Peter Van Praagh
March 14, 2016 published in The Chronicle Herald
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Watching the bright red and white wave of Canadian flags that decorated this city’s downtown boulevards in honour of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s state visit last week was an exceptional experience. Now that the flags and decorations have been taken down, it is up to Canadians and Americans alike to grasp meaning from it all.
Everything that Prime Minister Trudeau and President Barack Obama said about the relationship between the countries they lead is correct: “This visit is a celebration of the values we share.” “There is no relationship in the entire world like Canada and the United States.” “We’re actually closer than friends. We’re more like siblings.”
But it was President Obama’s toast at Thursday’s state dinner that captured the global significance of the relationship best: “We’re here for our kids. We’re here for everybody’s kids — to give our sons and daughters a better world.”
This New World relationship between Canada and the United States is uniquely positioned to deliver a better future for all our children.
The successful model of the Canada-U.S. relationship, and indeed the success of Canada and the United States in their own right, is the envy of much of the world. The relationship has the magnetic power to attract. And it is that magnetic attraction that results in global influence.
Cynics of Canada’s global significance might scoff and say the U.S. can do the job on its own. But experience shows that without strong alliances, American power to influence is limited.
Moreover, at a time when a U.S. presidential candidate becomes more popular, not less, when he promises to build a wall on the Mexican border and limit visits to the United States on a religious test, its global attraction, and influence, wanes.
In contrast, for many observers, Canada’s generosity to Syrian refugees sets an example that America, and many others, would do well to emulate.
Meanwhile, the relatively calm and civilized disagreements between political opponents in Canada offer a vision to the world that is attractive. And as Mr. Obama pointed out when he welcomed the Canadian delegation to the White House Thursday morning, so does Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet.
Today, the global challenges facing Canada and the U.S. stem from Old World conflicts that have seemingly been around forever: the Islamic State, desperate to demonstrate that its version of violent Sunni Islam is superior to its more peaceful alternative; an insecure Russia desperate to demonstrate global relevance; and an assertive China, desperate to demonstrate Asian leadership.
The most immediate, if not the most significant, challenge that Canada and the United States face, however, is the mass global migration currently underway, and the issues underlying it. As two countries built by immigrants, we surely have much to offer.
In Europe, on the other hand, the migration of war refugees from Syria and Iraq, as well as what are now labeled as economic migrants from Afghanistan and North Africa, is already pulling European institutions to the breaking point.
Extreme violence in Central America has driven mass immigration to Mexico, from where desperate people try to enter the United States.
If the migrant crisis from the Middle East has not already set the stage for the dismantling of the EU, and if immigration from Central America has not already set the stage for a new anti-immigration approach in American politics, it is not too late to address the root cause of the problem.
Canada and the U.S. have both the power and the responsibility to help improve living situations in countries from where people are fleeing in such large numbers. In Syria and Iraq, this means working together to defeat the Islamic State.
Contributing to political and economic progress and reducing the chances for conflict and war before people have to run for their lives is a calling that Canadians and Americans are well placed to answer.
Canadians and Americans are, after all, products of the trials and tribulations of the Old World. And meeting challenges early, before they become full-blown crises, is the best way to meet the global responsibility that our success demands.
Halifax International Security Forum is proud to host the largest and most consequential American delegation to Canada each year. We meet to identify emerging threats and to create good solutions for existing ones. Together with their global democratic partners, Canada and the United States will continue to widen their scope, and lead the world.
Ten feet from where I stood at the arrival ceremony on the White House lawn Thursday morning President Obama’s eyes widened.“ A baby!” he exclaimed as he saw a young mother with her child. Trudeau lurched forward and the two leader-fathers smiled, together.
Giving the world’s sons and daughters a brighter future depends on these two countries working side-by-side on global issues, up until and long after Mr. Obama and Mr. Trudeau leave office.
Peter Van Praagh is president of Halifax International Security Forum.
Halifax International Security Forum is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Washington, DC.
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