistakes that we make. Thickening borders. Our integrated economies. The issue of security. Some statistics on trade. The crucial importance of open borders. An analogy. Knowing our largest customer. Listening and learning. A review of some key historical events. The post-9/11 world. Communication and understanding and confidence. Canada – letting its own light shine. A final quote.
Date of Publication
10 Jan 2008
Language of Item
Copyright Statement
Empire Club of Canada
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Full Text

January 10, 2008

The Canada-U.S. Relationship


Senior Advisor on Canada-U.S. Relations to the President of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas in New York

Chairman: Catherine S. Swift

President, The Empire Club of Canada

Head Table Guests:

Don McCutchan: Partner and International Policy Advisor, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, and Third Vice-President, The Empire Club of Canada

Neila Bazaracai: Grade 12 Student, North Toronto Collegiate Institute

Reverend Vic Reigel: Honorary Chaplain, Christ Church Brampton

Bonnie Brownlee: Senior Vice-President, Corporate Communications, CTV Globemedia

Doug Knight: President, St. Joseph Media Inc.

Dr. Alan Wildeman: Vice-President Research, University of Guelph

Jo-Ann McArthur: President, Jo-Ann McArthur Strategies Inc., and First Vice-President and President-Elect, The Empire Club of Canada

Terrence O’Sullivan: Partner, Lax O’Sullivan Scott LLP

John R. Nay: Consul General, U.S. Consulate General Toronto.

Introduction by Catherine Swift:

It is difficult to overestimate how much our world has changed as a result of the events of September 11, 2001. For us here in Canada, the impact of those horrific events was profound in every way, affecting our economy, our safety and security and our relationship with our most important ally, the United States.

Canadians’ relationship with Americans has had its ups and downs, to put it mildly, over our long shared history, and perhaps no more so than in the years following 9-11. As you will recall, a number of Canadian politicians during that period took the opportunity to take pot shots at American leaders and Americans in general, while at the other end of the spectrum many of us flew U.S. flags and made other symbolic shows of support for our U.S. neighbours. Although most if not all Canadians would think that Canada has every right to disagree with the U.S. on policy issues, many questioned why it was necessary to be disagreeable in the process. The ensuing war in Iraq also provided the opportunity for fractious debate between our two nations, usually providing much more heat than light on the subject.

Our speaker today was right in the thick of those times, and is here today to share her perspective on an important time in our history and our vital relationship with the U.S.

Lily Tomlin once said, “I always knew I wanted to be a somebody, but now I realize I have to be more specific.” Our speaker today, Pamela Wallin, is a true Canadian somebody. Accomplished in many areas, most of you will know Pamela from her long and successful media career including positions with CBC radio, the Ottawa bureau chief of the Toronto Star and host of Canada AM for several years. She went on to become CTV Ottawa bureau chief, and anchored the CTV weekend news. In 1992, she became the first Canadian woman to co-anchor the nightly national television newscast, Prime Time News.

In 1995, she founded an independent television company, Pamela Wallin Productions, through which she hosted and produced a live nightly interview program. She also hosted the Canadian edition of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” garnering the highest rating ever for a network production.

Pamela has dedicated much of her professional career to coverage of the Canada-U.S. relationship, and in November 2001 she travelled to New York to host the highly successful “Canada Loves New York” rally to show support for the American people post 9-11.

In 2002, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien appointed Pamela to a four-year term as Consul General of Canada in New York. She has 13 Honorary Doctorates and sits on many boards, including CTVglobemedia and an advisory board for BMO Harris Private Banking. She has received many honours including being an Officer of the Order of Canada. She is currently the Senior Advisor on Canada-U.S. relations to the President of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas in New York. She was recently appointed to the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan by Prime Minister Harper. She has also somehow found the time to author three books, including her best selling autobiography, “Since You Asked,” and a book on cats.

Please join me in welcoming Pamela Wallin.


Thank you for the kind words of introduction.

Madam President, Catherine Swift, a friend of many years, U.S. Consul General John Nay, head table guests, former colleagues and still good friends from the Consulate in New York and our American friends:

I am honoured to have this opportunity because I have dedicated many years of my life to studying, reporting on and living the Canada/U.S. relationship.

First, let me declare a small bias. Next to Wadena, Saskatchewan, my hometown, New York City (NYC), is one of my favourite places on earth.

