12/05/2011 12:23 EST | Updated 02/03/2012 05:12 EST

America Puts Politics Before Good Neighbourliness


The headline in Canada's national magazine, Maclean's, is an attention-grabber: "The U.S. and Canada: we used to be friends." Followed by this subheadline: "Why Barack Obama shelved the Keystone pipeline, and insulted Canada (yet again) in the process."

The Nov. 10 decision to again delay a final decision on TransCanada's 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline that will carry Alberta crude to Texas refineries (until after the 2012 U.S. elections) was, it's generally agreed, made by the Obama administration for purely political reasons. (Visualize a can in the road.)

A post-Thanksgiving idea: We Americans should be a helluva lot more thankful for having such a friendly (and understanding) neighbour like Canada. We could, but we probably won't. That's because the vast majority of Americans, I know all too well from personal experience, know very little -- and care even less -- about Canada. This could have negative repercussions in the future. Bad karma and all that.

This month's Maclean's article largely examines the political processes in Washington, D.C., and Lincoln, Neb. (where powerful landowners opposed the stalled Canadian pipeline) that led to another delay after the U.S. State Department's pipeline-friendly "final environmental assessment" last August had green-lighted the Keystone-XL.

The last to know?

Adding insult to financial injury, TransCanada officials were stunned by the State Department's call for another study. A TransCanada spokesman told Maclean's, "We found out about it after others did. It was a surprise." Nice going by the department of the U.S. government that's supposed to be diplomatic to other countries.

The "yet again" part of the Maclean's headline was a reference to several other recent U.S. government actions (and inactions) that show little concern about Canadian concerns.

Among them:

  • The protectionist "Buy American" language in Obama's recent jobs bill that would hurt Canadian suppliers and businesses. Similar language was included in Obama's big stimulus bill two years ago.
  • The U.S. recently ended a tax exemption for Canadians flying or sailing into the U.S. as part of a trade deal with Columbia. True, an extra $5.50 (American) won't break anybody, but it's the thought -- actually, the thoughtlessness about Canada -- that matters here. The Canadian media was not amused.
  • Talks on a new U.S.-Canada border accord have dragged on far longer than anyone expected. Meanwhile, the U.S. Border Patrol is playing with model airplanes (Predator drones) patrolling the Canadian border, which seems a tad insulting and not very neighbourly.
  • The world's biggest trading relationship continues to face a major bottleneck at the busiest border crossing: a proposed second bridge between the auto-manufacturing hubs of Windsor, Ont., and Detroit is being stalled in the Michigan legislature largely because of opposition and money from the rich guy who owns (yes, owns) the current bridge. Canada calls the new bridge its biggest infrastructure priority and has even offered to pay for the span. But pesky U.S. special-interest politics intrude once again.

An analogy

Consistently and predictably putting U.S. economic and political interests ahead of those of Canada's is a bit like building a large storage shed that cuts off your next-door neighbour's prized view. And when he asks why in heaven's name you did it, you tell him sorry, but your brother-in-law's construction company really needed the work. (You're supposed to be understanding).

We Americans are so fixated on building our foolish and short-sighted consumer/gladiator-show culture (ESPN, BCS, NCAA, McDonald's, Wal-Mart, etc) that it's easy and convenient to forget who provides most of the imported oil fueling our auto-centric society.

Actually, many Americans have absolutely no idea that Canada is our biggest oil supplier. As I discuss often as MarketWatch's Canada columnist, most Americans have little idea about most things Canadian. It's pathetic, actually.

True, the market for Canadian crude may be a bit bearish right now. But it won't always be this way.

I am not, I should point out, a big fan of Keystone. We need to wean ourselves off oil. But I DO support handling these politically sensitive matters with Canada a lot more diplomatically.

I don't know if Canadians have long memories, but I know they've been long on patience with the U.S. And for that if nothing else Americans should be thankful.

Let's just hope Canada stays as understanding as it always has about Americans' mistreatment of its good neighbours.