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A Practical Friendship, Eh?

May 29, 2003

Canada, its successes and often even its problems remain in the dim reaches of the United States' self-centered peripheral vision. Canada and Canadians are there, generally nice, cooperative, not a prominent problem, as befits the other side of the world's longest undefended border. Even with post-9/11 security enhancements, the flow of people, goods, services, culture and investments is vibrant, totaling more than $1 billion a day, as befits the world's largest bilateral economic relationship. But a continuing series of coincidental Canadian problems has raised concerns among some south of the border that a more practical relationship might be advantageous in maintaining geographic and economic openness in such an intimate continental situation.

Canadians' hospitality to thousands of stranded air travelers on 9/11 and after, and that nation's willing participation in Afghanistan military operations, despite fatal U.S. "friendly fire," contrasted recently with Canadian opposition to the Iraq war, stubborn suspicions about Canada's watch over its diverse and burgeoning immigrant population and continuing shows of disdain for the Bush administration by the staff and family of Prime Minister Jean Chretien. Chretien's clinging to power despite political fatigue and lack of new vision annoys many Canadians, even in his own Liberal Party.

Then came Air Canada's bankruptcy and the first wave of SARS cases, which hit Toronto harder than any other community outside China. Despite Canadian claims that they were overblown, the health worries and the World Health Organization's warnings devastated this summer's tourism up north, no small matter in a land 10% larger than the U.S. with barely 10% of its population. A second wave of SARS cases there has combined with a puzzling incidence of mad cow disease in one Alberta herd, highlighting the apparent risks of a growing agricultural affinity. The province moved quickly to confine the problem, and Chretien's response was to lunch on Alberta beef.

As migrating wildlife is oblivious to the border, so too is much of the modern agricultural economy, with livestock and their feed and remains flowing back and forth with economic bounties -- and potential health risks.

To be sure, since 2001, global terrorism fears bestow greater credibility on suspicions. But the enduring U.S.-Canada friendship with its many mutual economic benefits warrants, well, suspicions of easy suspicions. The two nations must recognize they have their own ways and that each will deal with disease and ensure that terrorists don't operate among immigrants. Each should remind the other how it's handling problems. Such an approach to details in this neighborly relationship would allay the fears of this new century and strengthen the countries' ties.

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