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Column: Bordering on insanity

Published by Derek Lothian on February 11, 2012

By Jeff Brownlee, VP, Public Affairs & Partnerships, CME

Sometimes it makes me wonder: When will people wake up and realize we actually live in 2012 – not 1812?

As we begin the New Year, we are ushering in a modern and exciting era of Canada-US relations; but ironically, we are also marking the 200th anniversary of very important time in North American history – the War of 1812.

This past December, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama inked a bilateral perimeter deal, aimed at making it easier for people as well as trade to flow across a virtual line between our two countries.

This new partnership focuses on key terms like "harmonization" and "sharing of information." Predictably, this has fuelled a conspiracy theory that vaulting the largest bilateral relationship into the 21st century will result in a loss of sovereignty for Canada. It's an antiquated, typically uneducated, fear-mongering argument.

It's not 1812, and US military invasion is not a threat. It's 2012, and yet, the conspirators would have us believe the threat today is cuddling closer to the US and sharing personal information in this digital age.

And some fuel the fear that we will be swallowed by the big Leviathan south of the 49th parallel and suddenly start pledging allegiance to the Stars and Stripes.

Seriously? It's a bunch of bull.

That last time I checked, the maple leaf was still on the Canadian flag; the Loonie was still our currency; and, we had a parliamentary system of government with Stephen Harper at the helm. And you know what: Canadians still spell things with an extra U, eh.

The real issue is that Canada and has an inferiority complex. Academics, historians, politicians and even average Canadians like myself have spent the past 145 years searching for a Canadian identity.

The inability to define one – and the countless volumes you can read on the subject – makes me think that we've focused too much on defining what we are not (American) and not enough worried about who we are. Our national anthem isn't about bombs bursting in air and the rockets' red glare – it's about our home and native land; the true north, strong and free.

We are Canadian. We are different from Americans and always will be. We live in the greatest country in the world. Our global brand, for heaven's sake – the symbol by which everyone recognizes the land of snow and ice – is a red leaf. That's right: part of a tree.

We are, however, only one nation out of 196 on the planet. And we just happen to share a continent with the world's largest, and some say waning, economic power.

Everyone knows that Canada and the US share the most unique relationship in the world. We are friends; we are neighbo(u)rs and we are business partners. We trade things with each other; but, more importantly, we make things together. We also succeed and fail together. We need each other.

Granted, we can't overlook the fact that, in economic terms, Canada depends on and is obsessed with our relationship with America. But what about Americans? Do they have a secret plan to overtake Canada through "secretive, back-room corporate deals?"

Yeah, if you haven't heard, they want to build a pipeline from Quebec to Chicago to upgrade sap into maple syrup. It's time for a reality check.

This momentous perimeter deal we signed with the US wasn't even on the radar with the American public, despite it actually improving the American economy when implemented. Right now, Americans are too consumed with internal economic troubles and one very important word – jobs.

The reality of this new-age relationship is that Americans will always look at us through a security lens – as a result of 9/11 and the misinformation about terrorists entering US soil via Canada – while we will look at the US through an economic lens. So, the onus on us, as Canadians, to truly understand the needs of our neighbo(u)r.

We will always be the “little brother” as far as the US is concerned. But it’s time we stopped our adolescent tantrums and took a more mature approach to America and our relationship with her.

As Birgit Matthiesen explains in this past issue of 20/20, America is changing. The US we once knew is no more. It’s not just 9/11, but a whole host of issues, revolving around security and, more importantly, the economy that have started the new US revolution. And kid yourself not, that’s exactly what it is.

But this isn’t a battle that will be fought with guns and ammunition. No, this is a political and economic revolution that is even now pulling at what some call America’s biggest strength and others call its biggest weakness – patriotism.

The US is a proud country, contrived – unlike Canada – from rebellion. She’s the model for freedom and democracy, and most of all, the “American Dream.” But that dream is looking more utopian these days. A lack of national leadership and an economy in turmoil, fuelled by 13.3 million unemployed Americans looking for jobs, is forcing the US to take a very hard stance when it comes to dealing with its trading allies.

Canada, as her best friend, is feeling the squeeze of this patriotic protectionist shift more than anyone – Buy America, for example.

The path forward in the Canada-US relationship will definitely chart new waters and it’s going to take a whole lot of understanding, or “brotherly love” on the part of Canada.

We have a serious choice to make. We can complain about the US all we want and fear monger that some day we will become American and lose the Canadian way. Or, we can pull our head out of the snow and realize that, if we truly are going to make this partnership work to our advantage, we have to work with the US, understand and provide solutions – not problems.

We may have been at war with the US 200 years ago and the result was the Canada we became. In 2012, we are at war once again, this time standing with America, shoulder to shoulder, to define the North America we want and will become.

It’s our time, together.

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