Even the most indifferent U.S. administration can generally find a few bones to pick with Canada behind closed doors
As U.S. President Joe Biden arrives in Ottawa for a two-day visit this week, it’s anybody’s guess what he actually plans to talk about. The U.S. and Canada have no pending treaties, no significant trade disputes, and they’re generally in agreement on foreign policy. As a vaguely worded statement from the Prime Minister’s Office put it, Biden’s visit will “advance cooperation” and “increase collaboration.”
An equally vague statement from the White House said the visit would “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to the US-Canada partnership.”
Naturally, Canada never has any shortage of policy demands on its U.S. neighbour. To name a few big ones, the Trudeau government probably wants a rollback of federal “Buy American” policies and a renegotiation of the Safe Third Country Agreement. Trudeau may even mention how Biden keeps shutting down Canadian oil pipelines while simultaneously demanding more oil from the Saudis.
But there is no real political wish list from the Biden White House — which has generally been content to ignore Canada until now. Few U.S. presidents in recent history have waited quite so long to make a state visit to Canada. And notably, Biden’s visit has barely even been mentioned in U.S. political media.
Even the most indifferent U.S. administration can generally find a few bones to pick with Canada behind closed doors, however. Below, a quick guide to the Canadian policies that most annoy the United States, and can usually be expected to cause sparks at these types of things.
Our protectionist milk cartel
If you were to pick the one Canadian policy guaranteed to spark persistent, bipartisan scorn from the Americans, it would be supply management. Canada’s entire dairy sector is maintained with a state-sanctioned cartel designed to fix prices by artificially limiting supply. To do this, the government of Canada has to maintain draconian controls on milk imports in order to shield Canadian dairy farmers from the global market.
Canada just happens to abut the United States’ most active milk-producing states, most notably Wisconsin and New York. Under normal conditions, the Americans could expect to be shipping billions of dollars in milk and cheese to their Canadian neighbours. Instead, absent a few exceptions, dairy-hungry Canadian consumers are sealed off to American producers.
And Canada is brazenly turning away U.S. milk imports at the same time as it staunchly insists on unfettered free trade for any exports going the other direction. As Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has put it in one of her numerous official complaint letters, Canada is denying “fair access” to U.S. dairy farms.
Constantly failing to defend ourselves
It is a major problem for the United States that their northern neighbour can barely defend itself. Although Canada and the United States are Norad partners, Canada’s small, outdated fighter fleet means that any aerial threats (even if they’re just a slow-moving balloon) almost always have to be intercepted by the U.S. Air Force. If the Royal Canadian Navy goes on an exercise with the Americans, we often have to lean on U.S. ships for resupply and the occasional tow. When Canadian soldiers challenge their U.S. counterparts to pistol shooting competitions, the Canadian guns jam up so badly that the meet almost has to be cancelled.
It didn’t used to be this way. Right up until the 1970s, Canada not only had a pretty good handle on defending its own borders, but it was able to hold down substantial portions of NATO’s European flank. Canadian air power was such that the United States were even known to deputize Canadian jets to watch the U.S. East Coast in an emergency.
So whenever they can, U.S. diplomats like to remind Canada that it might be best for everyone if they could start defending themselves without American help. When the Trudeau government tabled its 2022 budget, U.S. Ambassador David Cohen’s chief reaction was that it didn’t deliver on Canada’s most-hyped promise to finally boost military spending. “It was a little disappointing,” he told the National Post.
Censoring the internet
Although Canadian content laws were very specifically designed to artificially reduce the citizenry’s exposure to U.S. culture, American officials have mostly seen them as an adorable program which poses no discernible threat to their global hegemony in music and films.
But Bill C-11 is different. This is the federal bill that would extend CRTC control to whole sections of the Canadian internet, and force web giants such as Netflix, YouTube and Instagram to tweak their algorithms to give outsized attention to content approved by Ottawa.
Back in July, the U.S. was calling out the bill as a clear violation of CUSMA, the treaty governing Canada-U.S. free trade. The agreement bars Canada from according “less favourable treatment” to digital products produced in the U.S. — meaning that Bill C-11 could well spark a suite of U.S. retaliatory tariffs.
But the Americans really don’t seem to care about the Chinese electoral interference
Awkwardly, Biden is dropping in on the Canadian capital just as the city tears itself apart over allegations that Chinese agents interfered with the 2021 federal election. Somewhat surprisingly, this is an issue that the United States doesn’t seem to care about at all.
Washington is not a huge fan of China and they would obviously prefer that Beijing’s influence in their northern backyard be kept to a minimum. But the actual interference was probably quite small; a handful of Chinese consular officials trying to sway results in a handful of heavily Chinese-Canadian ridings in Vancouver and Toronto. The scandal is mostly over allegations that Trudeau knew about China’s actions but didn’t do anything about it — and then lied about the former point.
But the United States generally doesn’t care about foreign political perfidy so long as it doesn’t affect their interests. In a recent interview, U.S. Ambassador David Cohen said that official interest in the scandal ended the moment they figured out that China wouldn’t have been able to affect the ultimate electoral result. And besides, Cohen told CTV, U.S. diplomats generally assume that China is always trying to interfere with Western elections.
“I’ve seen nothing that anyone’s reported or that anyone has said that’s been able to disclose any impact from any alleged interference by the Chinese in the last couple of Canadian elections,” he said.
Source: National Post