Policy Magazine: “The Relationship”


From the Editor / L. Ian MacDonald

Welcome to our special issue on Canada-US Relations. It’s been said that Americans are our best friends, whether we like it or not, and we are their best friends, whether they know it or not.

We thought this would be a good time to assess the relationship, in both a bilateral and multilateral context, as partners across the border and allies in an evolving world.

Sixty years ago, John F. Kennedy famously declared in his address to Canada’s Parliament: “Geography has made us neighbours. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies”—words now immortalized in stone at the entrance to the US Embassy on Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

That was then, but what about now? There’s the Biden presidency to be considered, a decided improvement over his predecessor’s term. There’s the pandemic. There’s climate change. And there’s the challenge of China. 

But while Joe Biden’s Democrats are not isolationists, they share some of the protectionist propensities of the previous administration. Among so-called Progressive Democrats, there’s no shortage of hardliners on sensitive bilateral trade issues, from pipelines for environmental reasons to the old standby of softwood lumber.

The key relationship within The Relationship has always been the standard of excellence in Canada-US relations; how the PM and president of the day get along, and how they succeed in advancing an agenda for bilateral and global issues.

And as the centrepiece in this issue, we present an inside cover package ranking the Best Prime Ministers and Presidents of the Last 100 Years on Canada-US Relations, as selected by a Jury of 50 prominent Canadians and Americans. In a secret ballot they gave us their Top Five picks of the best PM-presidential tandems. 

The number one ranking goes to Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan from 1984-89, as well as Mulroney and the first President George Bush from 1989-1993. William Lyon Mackenzie King and Franklin D. Roosevelt ranked a competitive second. They worked together for 10 years from 1935-45, that saw the economic recovery from the Great Depression and the Allied victory of the Second World War led by FDR and Winston Churchill, in which King played a key role, hosting the Quebec summits of 1943 and 1944. 

Former Prime Minister Mulroney sat for an hour-long Q&A with Policy at his Montreal residence on August 6.  

Mulroney shared his thoughts and stories on his relationship with Reagan and Bush, and joint achievements such as the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, the Acid Rain Accord, and the shaping of the post-Cold War world. He also looked ahead to continental and global issues facing PMs and presidents today. 

Our contributors are also concerned about the way ahead for the relationship, and a different post-pandemic paradigm. As Kevin Lynch and Paul Deegan write in their situational roundup: “We are at one of those moments when we need big, bold ideas to re-boot the Canada-US relationship.” Former Canadian ambassador to Washington Michael Kergin is concerned about “Biden’s early revival of a Buy American policy by executive order,” which he notes “is viewed as a not-so-friendly gesture.”

Contributing Writer Sarah Goldfeder, who advised two US ambassadors to Canada, writes that it’s a propitious moment for the Democrats in office to rely on the institutional knowledge of career diplomats in Washington in the conduct of the relationship.

Colin Robertson, a veteran of Canadian diplomatic postings from New York to Los Angeles, describes the inventory of good advice available to governments from “the hidden wiring” of the relationship. Tom d’Aquino is of a similar mind on “strengthening business-to-business ties.”

Senator Pamela Wallin, a former Canadian consul general in New York, brings her perspective on the relationship and our own Lisa Van Dusen writes of a bilateral relationship status update “from siblings to neighbours.”

Canadian Chamber of Commerce executives Perrin Beatty and Mark Agnew have some thoughts on making Canada more relevant “inside the Beltway” of DC, while Canadian American Business Council CEO Maryscott Greenwood sees the relationship at a crossroads after the pandemic. Foreign policy guru Jeremy Kinsman offers his thoughts on re-engaging with the US. 

CN executive Sean Finn presents a timely take on railways and innovation, while Bob Kirke and Elliot Lifson of the Canadian Apparel Federation point out that relationships matter on both sides of the border.

In our Best PMs and Presidents package, historian J.D.M. Stewart looks at the jury rankings framed by leadership, while Don Newman writes of covering PMs and presidents over four decades and Robin Sears looks at PMs who were lacking in bilateral leadership.

We hope you enjoy this special issue. It’s a keeper.