No two nations on earth have as cliched a relationship as do Canada and the United States. Even Canada's complaints are frequently endless echoes of the same old hat--excessive U.S. business domination, cultural influence, free wheat dumped on potential Canadian markets, and just plain policy dictates.
Once again this week, however, came the platitudes--and from both President Kennedy and Prime Minister Diefenbaker. Actually, re-statements of mutual inseparability can beneficially remind both sides of the other's existence and concern. The danger lies in stopping there, for any of these now-trite but often important Canadian complaints can cause substantial policy differences.
Kennedy's formal speech (results of his informal conferences with Diefenbaker were not released) dealt with three broad topics. Firstly, hemispheric aid and participation. Essentially, the President asked Canada to do more financially and diplomatically in the counsels of the OAS toward keeping the Western hemisphere non-Communist. In this Canada has a clear common interest with the U.S.
Secondly, Kennedy asked Canadian to support and implement an increase in NATO conventional forces. Here again, all Western defense policy has an interest--at least if it wants to raise the threshold at which nuclear weapons must be introduced to win less-than-all-out engagements. In fact, Canada has here a genuine opportunity to lead the NATO countries in boosting troop commitments that are placed under joint control.
Finally, Kennedy requested more Canadian foreign aid to Asia and Africa.
Two broad but unsolved questions underlie these three requests. One is the same choice facing all our NATO allies. Canada can continue the prevalent, "good-time-Charlie" attitude of letting the U.S. provide the bulk of the alliance's support and gamble that this is enough; or it can contribute more troops and foreign aid now to stave off disaster later. The first alternative is cheaper in the short-run; but if the second is necessary, the bargain is hardly worthwhile.
Secondly, when Kennedy referred to Canada's "leading, important, and constructive role" in the Middle Eastern, Laotian, and Congolese Peace forces, he obliquely referred to a long-standing intramural debate north of the border: whether Canada should become a "third force," a leader of middle-sized nations. If the President really supports such a move, what kind of third force does he want Canada to be? The answer probably depends on the specific points at hand; for example, Cuba presents different demands than does Laos.
Thus, Kennedy's speech and what glimpses we have of his private discussions touched on outstanding foreign policy problems facing Canada and the U.S., and how to deal with them. What should never be neglected, however, are the perennial but substantive complaints Canadians do have about the U.S. If, as Lester Pearson maintained four years ago, Canada must increase its exports to the U.S., then our government has an obligation to see to it somehow. If Canada wants to trade with Communist China, and wants to badly enough, our government should not prohibit Canadian subsidiaries from doing so. (And even this overlooks another Canadian complaint that the companies are in fact subsidiaries.)
Whatever foreign aid increases Canada does make will likely proceed from an improved economic posture. If unemployment remains so high (11 per cent), the improvement is unlikely to occur. This again illustrates how important is the interaction between our relations with Canada and Canada's role in the free-world "partnership." Neither goodwill nor Jackie Kennedy's beauty amidst the Ottawa tulips will do the trick.