Wednesday, July 1, is Canada Day.
It’s also, in effect, North America Day, at least for trade, since it’s the implementation date for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the free-trade pact that replaces NAFTA.
And one could even call it Canada-Minnesota Day, given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of what is today the Consulate General of Canada in Minneapolis, which serves Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas. To mark the anniversary, Global Minnesota will host a webinar on Wednesday to explore various aspects of the Canada-Minnesota relationship.
That includes trade, which is tremendously important for Minnesota. The state exported $4.7 billion of agricultural, mining and manufactured products north of the border last year, nearly twice the $2.5 billion sent to China, the second-biggest market.
“There’s a special connection that forms between Canadians and those that live on the northern border,” said Ariel Delouya, the consul general of Canada in Minneapolis. And even “before there was a border,” added Delouya, referring to indigenous peoples, traders and explorers, among others.
The connections continue, said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who is now vice president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “The relationship is a bit like the Mississippi River: It’s deep, it’s profound and it flows,” Robertson said.
And like a river, at times it’s turbulent. At least at the top, with Washington and Ottawa often at odds despite the steady state of equilibrium and equanimity among everyday people in the two countries.
“There are times when the relationship at the top between the president and the prime minister has been tense,” Robertson said. “But the hidden wiring of the relationship, the people-to-people contact, and the relationship at the official [state-provincial] level, and of course the business connections, remain strong.”
Robertson noted the famously frosty relationship between former President Richard Nixon and former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau. And it’s been even icier between Trudeau’s son, Justin, the current prime minister, and President Donald Trump. And a reinforcing cold front — from the south, no less — may soon arrive (potentially on Canada Day), in the reimposition of tariffs on Canadian aluminum.
“Bringing back these tariffs would be like a bad horror movie,” Neil Herrington, senior vice president for the Americas at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the New York Times.
Or, more diplomatically stated, “Issues keep coming back up again that we used to call the ‘hardy perennials’ at the embassy,” said Sarah Goldfeder, referring to the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, where she served as an envoy before also joining the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, just like Robertson.
While the two former diplomats served different countries, those nations’ mostly convergent views reflect a general U.S.-Canada consensus that belies the Trump-Trudeau tensions.
As a Canadian envoy, Robertson said that was an asset. “While we see ourselves as different, we’re not that different,” Robertson said. “I can tell you as a diplomat, our leverage in the world came from our ability to reach into Washington, because the rest of the world wanted to know what Washington thought. Just as in the same way, Washington wanted to know what Canada’s perception of other countries were, because we understood that frame of reference was so similar that you could put that into an American perspective.”
Sometimes the country people want Canadian insight into is America itself. And beyond asking diplomats, direct questions are posed to the prime minister himself, who Goldfeder said “has been very careful when he speaks publicly about his relationship with President Donald Trump.” (Privately, not so much, as Trudeau found out when a video of him and other Western leaders laughing at the president went viral, leading Trump to call Trudeau “two-faced.”)
That incident may explain the reticence seen in another Trudeau video that went viral. Asked about Trump’s response to the protests roiling America, Trudeau paused a long, drawn-out 21 seconds. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, he earnestly answered, “We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States.”
That’s an accurate characterization, said Goldfeder. “Canadians are looking at the United States and saying, ‘We’re worried about our friends and neighbors; we’re worried about you guys,’ ” Goldfeder said. “There’s a bit of pride in the way that they’ve managed their own response to COVID, their own response to race relations, which are far from perfect, and they acknowledge that.”
Not just everyday Canadians acknowledge it, but their prime minister, too, who added after his U.S. analysis that “it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we, too, have our challenges. … There is systemic discrimination in Canada.” (Some will say that includes Trudeau himself, whose progressive image was tarnished when old blackface photographs of him emerged during Canada’s 2019 election.)
Beyond the alacrity of the pandemic and protests, other challenges include China, which on June 20 charged two detained Canadians for espionage in a case widely seen as leverage against Canada’s arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, on a U.S. warrant. And despite Canada’s — and Trudeau’s — surge on the world stage, the country didn’t win a seat on the United Nations Security Council, losing out to Norway and Ireland in a vote this month.
Such setbacks need not further set back the bilateral relationship. Instead, Washington and Ottawa can and should work closely on these and other diplomatic dilemmas.
That would reflect the “remarkably resilient” relationship, as Delouya describes it. In fact, he added, the countries’ tight ties “are so deep, so multifaceted, they span every sphere of economic and governmental activity you can imagine.”
Including sports. Especially, of course, hockey.
Indeed, while the official Canada Day may be on July 1, an unofficial one may occur on July 10, when NHL training camps hope to open before a postseason that includes a Minnesota Wild vs. Vancouver Canucks playoff series.
“There have been a lot of issues where the U.S. and Canada haven’t aligned on pandemic response, but the NHL has managed to bridge that,” Goldfeder said. “It’s critically important, and a huge morale boost for both sides of the border.”
To be sure, spirits will be lifted across Canada and at least in the northern U.S. when the puck drops. But not just at the professional level: In Minnesota, youth and amateur teams can start scrimmaging on Wednesday — fittingly, however unwittingly, on Canada Day.
John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. The Rash Report can be heard at 8:10 a.m. Fridays on WCCO Radio, 830-AM. On Twitter: @rashreport.