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Guest Opinion: Let’s keep the trust between U.S. and Canada

Foreigner is a word that has always struck me as a bit harsh. That probably stems from its root as “strange and unfamiliar.” I prefer the German approach to the same idea: Auslaender, or simply someone from out of the country.

So when I hear foreigner applied to Canadians, it gives me pause. Recently, some residents in the area protested at Washington state hearings the proposed sale of Avista Corp. to Hydro One, an Ontario company. From Spokesman-Review accounts, they railed against the sale to a “foreign country.”

Our president seems to hold a similar attitude. During the 2016 campaign, he denigrated Ted Cruz for having been born in Canada. More recently, he called Justin Trudeau the “worst Canadian president yet.” Canadian polls have shown a huge spike in support for Trudeau, as Canadians have bristled at this unparalleled criticism of their leader by a president.

How foreign is Canada to the U.S.? Barely. I’ve looked at our neighbors to the north as cousins. Perhaps that sentiment comes from an extended family that straddles both sides of the border. More fundamentally, the sentiment is based in my deep respect for Canada’s civil society, institutions and history with the U.S. If there’s a country that the U.S. is closest to, it is Canada.

Consider our extensive military cooperation. In World War II, many U.S. soldiers found themselves fighting in Europe next to Canadian divisions, including my father. NORAD, or North American Aerospace Defense Command, is a unique, joint operation of the Canadian and U.S. militaries that provides protection across North American airspace. It has been in place since 1958. Canada has been part of NATO since its inception in 1949. And I would hope that nobody forgets how Canada opened up its airports and ultimately homes for passengers on 200 U.S.-bound international flights on Sept. 11, 2001.

In light of this long military collaboration, it has been particularly galling that the current administration used national security concerns to apply tariffs to Canadian aluminum and steel. At a binational conference of office holders, government officials, tribes, some nonprofits and a few businesses recently held in Spokane, a leading Canadian trade official and a reserve officer in the Canadian navy told the audience how insulting this rationale was to Canadians in uniform.

Consider the ownership of economic assets, the apparent issue of protesters of the Avista sale. Does Canada own companies in the U.S.? Yes, to the tune of slightly over $370 billion in total assets, according to the U.S. Trade Representative. Guess what? The cumulative investment by U.S. companies in Canada has been nearly the same – about $363 billion. This seems an evenly balanced scale of ownership in each other’s economy.

Some examples: Wendy’s owned iconic Tim Horton’s for a decade before spinning it off. The Hudson’s Bay Company was owned by a U.S. private equity firm for years. And let’s not forget that the seventh-largest beer company in the world, MolsonCoors, is headquartered in Colorado.

What about trade? Canada is our country’s second-largest partner in the trading of goods. Washington is the fourth-largest exporting state in the U.S., and on a per capita basis, the most trade-dependent. True, there was a slight, national trade deficit of goods of $17.5 billion with Canada in 2016. But this deficit was offset by a slightly larger trade surplus of services of $26 billion. So, close to a net zero balance in trade, according to the USTR.

The conference that recently took place in Spokane was the Pacific Northwest Economic Region. Formed over three decades ago out of the recognition that there were many shared issues in northwest North America on both sides of the border, the group embraces solutions informed by and sometimes coordinated by policies from both countries. Key topics like immigration and the renewal of the Columbia River Treaty were featured prominently at the three-day event.

There are many other examples of continuous exchanges. Our leading service clubs – Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis – have created regional districts that span the 49th parallel. We like hockey, and where would the Chiefs be without talented Canadian teenagers? Canadians like football, and where would some leading clubs be without EWU stars? In addition, regional tourism has relied on summer traffic from Canada.

We now enjoy a largely free interchange of goods, capital and people between the two countries due to decades of cooperation and trust. Let us hope the many binational organizations, movement of people and ultimately shared values keep our two countries with one of the lowest borders in the world. On this side, we should try more than ever to strengthen the ties to keep economic nationalism and, in some cases, xenophobia, at bay.

D. Patrick Jones, Ph.D., is executive director of the Eastern Washington University Institute for Public Policy & Economic Analysis.


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