I’ve been meaning to comment on Barack Obama’s visit to Canada. Americans tend not to recognize it, but our relationship with Canada is our most important bilateral relationship. Not only is Canada very high on the list of our trade partners, but due to the nature of the geography, the trade volume belies on unusual level of actual integration whereby Canadian and American business enterprises are completely intertwined. This occurs to the extent that portions of our countries have common electrical grids, and we depend on Canada as a major supplier of electricity. Beyond economics, we closely collaborate on the literally defensive aspects of national defense as well as being partners in NATO and other multilateral organizations. Our mass cultures are integrated, our sports leagues are integrated, etc.
The main reason Americans often don’t recognize the critical nature of the U.S.–Canadian relationship is that we have the luxury of taking it for granted. But our ability to take the relationship for granted is a token of its vital nature. It’s the very for grantedness that makes it so beneficial. And part of that process is, I think, not taking it too for granted, because as important as Canada is for the United States, the United States is much more important for Canada. Thus, I thought George W. Bush’s decision to forgo the tradition of making Canada a new President’s first foreign travel destination in favor of a trip to Mexico was pretty sorry stuff. I recognize that Mexican-Americans are a much larger domestic political constituency than Canadian-Americans. But honestly, the USA doesn’t do an awful lot to recognize, even on a symbolic level, the importance of the relationship with Canada. A day-trip to Ottawa early in the administration is the least we can do and Mexican-American voters can be quoted with other means.
Meanwhile, when talking about NAFTA it’s always worth recalling that we do more business with Canada than with Mexico. People shouldn’t let somewhat legitimate concerns about our economic relationship with our southern neighbor lead them to make thoughtless pronouncements that generate a lot of anxiety up north.