Neighborhood Giant

Last Friday was Canada Day, which commemorates the 1867 unification of three British colonies – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and “Canada” (Quebec and Ontario) – into one kingdom, as part of the United Kingdom. Canada did not achieve full separation from the UK until 1982.

I was in Washington Friday and although I vaguely knew it was Canada Day, the fact did not fully emerge into my consciousness until I saw an extremely sweaty man in the Metro with a small Canadian flag thrust into the pocket of his suit jacket. I wished him a happy Canada Day and he nodded in what I took to be appreciation that at least one goddamned American was aware of his national holiday, but in all, he looked as if he’d much rather be in Toronto.

I have lived most of my life within 100 miles of the US-Canada border, a fact I share with a majority of Canadians. I’ve had Canadian friends all my life and I admit I tease them more than I should. (In my defense, I only tease people and nationalities I like.)

My neighbor Rob is Canadian. I conveyed belated Canada Day greetings when I saw him Saturday and couldn’t resist the jibe. “So Canada Day is like Canadian Thanksgiving, right? It falls earlier in the calendar than the American version and is a pale imitation?”

Rob gave me the clenched-jaw grin (perhaps grimace) I get from Canadians when I say such things, but we fell into an earnest conversation about US-Canadian history and relations. He told me (and I haven’t checked this, but have no reason to doubt him) that until 1933, the primary preoccupation of the Canadian military was repulsing an invasion by American forces.

“We always feel like we’re sleeping next to the giant,” he said. If one steps across the border and looks south at the US, the former Canadian military plan looks less paranoid than prudent.

The 20th century began with the US occupying the remnants of Spain’s empire in the western hemisphere and Pacific then proceeding to repeated incursions into Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Guatemala, Korea, China and Russia. The Canadians would be nuts not to expect invasion.

At the same time, Rob admitted that sharing the world’s longest unmilitarized border with the US brings Canada any number of economic and social benefits, which is why so many Canadians have a love/hate relationship with us (or US).

Fear of military invasion is long gone, but economic war keeps Canadian nerves on edge. Many were dubious about the 1989 Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and more so about the 1994 NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) which included Mexico and was advertised as a good deal for all concerned. Twenty years on, like much else, it’s worked out well for the US corporations and the politicians that work for them, but not the average Gord or Garth (or Joe or Marge or Maria or Jesus).

Now pipelines are being built to pump crude oil from the tar sands of Alberta to refineries in Texas and Oklahoma and soon, Rob fears a water pipeline to carry Canada’s most precious substance south to the giant next door.

The era of resource wars have begun, first over oil, soon over water. The coming era of scarcity will be a time in which giants waken and friendships end.

© Mark Floegel, 2011

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