Canada: Beyond Mounties and Maple Syrup

President Barack Obama made his first foreign trip to Canada on Feb. 12. Although the trip wasn’t far and may not seem important to the American people, it was well overdue because it is vital for the new administration to pay attention to Canada. America must not only maintain strong foreign relations with our northern neighbor but also work to improve them. The reasons for this are unfortunately often overlooked.
After all, Canada is the United States’ top trading partner. According to the U.S. Census, American trade with Canada is over $518 billion a year. That makes our total trade with Canada about $200 billion more than our second and third biggest trading partners, China and Mexico. That’s why it was so disappointing to see President George W. Bush break the tradition of traveling to Canada as the first foreign trip of his term in favor of a trip to Mexico. It was misguided to brush off such a vital source of capital.
The ways in which Canada helps our economy are often unnoticed, such as the “people-to-people” contact we have across our northern borders every day. The Bureau of Public affairs estimates that over 300,000 people cross the border between the United States and Canada daily. This means that Canadians are investing in American products every single day. Not only that, but the United States and Canada have integrated everything from auto industries to sports teams. Therefore, it is crucial to ensure that relations between the U.S. and Canada flourish because, in part, their success is our success.
However, Canada is more than just a financial backbone for the U.S. Whether it is the rising energy crisis or conflicts in the Middle East, Canada plays a substantial role in foreign policy. For instance, take Afghanistan; the John Manley Panel report revealed that Canada allocated $741 million to the effort in Afghanistan. It is important for President Obama to map out Canada’s involvement in our foreign relationships with other countries, especially since they are so readily willing to aid us in our efforts. Canada can play an active role in our foreign relations not only financially, but they can also help enlist support from other NATO members who are more reserved about contributing to American goals.
In recent years, a new reason has sprung up to pay more attention to Canada. Its borders hold vast amounts of tar in Alberta, and according to an article in Time Magazine entitled “Well Oiled Machine,” “Canada may become the new Saudi Arabia.”
The U.S. has shown signs that it may attempt to block Canada’s development of these lands due to pressure from environmentalists. However, while the environment is certainly an important issue, it is also an expensive one. Because of the economic crisis, we need to allow Canada to develop its tar sands. Furthermore, Canada also must continue to be utilized as a trading partner that America can buy oil from.
America cannot afford to keep investing in oil from anti-American Hugo Chavez at higher and higher prices and ignore a real source of energy from Canada. Canada should be the major provider of oil in America, not the Middle East or South America, and President Obama should make it a point to enhance that market as much as possible.
Canada’s arctic region is also booming and important to American interests. The arctic is rich in vital minerals and other natural resources. Many countries, including Russia, have already mapped out their claims for the arctic, claims as large as Germany, Italy and France combined.
The shrinking of polar ice caps has provided an opportunity for the U.S. to extend its navigation of the arctic through the Northwest Passage, which is important for security and economic reasons. The use of the Northwest Passage has continually been an issue between Canada and the United States. Cooperation with Canada is crucial in this situation because the arctic represents such a major opportunity for both Canada and the U.S. to develop energy security in North America. However, none of this can happen without working with Canada and paying attention to them.
There is a reason why Canada can be the butt of so many jokes without someone yelling, “That’s politically incorrect!” Overall, Canada is taken for granted by the American people because it has been such a solid ally. While it is one thing for the American public to take Canada for granted, it is a completely differentissue for the U.S. government to do so as well.
Canada has become a major player in the energy crisis, the Middle East and even our economic well-being. While we should not ignore countries like Mexico, Venezuela or Iraq, it is important to realize that we should give Canada the attention it deserves.

Neil Thakor is a first-year political science major. He can be reached at