February 3rd, 2009
04:26 PM ET

Why Canada is more interesting than it looks

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Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

President Obama's makes his first foreign trip today to Canada.

Americans, can you name the capital of Canada or its Prime Minister? Name three major news stories in Canada. Hockey doesn't count.

Okay, I'll help you out: automobiles, Afghanistan and energy.

Those are important issues in the United States, too, but we'll get back to that in a moment.

Canada is a lot like the United States; except when it's not, and Canadians are a lot like Americans, except when they're not.

For example, take the results of a poll of approximately 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans taken in November by Angus Reid Strategies.

How Canadians see Americans

Patriotic 86%
Opinionated 64%
Materialistic 63%
Enterprising 35%
Courageous 17%

How Americans see Canadians

Polite 50%
Educated 46%
Happy 38%
Patriotic 37%
Thoughtful 33%

Thirty-three percent of Canadians say Americans would be most willing to rescue them if they were stranded on a remote island; 30 percent of Americans say likewise about Canadians if their situations were reversed (Americans and Canadians both thought the next most likely to come to their aid would be citizens of Great Britain or Australia).

On the other hand, only 3 percent of Canadians believe Americans are educated or polite or thoughtful while 11 percent of Americans think Canadians are boring. You read above that 38 percent of Americans think Canadians are happy. Only 2 percent of Canadians think Americans are happy. That might explain why only 58 percent of Canadians want closer ties with America and only 60 percent of Americans want closer ties with Canada.

To answer the questions at the top: Ottawa is the capital and Stephen Harper is Prime Minister (There is a chance of Canada holding parliamentary elections in the near-term, so a new name is possible). Prime Minister Harper previously called the prospect of President Obama's visit "a wonderful gesture and a great sign of re-establishing the strong Canadian-American relations which this country had for many decades."

The Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Canada's Carleton University has released a report titled "From Correct to Inspired: A Blueprint for Canada-U.S. Engagement."  "What we're taking about is an adult, mature dialogue, free of all of the narcissisms in Canada or the hang-ups in Canada about getting too close to the United States," Derek Burney, a former Canadian Ambassador to the U.S. and a co-chairman of the project that produced the report, told the Calgary Herald.

When they get together, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper have no shortage of issues to discuss.

Start with the automobile industry.

U.S. automakers employ roughly 30,000 workers in Canada (primarily in the province of Ontario) and another 181,000 Canadians work for parts suppliers and some 140,000 at auto dealerships. Auto manufacturing accounts for 12 percent of Canada's gross domestic product and 24 percent of its trade in manufactured goods. Ontario's economy already is suffering because of the shrinking auto sector, but more pain is possible. A report prepared for the Ontario provincial government estimates that Canada nationally could lose 582,000 jobs – in and out of the auto business – in five years if U.S. automakers go out of business.

The Canadian government is putting up $3.3 billion (U.S.) to aid the U.S.-based automakers, added to the $17.4 billion from the U.S. government. But the U.S. taxpayer dollars will be spent to protect American – not Canadian – jobs. It's in the interest of the companies "to say they will be saving U.S. jobs at the expense of overseas jobs, and that means Canada," Gary Chaison, a professor of labor relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., told Bloomberg News and then repeated to me. "Canadian plants and autoworkers are going to take a hit on this."

President Obama's trip comes two days after the U.S. government deadline for General Motors to present a restructuring plan and one day before the Canadian government deadline for GM Canada and Chrysler Canada to qualify for its aid.

Next, Canadians are fighting and dying in Afghanistan.

The Canadians have some 2,500 soldiers in southern Afghanistan, based at Kandahar. 108 Canadian troops have died in Afghanistan since 2002, the third highest total in the NATO coalition behind the U.S. (556) and Great Britain (143).

But unlike the trend of war coverage in the U.S., Afghanistan hardly is "out of sight, out of mind" for Canadians.

Canadian combat deaths often are front-page news.

That's not the only difference. The Canadian media often covers the ceremony at Kandahar in Afghanistan as the caskets are placed aboard a plane; the arrival at CFB (Canadian Forces Base) Trenton, where families and hearses wait on the tarmac; the two-hour drive to Toronto and the coroner's office; the ceremony at the individual soldier's home base and sometimes the funerals.

In contrast, Americans see next to nothing of their dead from Iraq and Afghanistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates paid tribute to the northern neighbors during his last visit to Kandahar. No other country working with the U.S. has "worked harder or sacrificed more than the Canadians," Gates said. "They have been outstanding partners for us, and all I can tell you is ... the longer we can have Canadian soldiers as our partners, the better it is," he said. Just how long that will be is not clear. During the run-up to Canada's legislative elections in October, Prime Minister Harper said his country had not agreed to keep forces in Afghanistan past 2011. The U.S. would welcome an extension, especially as the U.S. itself plans to increase the number of its own forces.

On Afghanistan, the Carleton University report advised: "Obama is committed to strengthening American involvement in what is, in fact, a two-country war – involving the no-man's land that straddles the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. There are no easy answers, but Canada certainly has earned the right in blood and treasure to influence stronger U.S. leadership and to spur a more substantive, more cohesive international effort."

Along with the impact of recession on both countries, the President and the Prime Minister also can talk about the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the effects of protectionist trade policies and Canada's role as the leading U.S. trade partner (cross-border trade totaled $700 billion in 2007). The U.S. sends agricultural produce and machinery north, while the Canadians send energy (oil and natural gas) and forestry products south. Canada . . . not Saudi Arabia, not Mexico . . . is the number one exporter of oil to the U.S. and by some estimates, Canada's oil reserves – particularly in the province of Alberta – may be second only to Saudi Arabia's. The Carleton University report cautioned that the "energy cards" Canada holds "are not a weapon to use against the United States but an incentive to work together to find common solutions."

