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
How Americans see Canadians
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.