Skip to main content

U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper hold a joint news conference in Washington on Feb. 4, 2011.JIM YOUNG/Reuters

Canadians can be forgiven for being surprised to hear that their country has "time and again" been "jilted," like a wounded lover, by U.S. President Barack Obama. Most of us felt no particular slight. Oh sure, Mr. Obama had weighed his political survival against the environmental and economic interests of his country and pushed the pause button on the Keystone XL pipeline, but those who had grown accustomed to American presidents' reckless flirtations with the comely attractions of short-term political gain were more apt to roll their eyes than feel the sting of rejection.

Not so Derek Burney, a former Canadian ambassador to the U.S., and Fen Hampson, a professor of international affairs at Carleton University in Ottawa. They have co-authored a piece in Foreign Affairs magazine's latest online edition titled "How Obama Lost Canada." In it, they argue that the Keystone debacle, as well as the Buy American provisions in Congress's stimulus bill and the recent decision to oblige Canada to upfront the initial costs of a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, are evidence of Mr. Obama's "malign" neglect of the United States' largest trading partner and continental neighbour.

It's odd that Messrs. Burney and Hampson fail to mention the one irritant that really does feel like a slap to Canadians: the recent decision to let the U.S. Internal Revenue Service go after the personal savings accounts and other assets of dual Canadian-American citizens living in Canada as though they were the secret offshore accounts of common tax-dodgers. Because other than that, their argument doesn't add up.

Canadian-American relations have long been freighted with the romantic expectation that the two countries will put their mutual economic and security interests above all short-term political considerations. To a fair degree, this has been true. But the globalized economy has made bilateral monogamy a thing of the past. As one American scholar recently put it, the U.S. has "special relationships" with at least 22 countries. Most Canadians, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have learned to get over feeling jilted by the U.S.

Canada, of necessity, should be more promiscuous in its foreign relationships.