Each morning Americans who closely follow news events switch on a variety of televised sources and flip through daily newspapers before carrying on with their day. They catch up on the latest updates from Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Chechnya, as well as sports, weather and the markets. Their interests lie in domestic affairs, world flash points and any place where Americans are directly involved.
Up north in Canada, a similar modus operandi takes place amongst news junkies. Familiar American call signs such as CNN, MSNBC and CBS are interspersed with Canadian news agencies such as CBC and CTV. The point is that Canadians hunger for the latest stories about our giant neighbor to the south as much or more than they seek information on what's happening in their own country. However, unless there is a missile crossing the Canadian territory toward the U.S., or a terrorist alert, there is definitely not a reciprocal pattern in American households.
This fact leads some Canadians to complain that Americans should know more about the huge country sitting above the forty-ninth parallel.Other Canadians couldn't care less about the attention but feel that at least some knowledge of Canada would bring about a greater cooperation over a wide spectrum of issues including fair trade.
The reality boils down to a fact of human nature: Nobody really cares about someone unless he or she does something earth-shattering, like land a Cessna in Moscow's Red Square or spend a night at Neverland Ranch. The vast majority of the people on the planet just pass by unnoticed. And, in the category of countries, so does Canada.
There is an overused line from former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who stated that living next to the U.S. is like "a mouse sleeping next to an elephant." The animals get a long fine but the mouse feels every twitch and spasm made by the huge animal and must be vigilant in case it rolls over. In fact the elephant doesn't even know the mouse is there.
As our largest trading partner, the U.S. twitches often and sometimes with long spasms when it comes to trade realations. And it also rolls over. Just let one "mad cow," a box of moldy potatoes or an extra load of pine lumber push the right set of buttons in Congress and the longest undefended border in the world suddenly becomes a one-sided wall. As a result, many of those Canadians who wished that the U.S. would pay more attention to their country find themselves suffering the effects of a painful trade embargo: beef ranch foreclosures, mountains of rotten potatoes and idle lumber mills.
However, Canada has its own spasm that, if ever unleashed, would cause untold grief to its southern "elephant." This is Quebec nationalism. In 1980, the provincial leader of Quebec, René Lévesque, held a referendum in the province on forming a new country. It failed, but fifteen years later Lucien Bouchard came within 2% of a 51% majority. Armchair political analysts still argue over the results and dozens of doctorates in political science have been awarded on the volatile subject.
If the referendum had succeeded the northern hinterland would definitely gain the attention of Americans. With the big hole left by Quebec's departure Canada might suffer the woeful existence of Pakistan and East Pakistan after the break up of colonial India.
It is also a fact that a new country called Quebec would have the blessing of France - not a great American friend - plus a multitude of countries and interest groups with a less-than-benign view of the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security might be treated to a situation tantamount to another Cuba, but a really big one, encompassing hundreds of miles of direct border.
Now, ten years after the Quebec Referendum, the mouse is still in relatively good stead with the powerful pachyderm. Despite the successful forays by lobbyists of American industry to gain advantages over their weaker NAFTA counterpart the two countries remain quite friendly. Canada did not support the venture into Iraq, but did provide troops for Afghanistan, and its citizens gave comfort to thousands of American airline passengers during those horrible days of September 2001. That's what friends do.
So there are two things for advocates of American protectionism to consider: Number one is this: if a future Quebec leader succeeds in splitting the large mouse in half will the "twitches and spasms" be reversed in almost earth-shattering proportions?
The second is: When American farmers, ranchers, loggers, and other purveyors of raw materials, reach the breaking point in their attempts to supply economical food and building supplies to its citizens will the previously-spurned Canadian production already be tied to other markets such as China and the European community?