Canada And The United States, A Centennial Retrospective


These questions, among others, were studied subsequently by two eminent North American diplomats, Merchant for the United States and Arnold Heeney for Canada, under a hopeful arrangement between Pearson and President Johnson. But the Merchant-Heeney Report, urging improved manners and more careful consultation in the joint business of the two nations, made little impact on either. It was soon lost in the rush of more spectacular events. On April 2, 1965, Pearson, in a speech at Philadelphia, called for a temporary pause in the American bombing of North Vietnam. On hearing that the distinguished guest of his country had implicitly criticized its high policy, President Johnson was furious, and it was over a year before the two men were publicly reconciled—at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Campobello estate in the summer of 1966. Only a few months passed before Canada risked American resentment again (though this time without any breach of manners) by proposing that Communist China be admitted to the United Nations, provided that Nationalist China was still recognized.

Thus Canada’s centennial year opened with many unsolved problems, and the makings of many new frictions, on the border. Largest among them, from the Canadian viewpoint, was still the massive American penetration into Canada’s economy, its culture, and all its affairs.

Few Canadians believe that the United States has any sinister designs on their country. Most of them understand that they have sold their industries and committed their trade to their neighbor of their own free will. Probably most of them understand, too, that their high living standard has been built largely by American investment. Nevertheless, the fear of absorption by peaceful means, where war has long since become unthinkable, is stirring with new force in the Canadian unconscious. Though the sun of ancient friendship shines through the broken clouds, they are still there, as they have been since Champlain built his Habitation at Quebec.

Now that Canada is one hundred years of age, a durable fact and no longer an experiment, the lesson taught by a joint North American experience without parallel elsewhere ought to be plain enough to sensible men on both sides of the border.

After being successively the exiles of France, the wards of Britain, the target of American attack, and the independent allies of the world’s greatest power, Canadians have learned that they must resist the peaceful magnetic pull of the United States with their own energies, since no one else can help them.

Experience has also proved that they alone, by the clash between their French-speaking and English-speaking communities, can destroy their nation so long as the United States defends without coercing it.

Finally, the experience should have convinced the present generation of Canadians that they cannot take American good will for granted. If this is just as true in reverse, Canada must accept the full responsibilities, along with the privileges, of a sovereign state, possibly the most fortunate in the world when such a neighbor stands beside it.

For Americans the lesson should be equally clear: the United States is involved in Canada’s future as it is involved with no other foreign nation. It cannot prosper in peacetime without Canada’s business, cannot fight any major war without Canada’s physical resources, and, for all its power, money, and cultural penetration, cannot turn Canadians into Americans. Less obvious but more significant, the United States cannot mistreat Canada without losing its moral leadership everywhere. If it fails in its immediate neighborhood, the world will never trust it.

These self-evident truths have not been fully learned yet on either side. There will be further neighborly collisions of interest, more economic and political disputes, more foolish rhetoric in Parliament and Congress, more self-pity in Canada, more genial indifference in the United States. But so far as any human arrangement is safe in these times, it is the Canadian-U.S. border, maintained without force or threat, by men—not by God, geography, or guns. It may even teach some lessons to a distracted species beyond this continent’s shores.