The famous essayist E. B. White captured it: “Wherever you sit in NYC,” he said, “you feel the vibrations of great times and tall deeds.” And New Yorkers themselves are so high energy and compelling.

But of course most other Americans are quick to point out that NYC is simply an island off America and is totally unrepresentative of the rest of the country.

When a New Yorker asks me where I am from, I say the Canadian mid-west—a place called Saskatchewan. A puzzled look would creep across his or her face, so I would quickly volunteer, “Go to Minnesota or North Dakota and turn right.” The puzzlement would deepen, as they of course have no idea where that is either!

It seems that even in 2008, with free trade agreements, a borderless media world, and more than 100 million border crossings by our citizens each year, historian Bartlett Brebner’s decades-old observations still hold, troublingly true. “Americans,” he wrote, “are benevolently ignorant about Canada, while Canadians are malevolently well informed about the U.S.”

Or as one Canadian political wit once said: “They are our best friends whether we like it or not and we are their best friends whether they know it or not!”

When I arrived in New York, I set about seeking advice on what a Canadian diplomat could and should do to win influence and access in the U.S. The answer was always the same—just try understanding the place instead of thinking you already know it. Canada, I was repeatedly told, too often seeks to engage America by wagging its fingers and proclaiming its values, policies and political systems as superior.

On a good day and with the best spin possible, this moralizing reflects a value system of sharing, tolerance, civility and diversity that we enjoy at home and therefore wish others to have and experience. But more often, in the eye of the beholder, it is seen as the hectoring of others who believe in their own virtues and see no need to adopt ours.

Dean Acheson, whose family came from Toronto and who went on to become an American Secretary of State, described Canada as too often the “stern daughter of the voice of God.”

Now I could—and often did—put that right back at them, but it was my mission as my country’s representative to understand my host country and to convey and often translate those messages home as well as explain our message to our southern neighbours.

The diplomat’s job is the reporter’s unrequited dream—a chance to live and breathe another place, to come to know its nuance and nature.

But I digress.

Not surprisingly, this hectoring strategy doesn’t work. Not even if you’re right!

In the first place, Americans are quite rightly proud of who and what they are and their values. And so it begs the question, “Why do we want them to be just like us when we don’t want to be just like them and why do Canadians tend to think our system is inherently superior rather than simply different?”

There is a wonderful stat in a Pew Research poll. Ninety-one per cent of Americans define themselves as “very patriotic.” An even higher number believe, that given the opportunity, anyone, regardless of race, religion, creed or colour, would move to the U.S.A. if given a chance. We always smile, perhaps even smirk at the comment, but the immigration numbers, legal and illegal, attest that it is true.

Many see it as arrogance or blind patriotism but I, for one, envy that national pride—and yes, perhaps there is a naiveté—but it’s hopeful and proud. And the anti-Americanism that is so in vogue these days is not a very useful or constructive response. We express these views at our peril not for fear of some punitive American retaliation but because it is the antithesis of what we purport to be—open, welcoming and generous people. And in my view “not being Americans” does not qualify as an affirmation of Canadian sovereignty.

A relationship is not a zero-sum game. We are not enhanced by diminishing them, their loss is not our gain, and we do not grow at their expense but because of our proximity to them. In a relationship as large and as complex as this, there will always be disagreements but when we disagree, we should do so agreeably.

That said, getting along doesn’t always mean going along.

We are different and independent countries with different political systems. Try understanding the U.S. electoral college system—the Iowa caucuses, the primaries. The only thing more complicated would be to explain minority government or worse yet, separatist federalists to an American, folks they would clearly see as treasonous.

The very history and settlement and development of the two countries have shaped us differently.

For example, Americans often use philanthropy to accomplish what we would ask government to do.

But I have also come to believe that there are many more differences within our countries than between them. We both have our red and blue states although the colours are reversed here.

The east and west coasts are more similar across borders than they are across countries We are both wrestling with health-care issues. They ration with money, we ration with time and neither system works all that well given the demographic pressures, the rural urban divides and growing disparities between the haves and have-nots.

If the first act of all persuasion, which is, after all, diplomatic job one is clarity of purpose, then that is where we must begin. So we need to get beyond the stereotypes and the myths that persist, despite the proximity and the fact that nine out of 10 of us live within spitting distance of the border. Americans as the big, brash, arrogant gun-toting bullies and Canadians as those timid, but oh so nice, park rangers, who dwell in the northern wilderness and stand freezing but dutiful at red lights at 2 a.m. is out of date.

