Diane Francis: Canada’s special status in Washington is over, and Ottawa must adapt
I have covered Ukraine’s tragic journey to get out from under Russia and its odious oligarchs since 1991, when it bravely declared independence. The impeachment inquiry underway in Washington is the latest chapter in its history, and America’s new normal is a cautionary tale to Canadians and Europeans.
President Donald Trump’s methods to get Ukraine’s new reform government to help him win re-election by smearing Joe Biden is the manifestation of his New Nationalism. It’s about abandoning America’s special relationships.
Like Ukraine or NATO, Canada’s starting to get kicked around and has been demoted in Washington
Could Canada be the next Ukraine? Doubtful but the special status is long gone. Like Ukraine or NATO, Canada’s starting to get kicked around and has been demoted in Washington.
In 2017, Trump broke with tradition by going to the loathsome regime of Saudi Arabia for his first official visit instead of to Canada. In 2018-19, he reacted nastily when he felt Canada’s trade negotiators overplayed their hand in NAFTA talks. The result was a few snubs, public slights, a separate bilateral with Mexico along the way and the slapping of punitive tariffs on aluminum and steel on both countries. Canada got virtually nothing sought in the deal.
But of greatest significance, and under-reported, was America’s broadside against Canada concerning the Arctic. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered in June a “manifesto” that cavalierly dismissed Canada’s claim of sovereignty to the so-called Northwest Passage. He called it totally “illegitimate” and that the two had “feuded” for years over its future.
The Arctic Council members, through a United Nations agency, adjudicate disputes concerning offshore claims but the United States has never joined. But since the 1950s, the U.S. and Canada have agreed to disagree as to whether the route runs through internal Canadian waters or international waters. Now the Americans have changed their mind in light of Russia’s militarization and dramatic development of its Northern Sea Route and of China’s creeping interest in the region.
Unlike the Northwest Passage, Russia’s route is already ice-free much of the summer and hugs a somewhat populated coastline. Already, commercial traffic from China is transiting and billions are being invested into navigational, search and rescue, and icebreaking capability because the route shaves 20 days off the Asia-Europe journey, bypassing the Suez or Panama Canals for cargo ships.
Canada’s North, by contrast, is virtually undeveloped.
The next blow has been trade with China. In December 2018, Canada may have been “punked,” or set up, by the Americans who asked Ottawa to arrest a Huawei executive as her plane touched down briefly in Vancouver. The result has been that she is America’s pawn in the U.S.-China trade war, and Canada is too.
China has retaliated by arresting and holding two Canadian businessmen hostage in a Chinese jail, by cancelling billions in food imports, and refusing to return prime ministerial phone calls.
The Americans, who asked for this “favour,” have done nothing to help nor are they likely to demand compensation or restoration to Canada as a condition of settling their trade dispute. Worse, what is likely to happen is that the United States and China will bury their hatchet without any concern about Canada. The two Canadians stuck in a Chinese jail may be forgotten and Canada may kiss goodbye to future agricultural and energy exports to China.
If the United States wades in on Canada’s behalf, this will only be in return for another favour of some kind.
The Canadian Energy Research Institute (CERI) warned recently that the Americans may insist that their producers become preferred suppliers of oil and gas, notably its burgeoning LNG sector. That could stymie Canadian energy export hopes.
A new Grand Game is afoot and Ottawa has been clueless. The relationship must be reconstituted and repaired, no matter who is in the White House. That’s a trade, economic and political priority, like it or not.