Canada-US Relations, 1759–2019
- Robert BothwellRobert BothwellDepartment of History, University of Toronto
Canada has sometimes been called the United States’ attic: a useful feature, but one easily forgotten. Of all countries, it has historically resembled the United States the most closely, in terms of culture, geography, economy, society, politics, ideology and, especially, history. A shared culture—literary, social, legal, and political—is a crucial factor in Canadian-American relations. Geography is at least as important. It provides the United States with strategic insulation to the north and enhances geographic isolation to the east and west. North-south economic links are inevitable and very large. It has been a major recipient of American investment, and for most of the time since 1920 has been the United States’ principal trading partner. Prosperous and self-sufficient, it has seldom required American aid. There have been no overtly hostile official encounters since the end of the War of 1812, partly because many Americans tended to believe that Canadians would join the republic; when that did not occur, the United States accepted an independent but friendly Canada as a permanent, useful, and desirable neighbor—North America’s attic. The insulation the attic provided was a common belief in the rule of law, both domestic and international; liberal democracy; a federal constitution; liberal capitalism; and liberal international trade regimes.
That said, the United States, with its large population, huge economy, and military power, insulates Canada from hostile external forces. An attack on Canada from outside the continent is hard to imagine without a simultaneous attack on the United States. Successive American and Canadian governments have reaffirmed the political status quo while favoring mutually beneficial economic and military linkages—bilateral and multilateral. Relations have traditionally been grounded in a negotiating style that is evidence-based, proceeding issue by issue. A sober diplomatic and political context sometimes frames irritations and exclamations, but even these have usually been defined and limited by familiarity. For example, there has always been anti-Americanism in Canada. Most often it consists of sentiments derived from the United States itself, channeled by cultural similarities. No American idea, good or bad, from liberalism to populism, fails to find an echo in Canada. How loud or how soft the echo makes the difference.