Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs: Canada, the USA and the Dynamics of State, Industry and Culture by David Kilgour and David T. Jones
Canadian-American relations have been called the worlds longest undefended
cliché. The physical and cultural closeness of the two nations has historically
generated a complex symbiosis that, while remarkably beneficial in many
ways, often produces friction.
David Jones and David Kilgour, in their recent work, Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs,
provide a fascinating and definitive examination of the relationship, as
seen from either side of the border. Jones is a former senior American
foreign service officer whose diplomatic career included a posting with
the US Embassy in Ottawa. More recently he is known for his frank articles
in Canadian print media on foreign affairs and defence matters in this
country. Co-author David Kilgour is no stranger to Canadians, having served
for many years as an MP from Edmonton in both the Liberal and Conservative
Parties. He was Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa, Secretary
of State for Asia-Pacific, and Deputy Speaker of the House.
The uneasy relationship they dissect so thoroughly ranges from trivial
differences such as the one reflected in the books title, through to matters
of great importance that have divided Canadians and Americans, sometimes
significantly, over the years. Today it is softwood lumber, mad cow disease,
Arctic sovereignty and defence burden-sharing. In past decades the conflict
has often centred on trade, free or otherwise. Given the natural north-south
lines of communications it is not surprising that trade has so often dominated
the agenda. Today, for example, it constitutes $2 billion per day, the
greatest exchange of goods and services between any two nations on the
planet. Whatever the issue of the day, there is an underlying touchiness
in the relationship that calls for study and understanding on both sides
of the border.
Despite the closeness of the two North American cultures, the list of differences
is a long one. These are often subtle by current international standards,
but they can set the two nations on divergent paths, leading to quarrels
and intemperate language on occasion (usually by Canadians). The authors
delve at length into the principal divergences, in such areas as government,
resource management, health care, education, religion, culture, gun laws,
capital punishment, world roles and defence.
Given the range and number of such dissimilarities, Canadians are easily
offended by the oft-heard declaration by Americans that, Why, you are
just like us! Ultrasensitive about their identity and having a desire
not to be seen as clones of their neighbours to the south, they worry about
being so close to the worlds remaining superpower, which for one reason
or another seems to pay little regard to Canada.
Americans, for their part, mistrust what they see as socialist tendencies
in Canada, whose citizens have traditionally held rather different views
on the role of the state in the daily life of its citizens, for example
in the increasingly important area of health care. Moreover, the US, in
the aftermath of 9/11, developed perceptions that its northern neighbour
was weak in defending against the emerging terrorist threat to the continental
US. The resulting imposition of restrictions on entry into the US has contributed
to Canadian uneasiness.
Indeed, it is in the area of international affairs and defence that the
relationship is being put to its most difficult test in the early 21st
century, and here Jones and Kilgour reveal a degree of unanimity not found
in regard to other issues. They both emphasize that the decline of Canadas
military, especially in the 1990s, has profoundly limited Canadas ability
to project its influence on the international scene. A less well-know but
serious decline in Canadas foreign service has likewise affected Canadas
international posture and reputation. Although the authors acknowledge
Canadas substantial role in Afghanistan, their outlook for a recovery
of our defence and diplomacy is thoroughly pessimistic, at least for the
Of immense value is the books detailed historical review of the Canada-US
relationship in each of the main areas of intersection between the two
nations. This is especially useful in that in each instance the history
is presented in turn from the Canadian and then the American perspective,
giving the reader a fascinating look at the root causes, so to speak, of
the issues that define todays relationship. Interestingly, Jones and Kilgour
use the first person extensively throughout, and in almost all cases without
specifically identifying who is doing the talking. It is an unusual technique,
but it works, simply because the context makes authorship quite clear.
Throughout, the authors demonstrate a commanding knowledge of the sources,
nature and consequences of the differences that divide Canadians and Americans.
Together, they have identified and analyzed the issues with scholarly insight,
and they have expressed their findings with great clarity. The net result
is a fascinating and eminently readable account of the remarkably close
and durable but sometimes combustible relationship between Canada and
the United States.
Two important messages emerge in the course of this book. First, over the
years there has been an ebb and flow in the way in which Canadians and
Americans get along. In 2007, regrettably, the relationship is at a low
point because of some difficult issues, exacerbated by traditional Canadian
smugness towards things American, and habitual American indifference towards
their northern neighbour.
Secondly, given their different approaches to nationhood, citizens of both
countries need to learn more about the neighbour on the other side of that
undefended border, which both separates us and binds us together so closely
in a relationship that is unmatched in history for its underlying friendship
and its responsiveness to intelligent debate rather than armed conflict.
In this excellent volume, David Jones and David Kilgour have given Canadians
and Americans the wherewithal for keeping it so.
General Paul Manson
Former Chief of the Defence Staff
President of the Conference of Defence