Events

Canada and the United States: Where Do We Go After Whatever Happens?

February 19, 2003 // 11:00pm

The Bush administration's plans for war on Iraq have resulted in large rifts in the international community, as age-old alliances are thrown into question. The historically strong and internationally unique relationship between Canada and the United States is also undergoing re-evaluation. Former Canadian Prime Minister Joe Clark shared his thoughts on the future of the bilateral relationship and his vision of how things could be improved. He also spoke candidly about how Canadians perceive the war on terror and the potential war with Iraq, and expressed his optimism for a quick and peaceful solution.

Clark began his remarks by highlighting some of the key differences between Canada and the United States. He argued that while the United States was founded by breaking ties with Europe, Canada brought European traditions and practices to North America, such as its legal systems, the French language and culture, and higher levels of social solidarity. However, Clark pointed out that national sovereignty "is no longer what it used to be." Clark argued that the federal model of the European Union is not feasible in North America because the EU is comprised of several powers whose economies, militaries, and influence are roughly balanced. Given North American asymmetries, a federation would inevitably be on the terms of the superpower and this, Clark argued, would be unacceptable to both Canada and Mexico.

Given Clark's opposition to an institutional federation, he suggested considering a structural approach. Here, he looked to the example of the International Joint Commission, established in 1909 by the Boundary Waters Treaty. Three of the six IJC members are appointed by the President of the United States, with the advice and approval of the Senate, and three are appointed by the Governor in Council of Canada, on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Commissioners must follow the Treaty as they try to prevent or resolve disputes related to border waters. They must act impartially, in reviewing problems and deciding on issues, rather than represent the views of their respective governments. Clark pointed out that water is hardly a trivial issue, and proposed that there are other areas where this model also might be applied.

Clark switched the topic from bilateral Canada-U.S. issues to that of the proposed plan for war with Iraq. He began by saying that while he is not in a position to comment on the official government position given his level of clearance, Canada remains a strong proponent of multilateralism and has faith in the UN resolutions. Whether the United States is on an irrevocable course to war remains to be seen, however, and he sees three reasons why optimism is warranted.

The first reason is that domestic populations everywhere are now looking outward, something Clark argues is long overdue in Western countries. People once disengaged from the political process are now on the streets for "reasons other than shopping." He argued that these protests cannot be dismissed as exclusively anti-U.S. or even anti-war; rather it is a citizenry that has responded to changing global conditions, something Clark argues is not exclusively U.S. terrain. The second reason for optimism is that the U.S. position towards Saddam Hussein has shaken the international community into action. He sees Canada resuming its historical role as the transatlantic mediator between the United States and Europe. Canada finds itself in the unique position to do this because it identifies with and has interests in both perspectives. On the one hand, because of its historic identity as a "continuation of Europe" and its faith in multilateralism, it identifies with the EU; on the other hand, Canada has such strong economic, military, and cultural ties to the United States that compromising American interests would be tantamount to compromising its own. Thirdly, Clark stated that superpowers are not super-natural. Although Canada cannot do any heavy lifting or decision-making, he argued that alliances are about sharing decisions that are best achieved by multilateral efforts at the UN.

Clark concluded that the critical imbalance between Canada and the United States is not necessarily in GDP or in military spending; rather it is in the amount of attention America pays to Canada in relation to the amount of attention Canada is obliged to pay to America. He made reference to the last U.S. election where George Bush conducted targeted campaigning in states where he was less strong in order to gain their support. Clark thinks that this sort of intense lobbying at the state level to gain support should be taken to the international level by the United States to gain the support of other countries for its plans. Although he realized that "Turkey is tougher than Texas," he concluded that there is willingness out there, and that strong coalitions must be made.

The roundtable dialogue fielded questions such as whether Canada would support the United States in case of a war with Iraq; what were Clark's opinions on racial profiling at the border; and why the Progressive Conservative Party fared so poorly in recent years.


A native of High River Alberta, Joe Clark attended the University of Alberta where he served as national president of the PC Student Federation. He was elected to the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament in 1972, and was later elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1976. In the national election of 1979, the Progressive Conservatives won a minority government in the House of Commons and Mr. Clark was sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada. However, within a year, Prime Minister Clark's government was defeated on a budget vote. In the subsequent election of 1980, the Liberal Party defeated the Progressive Conservatives, and Mr. Clark became leader of the Opposition. Under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Mr. Clark served as Secretary of State for External Affairs. In 1991, he became President of the Privy Council and Minister Responsible for Constitutional Affairs. In November 1998, Mr. Clark was again elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Party. In a by-election in 2000, he was elected Member of Parliament for Kings-Hants (Nova Scotia). As the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, Mr. Clark was re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Calgary Centre (Alberta) in the national election of 2000.

David Biette, Director, Canada Institute
Drafted by Stefanie Bowles, Research Assistant

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