One of my favourite New Yorker cartoons captures the sentiment. A couple is sitting sipping martinis and he says to her, “You seem familiar, yet somehow strange. Are you by any chance Canadian?”

So how do we deal with this relationship in everybody’s best interest?

A former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was once asked what made his job most difficult. “Events, dear boy, events,” he replied.

Predicting, controlling or managing the myriad events that erupt and making them more predictable is key.

We too often fail to influence the system because we don’t understand it. For example, Congress—not the White House—is where much of the power resides. Many Canadians seem to think that if only the Democrats were elected, things would be better, but we can’t confuse shared social attitudes with special status on economics or security issues. Protectionist sentiment is alive and well in Democratic ranks. And NAFTA would be in some jeopardy.

We make the classic mistake of personalizing our foreign policy. It’s not about whether we love or hate George Bush or Bill Clinton, or Hillary or Huckabee for that matter; nor is it about whether we love or hate the war. It is about what is in our own best interest, economically and strategically, and how we best manage this relationship—politics aside—for the benefit of Canadians and in a way, which secures our role in the larger world.

We are a creative and innovative people. Who else could have created this great east-west act of faith known as Canada against all odds and the seductive tug and pull of the natural north/south trade routes? Sometimes we have been complacent, assuming the benefits and protections of living next door to a superpower.

Our north-south trading block should be bracing and working together to meet the challenges of globalization and the rise of other powerful trading areas. We need to be and be seen as more than “Mexicans with sweaters” to borrow a phrase from Andrea Campbell’s book, “Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson’s.” And not a day went by in my time as Consul General that I was not thankful for the free trade agreement because it offered some way to manage or at least negotiate our differences, if not always settle them.

We are easily side-swiped by economic problems south of the border—a sub-prime mortgage meltdown, America’s indebtedness, recession fears.

Let’s hope history repeats itself. In election years, the pollsters tell us, and this dates back to 1964, the U.S. GDP has always outpaced the previous year.

But our borders are thickening. The 140 or so such land crossings have become choke points fraying nerves and frustrating governments and hurting productivity and competitiveness. And while the Mexican border remains a huge challenge, the northern border should be one of opportunity, but it’s not always the way Congress sees it nor are we inclined to compromise, to best exploit our advantage.

The reality is that our economies are “integrated.” It is also true that the relationship is asymmetric because of the relative size of the two economies, period. Ten times in fact. That asymmetry does not imply that we are subservient, just smaller. But as the smaller partner in the relationship, it falls to us to do the heavy lifting.

We insist on defining the relationship in economic terms and they respond by speaking our language. The former U.S. ambassador put it bluntly raising the ire of so many Canadians: “Security trumps trade,” he told us, and he was right then and it will be the context for our relationship for a generation to come.

Can you imagine any of the presidential contenders in either party declaring that everything is okay. Put your belts and shoes back on, pack that five-ounce can of hairspray with impunity, the borders are wide open, come on in. That is not going to happen.

And because we both want and need the trade to continue, open borders are crucial provided those open borders are secure ones. You know the stats:

• $2 billion worth of goods and services cross the border everyday;

• 25 per cent of all American exports come to Canada; we are the largest market for 39 of the 50 states;

• Canada sells more of its output (87 per cent) to the U.S. than we consume at home, making us our own second-largest trading partner! This trade generates 40 per cent of our national income;

• America is our largest source of foreign direct investment;

• We do more business with the U.S. in one week than we do with China in a year; and

• We do more trade with Home Depot head office in Atlanta than we do with the country of France.

So open borders are crucial, provided those open borders are secure ones.

I use the analogy of a corner store. If you sold 87 per cent of everything off your shelves to one customer, would you not want to know everything and anything about them—their likes and dislikes, whether they are Pepsi or Coke people. Wouldn’t that be the best way to serve your customer and make your business profitable?

It is in our interest to know our largest customer. The reality is we are friends and relatives, we play on each other’s hockey teams, attend each other’s universities, and work for one of the thousands of cross-border companies. We invest in each other’s entrepreneurship and vacation in each other’s backyards. Our comedians, songwriters and authors entertain and our journalists deliver the news to American homes and we all—on both sides of the 49th—readily consume the culture that Canadians have helped create.

