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A bridge and a pipeline too far? U.S., Canada relations strained

Apr 22, 2015

The relationship between the United States and Canada has been a figurehead of sorts for international cooperation and friendship between two neighbors.

The countries of President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper face some strain on their friendship.
Credit FLICKR USER U.S. EMBASSY, JAKARTA / FLICKR

Efforts to get the New International Trade Crossing Bridge up and running, however, continues to test that international friendship.

Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio’s political analyst, recently wrote an opinion piece for Dome headlined, “Cross-Border Chivalry on Life Support.”

“I would say Canadian and U.S. relations are probably worse now than they’ve been in 50 years,” he said. “There’s a number of reasons for that: President Obama and Prime Minister Harper don’t seem to like each other and the Canadians don’t think we’ve shown them sufficient respect.”

Still, Lessenberry submitted that Canada and the U.S. share security interests that are too vital to ever allow the friendship to turn completely sour. At the same time, however, he said Americans have long been thought of as disrespectful to their Canadian neighbors by some.

Those notions have come to the forefront amidst the countries’ tested friendship and struggle due to the New International Trade Crossing Bridge.

“But the bridge is a special case, that not only is Canada paying for the whole thing, but we won’t even pay for our own immigration and customs plaza,” Lessenberry said. “They have to pay for that too.”

As to why this is happening, Lessenberry thinks the Obama administration may have refrained from putting money into its budget for the customs plaza knowing that Republicans in the House and Senate would strip out the funding. Then Congressman, now Senator Gary Peters, lobbied to put that money into the budget, but he did not succeed.

However, the Obama administration must have also known it had Ottawa over a barrel.

“In one sense, it’s sort of good politics in that Obama knew Canada was over a barrel, that they would pay for this because they had to get the bridge done,” Lessenberry said.

In addition to the new bridge, the Keystone pipeline has also been a bone of contention between the United States and Canada.

While it’s said that the pipeline could offer both countries energy opportunities, many are worried about the pipeline’s environmental hazard. The oil it would carry, tar sand oil – thick oil from Alberta and other places – raises safety concerns.

Therefore, the conflict here does not appear to come from Canadians being gung-ho about Keystone, Lessenberry said. He thinks Canadians believe Obama to have been “dismissive of their concerns.”

“To be fair, America has some grievances against Canada, but in this case Canadians just need to be shown that they are being treated with proper respect and they really don’t feel they’ve gotten that from this administration,” Lessenberry said.