Americans regard Canada as a quiet and likeable neighbour. But there are gaping holes in their knowledge of Canadian geography, culture and politics.
This ignorance – illustrated in a series of recent polls – should concern this country. As global power dynamics shift, and China and India grow in importance, Canada must work harder to educate Americans about its continuing strategic significance.
One of the studies found that, even though Canada remains the U.S.'s largest trading partner, just 39 per cent of Americans regard what happens in Canada to be of "vital importance," with respondents giving higher scores to China, India and Mexico.
Only 13 per cent of Americans have visited Canada in the last year, and 44 per cent do not know where the nearest land border is, according to the poll, conducted by Gallup in November, 2010. Americans, however, also view Canada more favourably than any other country in the world, a source of goodwill that Canada should seize on.
In contrast, Canadians' view of their neighbour is not as positive, according to a similar poll, conducted by Leger Marketing for the Association of Canadian Studies. How is it that the U.S., our great ally, falls fourth on the list of countries Canadians view most favourably, behind Australia, Britain and Germany? This relative indifference to the U.S. should be questioned – especially in light of the fact that Canadians regard what happens in the U.S. to be vitally important to Canada, giving all other countries, including India and China, lower scores.
"China and India are moving more to the centre of the universe. How much space Canada will occupy in this new universe, and what it means for our relations with the U.S. remains to be seen," notes Jack Jedwab, executive director for the ACS, which released an analysis of the polls.
The special relationship between the U.S. and Canada cannot be taken for granted. There must be a greater exchange of knowledge between the two countries. Without a campaign of aggressive cultural and political diplomacy, Canada cannot articulate its defining traits and ensure its relevance to its larger and more powerful neighbour.