In my column for the National Post, I consider the reasons why the Canadian government may not want a visit from Mitt Romney before the election:
Mitt Romney is touring the UK, Israel, and Poland this week — but not Canada. Why not?
Wait, wait, hear me out: This is not the usual “they forgot Canada again!” lament.
The political purpose of Romney’s foreign tour was to accuse President Barack Obama of straining relationships with key allies. Poland, for example, was miffed by the abrupt cancellation of a U.S. anti-missile program. Romney would not actually articulate the accusation. Outright criticism of a serving president on foreign soil is considered a breach of political etiquette. But simply by showing up, Romney would drive his message home.
Yet on the campaign trail at home, the relationship that Republican politicians accuse Obama of damaging most often — most often after Israel anyway — is the relationship with Canada. Romney lists approval of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada as one of the entries on the short list of things he’d do on his first day as president. Romney speeches often cite the suspension of the pipeline as one of Obama’s worst errors. So why no visit to Fort McMurray? Presumably, he’d be welcome, right?
Or maybe not.
Canadians have reason not to wish to be used as a backdrop for domestic U.S. political photo-ops. One of the structural features of U.S. politics is that once one party takes a position, the other must attack. Barack Obama failed to appreciate the power of this rule. He based his health care reform on Republican ideas (“Romneycare” in Massachusetts, for example), hoping that he’d gain Republican support. Instead, Republicans repudiated their own prior policies.
Historically, the development of a closer energy relationship with Canada has not been a partisan issue in the United States. Both parties favour the relationship, neither talks about it much. Unfortunately, as Keystone has become a subject of U.S. national debate, Canada risks being caught in the American partisan cross-fire. The more Republicans champion Keystone, the more Democrats will seize on Keystone opposition as a partisan and cultural marker. Which means that attention to bilateral U.S.-Canadian issues is the very last thing Canadians should want in a U.S. presidential race.
What should Canadians want from the next American president? Right now, the bilateral U.S.-Canada relationship is working very well for both countries. The energy connection is deepening, there are no important trade frictions and border-crossing issues are in the process of being resolved.
The most important Canadian concerns about the United States are not bilateral, but systemic. Canadians should want to know from the two candidates whether the U.S. pulls its weight to avert the next impending crises in the global economy: The danger of a blow-up of the Eurozone; the danger of economic slowdown or even recession in China and India, the last rapidly growing sources of global demand.
Yet those concerns are curiously undiscussed in this election season.