While they're at it, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper might find time to discuss security issues along their 5,522-mile border. "Additionally, it is critical that the two governments find a joint approach to border management in the event of a major terrorist attack in either the United States or Canada. There is no agreed contingency plan to deal with such a crisis. It is essential that Canada engage the United States in a discussion of homeland security concerns and mismatches – from critical infrastructure protection, port management, and transport security to cyber-crime, drugs, and human smuggling – each of which can affect key interests on both sides of the border," the Carleton University report advised.

Environmental issues, including the effects greenhouse gas emissions, impact both countries. There is a need for conversation about how each country regards its rights in the Northwest Passage and seas of the Arctic Circle. On the latter subject, the Carleton University report says: "No one questions Canada's Arctic sovereignty, but there are legitimate concerns about Canada's capacity to exercise stewardship in the region. Given shared interests in responsibly exploiting the energy reserves in the Arctic, Canada and the United States should build on the pragmatic solution they have used to manage the issue of navigation rights through the Northwest Passage. The two countries need to be equally pragmatic on Arctic energy and environment issues and ensure that Russia does not succeed in its grandiose claims over the resources of the Arctic."

The U.S. and Canada share an interest in several major issues. It might be a good idea for Americans to pay attention to affairs north of the border.

And that means more than just hockey.

Go to iReport to tell us what Canadians and Americans think of one another.

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Filed under: 360° Radar • David Schechter • Raw Politics
soundoff (104 Responses)
  1. DC IN BC

    First off, I am intregued by this article, as I'm surprized that this has taken on a life of its own. I am Canadian and proud of it. I have my flag tattooed on me as a reminder of my patriotism. However, as much as I have concerns about the USA, I have plenty of friends south of the border who've shown absolutely none of that Americana that I have witnessed personally on other occasions.

    America is a beautiful country. For the first time in my life, last summer I travelled to the Eastern USA. I flew from Seattle to Houston to Pittsburgh. I met nothing but helpful and kind people along the way. It made my mini vacation a thrill. However, I'm going to try and put into perspective what upsets us Canadians a little bit. We love America, but it's the ignorance we are shown that is frustrating.

    A few examples:
    1992 World Series when the US Marine Corp. flew our flag upside down while in colour guard.
    After 9/11, when GWB (nuff said), gave his speech to your congress I believe, and when mentioning allies, failed to mention Canada and the fact that many of your citizens were sitting in our homes waiting to go home.
    During televised sporting events, like the MLB All-Star game, your networks ALWAYS cut to a commercial for the Canadian National Anthem, which is really a pet peeve of mine because it shows no respect.
    NBC will not show a Canadian team on its hockey coverage.
    Garry Bettman. If you don't know who he is, you're not missing much.
    The typical question, "Do you know Ted or Jen in Toronto?".

    A great spoof movie, if you ever get a chance to rent it, is Michael Moore's Canadian Bacon. Watch it sometime, as he makes a good movie over Canada-USA relations. Now my examples above are just sentiment. I love the USA, and much of what has become of it.

    Canada is were I love to live and am proud to be from. But we have our own issues here. Every tree hugger in the world feels the need to protest the Olympics. We have a gang war going on in my area where innocent people are being shot and killed. Canadian parents allowing their sons to be victimized by playing soccer. Light beer. Yes we have our problems here.

    My concerns for the USA though. It's time to move into the 21st century on a couple of issues. Get some standardized healthcare for your people, especially those who need it. Learn Canada's provinces, so that way we don't have to hear an announcement of "Vancouver, Canada" when it should be "Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada". And for god's sake, do something about your gun laws. It's rediculous that I was able to read today that a 10-month baby boy is a registered owner of a firearm. The slogan may be that guns don't kill, people do, but putting guns out there as a right, is antiquated. Less guns = less violence. Proven fact people.

    Long Live Canada
    God Bless the USA

    We need each other to survive, except in Gary Bettman's hockey world.

    February 19, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  2. Chris

    I am a bit upset, I hope this email will reach you and possibly change this problem. I went into marone chevrolet today in fort lauderdale florida to buy a new camaro curently I own a BMW 328i before this car I have now I only bought gm vehicles I switched because of the gas milege there cars get so to make a long story short, I gave them a chance to get me back and buy american made again well imposible there charging the DEALERSHIP 10,000.00 over sticker went to another gm store 15,000.00 over sticker a car that cost 36k now cost 46k to 51k
    guess what gm will never recover if this is done in other states because people are not stupid I told them that with the addional cost the car wont be worth what i'm paying also i could go buy the M3 for a little more and have a better crafted vehicle I would bet that everyone encounters this problem and therefore walks away from there and goes to another car company I don't expect nothing for FREE but I wont get screwed either hope this gets to you because i know you can change this from hapening to other people

    Chris Scaccia

    February 19, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  3. JQQ -Brea California

    I'm a baby boomer and I have never read any book in elementary , high school or college on Canada. And none of my Twenty plus age group children have either.
    Canada and the UK are not recognized in our schools.

    But we do know Canada is north of us. The End.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  4. Scott Hierstetter

    commenting on the housing article from wed evening regarding loan modifications .I personally run a large mod company based out of baltimore md in which we do in fact charge a fee up front help borrowers. we do roughly 200 per month with fantastic results so i truly resent the comment to beware of companies that take money up front. one bad apple does not have to ruin the whole bunch!!! we do great honest business with a ton of testimonials to back it up.

    February 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm |
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