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July 2008

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Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs

Reviewed by John M. Handley, Ph.D.

Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs: Canada, The USA and the Dynamics of State, Industry, and Culture by David Jones and David Kilgour, Ontario, Canada: John Wiley and Sons, 2007 (ISBN 978-0-470-15306-2) $27.95, 314 pages of text.

I must admit when given this book, I was not really all that enthusiastic about reading Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs. Let me explain. I am an American married to a former Canadian whose parents, long-time Montreal residents, currently live in Hull, Quebec, just north of the river across from Ottawa. My wife's sister and brother-in-law live in Ottawa. I have traveled to Quebec and to Ontario on numerous occasions, all related to family visits, but still I thought I knew as much or more about Canada as any other American. I rapidly learned that I possessed all the general stereotypical ideas of Canada and Canadians that most Americans hold. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I actually knew very little about Canada, and certainly nothing about Canadian governance and politics. And although the Canadian viewpoints on a multitude of issues expressed by David Kilgour both informed and enlightened me, the American viewpoints, expressed by David Jones, were equally enlightening and, to be honest, both authors not only addressed the subject matter with clarity and completeness, but with a great amount of humor. I cannot recall the number of times I simply burst out laughing at the wit with which these authors explained our differing approaches to the issues at hand. Additionally, for any student of international relations, the authors do so much more than just tackle our differences on these important issues - they provide a wonderfully readable historical account of the development of both nations and the evolution of our values and judgments throughout the course of our histories.

The authors approach these various issues with first a Canadian perspective followed by an American one, and explain at some length how the two countries managed to get to where we are today. This relatively short book addresses specific issues in nine chapters, followed by a conclusion that looks to the future and assesses where they believe both nations are headed. The chapters cover national identity and self-image; democratic culture and practice; economic and resource management; culture, education, and religion; approaches to health care; crime and substance abuse; world roles (unilateral versus multilateral); the military (primary or ancillary in international relations); and human rights and development.

I was surprised to learn how Quebeckers view themselves within the Confederation, and how the rest of Canada views Quebec. I learned of the power and influence of the triangle of Montreal-Ottawa-Ontario and the chilling effect this concentration of power has on the Western Provinces, especially on oil-rich Alberta, which pays the central government considerably more in taxes than Albertan citizens receive in services. I had no idea of the power wielded by a Canadian Prime Minister, “. . . the power to dismiss a member of caucus at any time, to make all cabinet appointments, all appointments to the Senate, to the Supreme Court, all ambassadors. . .” (46). The opposition's role seems to be simply to create conditions that can bring about a vote of no confidence so that their party faithful may have the opportunity to take and wield this power.

When it comes to culture, Canadians seem ready to defend theirs, which is admirable. I was surprised to learn that in 1998, Canada's Minister of Heritage, Sheila Copps, hosted a global meeting of cultural ministers and declined to invite a U.S. representative, stating that the United States had no equivalent minister and thus “presumably no culture or at least no interest in same.” (123) I would think that U.S. culture is somewhat self-evident; and in fact the Department of State includes numerous cultural attaches in our embassies.

David Jones presented a fair and balanced view of American governmental dysfunctionalism, observing: “Far sighted the U.S. government is not; it is more likely to read the writing on the wall only when its back is up against it.” (66) When discussing health care and education, he notes: “. . . Americans are even more puzzled over education than health care. After all, the progress of life ends in death; better medical care can counter death at all stages of life - but in the end, nobody gets out of life alive.” (126) On the right to die, he finds that: “Most Americans resist death with the same passion that they resist military defeat; both death and defeat are un-American failures.” (136) He continues his observation with the question: “. . . must death be resisted with every “heroic” technical measure that society has at hand until the brain wave is flat and/or the insurance funding runs out?” (137) Quoting former Colorado governor John Love, “the elderly have a duty to die; [however,] the elderly virtually unanimously rejected the suggestion.” (159)

On the subject of health care, I was surprised to learn that the Canadian system is not meeting the needs of its citizens. Canadians paid all their lives into the system and now, when they need it, it is often not available in a timely manner. Apparently, Canadians wait for up to a year or more to receive hip, knee, or heart surgery. (155) Additionally, the cost of health care to the provinces increased in the past decade from $32 billion to $42 billion. (148) David Kilgour suggests provincial and federal legislators should increase the range of delivery options, noting that “. . . aside from North Korea and Cuba, Canada is evidently the only nation of any importance on earth to prohibit or discourage, in a number of provinces, private insurance for health services covered by public insurance.” (149)

Canadians differ greatly from Americans on foreign affairs. Canadians are not the least bit interested in fighting a “war on terror” and view the United States as neurotic, if not psychotic, over terrorism. (300) They are willing to spend vast resources on a broken health care system while allowing their military forces to sink to a level where these forces are now no longer able to protect Canada from any military threat and are so woefully armed they are no longer useful in today's peacekeeping (peacemaking and/or peace enforcing) missions. Canadians view the undefended 5,500 miles long border between our two nations with no concern and give no credence to U.S. concerns about terrorist infiltration from north to south. They refuse to participate in the continental missile defense program and yet depend on the United States to offer them protection, while continually reducing (or redirecting the funds of) the Canadian defense budget. Canada enjoys, and seems to take as a given national right, a $2 billion a day trading relationship with the United States (92) which will surely grow now that the oil reserves in Alberta are estimated at up to $2.5 trillion barrels. (87) Canada, unlike the United States, will not revert to a force of arms to maintain its union, and constitutionally, a province has the legal right to terminate its membership in the confederation. Although the focus on this reality for years has been and continues to be directed at keeping Quebeckers mollified, the Canadian government needs to take better care of Alberta lest the province decide to petition to become the fifty-first American state. Considering the oil reserves there, the United States might take Alberta up on the offer.

All in all, this was a very informative, enjoyable, and entertaining book, and I am happy I had the opportunity to read it. Anyone interested in international relations will find a wealth of information, explanations, and factual data on both countries, as well as the prognostications of the authors on the probable future of U.S./Canadian relations. Now I have to give it to my wife. I trust she will find it equally informative although, considering her positive view of all things Canadian, I don't think David Kilgour will be on her Christmas card list. Personally, I believe both David Kilgour and David Jones created a remarkably useful study of the passive/aggressive relationship between our two countries.


Colonel (ret.) John M. Handley, Ph.D., American Diplomacy Publishers Vice-President for Outreach, is Adjunct Professor of International Relations for Webster University's Ft. Bragg and Pope AFB campuses. Col. Handley spent most of his Army career in military intelligence, including as Dean of the School of Attaché Training at the Defense Intelligence College, and Deputy, Resource Management, for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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