U.S. midterms and Canada: We must defend our interests

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Excerpts from the Globe and Mail, November 4, 2011 by Allan Gotlieb and Colin Robertson

The U.S. Congress has undergone another sea change as a result of Tuesday’s midterm elections and the Republican wave with a Tea Party crest. What has not changed is the requirement for vigilance in defence of Canadian interests. Those interests are our economic prosperity, our need for a wider and enhanced international trading system, and an open border between our two countries.

From the standpoint of our interests, Congress is the organ of government of greatest concern to Canada. In the U.S. system of checks and balances, the three branches of government are said to be co-equal, but they’re not, by constitutional design of the Founding Fathers. Congress, not the presidency, is primus inter pares

If the mood of Americans continues to turn inward because of fatigue with foreign wars and “unreliable” allies, we can anticipate more security measures and thus a further thickening of our border. The passport requirement for Canada and U.S. travellers was a profoundly retrograde step, curbing tourism and the flow of service clubs and youth sports that created unique bonds of friendship. The Republican “Pledge to America” promises to further “secure our borders with strong enforcement of the law.”

Mythologies about 9/11 and Canada’s leaky borders persist. Sharron Angle, the Tea Party candidate who almost defeated Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is only the latest to voice the canard that “our northern border is where the terrorists came through.” Meantime, that border continues to choke with its aging infrastructure, new rules and regulations, fees, inspections and redundancies. Our common frontier is probably the least open among any two industrialized countries anywhere, and no way to manage the world’s biggest bilateral trading relationship. A more open border between our countries needs to be a top priority.

While recognizing the advantage of divided political power in Washington, Canada should greatly intensify our efforts to find new global markets for our resources, especially energy. It should be a matter of the highest national priority to develop the policies and to create the necessary infrastructure.

Regrettably, President Barack Obama seems to lack any strategic view of Canada’s value from the standpoint of U.S. national interests. While it may be tempting, Canadian interests are too important for us to drop anchor and stay in safe harbour. Ad hocery and incrementalism will not stem decline. Open trade and borders are the proven path to jobs and mutually reinforcing growth and prosperity.

The most effective way to reverse the trend line is through bold, energetic Canadian initiatives. We should start by reminding Americans that, if they’re to trade their way out of recession, the first step is to build on our deep, integrated supply chain dynamic with their biggest market and to renew the partnership with Canada.