It is said that each person’s life is lived as a series of conversations. For me that is quite literally true, although many have taken place in the glare of the television cameras. And from each—well, almost each—one, I discovered that if you listen, you will learn.

The actor Alan Alda put it this way: “Listening is the ability to be changed by the other.”

We know from our own relationships, that the ability to actually hear what is being said by someone is one of life’s valuable skills. And as someone who has lived and worked in the U.S. and cross border for the last six years, this is no less valuable a skill when it comes to the relationship between countries.

In the months after 9/11, NYC was a powerful Rorschach test.

We each saw in the city—and in the faces of its people—our own fears, doubts, and even though strong emotion may not be typical of all Americans, it was and is of those who make daily and key decisions about our future.

Too often some of our leaders were simply insensitive to the temper of the times and the full force of the attack and even a fundamental disagreement over the war or disdain for a president, personally or politically, should not have blunted our sensitivities to the true nature of the violation that Americans felt or to the reality of our own vulnerability.

Remember the FLQ crisis and our reaction when we felt attacked. The War Measures Act, in its day, was at least as draconian in its word and deed as the Patriot Act.

Remember Air India where we still await justice or the shocking though not surprising discovery of so-called homegrown terrorists. And remember Bali, Madrid, Beslan, London and several dozen other places. The terrorist does not just target the U.S.A.

I was shocked and troubled by the attitudes shown in a recent poll here in Canada. It found that more than one in five Canadians believe that the events of September 11 were orchestrated, not by al Qaeda terrorists, but by Americans who were eager for a war with Iraq. This so-called analysis in a country that quite rightly boasts of its superior education and openness is a blame-the-victim approach that would not be tolerated in another context, so why this one?

We feel we can comment on their domestic policy matters with impunity while we would take great offence if they did the same.

Consider the language with which we criticize the Americans such as bastards, morons. If we used such language about any other group… well we simply wouldn’t.

In the post-9/11 world, we can’t risk simplistic or nationalistic or ideological reactions, or smugness. There is simply too much at stake. We need a much more dispassionate sense of how Americans think and work and feel and see the world and see us. And they too need to come to know others, including us, much better. As William J. Fulbright said: “In the long course of history, having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine.”

We all want to stop terrorism and secure our citizens’ safety and promote democracy and civility. And Canada, historically, is not a spectator nation. So while we may well have different means to a desired end, that desired end is more often than not the same.

Is it not our responsibility to engage and offer a different perspective but to do so with a common purpose in mind? Call it constructive engagement—an ability to confront and challenge one another but without the need to establish moral superiority. For example, we need our friends to recognize and respect our concerns about sovereignty if we are to help them address their concerns about security.

In the end, it’s all about communication and understanding and confidence.

We are all touched by so many people who change our course. Although I have met him I never had a chance to interview him, but being in his presence was nothing short of inspiring and his words are wise and very relevant to Canada today. Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech in 1994 after decades in prison as he was to become president of his country said: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate…Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us…but playing small doesn’t serve the world.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Canada should heed the words of the wise man and let our own light shine.

I leave you with the words of the late great American journalist Sydney Harris.

“An idealist,” he said, “believes the short run doesn’t count.

“A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter."

“A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run.”

Every day each decision we make about our relationship with the United States will determine our long run—our future. These decisions must be deliberate acts, conscious choices. And most importantly, we must find that willingness to listen and actually hear what is being said by the other.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by Jo-Ann McArthur, President, Jo-Ann McArthur Strategies Inc., and First Vice-President and President-Elect, The Empire Club of Canada.

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The Canada-U.S. Relationship

Declaring a small bias. New York City. Some quotes about Americans and Canadians. The diplomat’s job. Some American and Canadian traits. The nature of relationships. Some differences between Americans and Canadians. Differences within our countries rather than between them, and ways in which that is so. Getting past stereotypes. Dealing with these relationships in everybody’s best interest. Predicting, controlling or managing myriad erupting events and making them more predictable as the key. Class mistakes that we make. Thickening borders. Our integrated economies. The issue of security. Some statistics on trade. The crucial importance of open borders. An analogy. Knowing our largest customer. Listening and learning. A review of some key historical events. The post-9/11 world. Communication and understanding and confidence. Canada – letting its own light shine. A final quote.