Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion brought before the House by my colleague, the hon. member for Ajax—Pickering, on the Canada-U.S. border.
Much of what we are debating today may sound familiar because, quite frankly, it is. The issue of our relationship with the United States is an integral part of our history and it is essential that we continue to have these important debates.
Historians will recall that early American presidents, such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, held a very specific view with respect to Canada, then of course British North America. To these American leaders, it was only a matter of time before their northern neighbour would be absorbed into the United States. Indeed in his time, Jefferson spoke of “the acquisition of Canada this year”. We know, of course, that this scenario did not materialize, but what did develop was a unique and deeply interdependent relationship operating at the level of finance and mutual security.
The impact of American culture has also been profound, as it has been on much of the world. There have been many leaders over the years who have spoken somewhat poetically of the Canadian-American relationship. It is indeed true that by virtue of geography, we have by necessity become partners on the vast North American continent.
However, like any relationship, whether between two people or hundreds of millions of people, work is required to make it work. One of the best observations I have read was by former president Harry S. Truman, who said:
Canadian-American relations for many years did not develop spontaneously. The example of accord provided by our two countries did not come about merely through the happy circumstance of geography. It is compounded of one part proximity and nine parts good will and common sense.
With this in mind, it is clear that the key to continued success, and indeed improved relationships, lies in a recognition of our importance to each other and also a greater understanding at all levels.
It is certainly unhelpful to hear comments like those made recently by the Secretary of Homeland Security with respect to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks. In stating that these individuals travelled through Canada to the United States, she put forward a myth that is completely inaccurate but which, for many Americans, is nonetheless what they believe. Clearly, when the secretary responsible for border policy makes such statements, there is certainly reason for concern. Indeed, even the Republican presidential candidate in the last election had made similar comments.
I mention this not to incite anger or to harp upon the issue, but because it is important that such misconceptions not be allowed to go unchallenged. If they are not corrected, such beliefs will affect border policy as it develops. I give credit to the Canadian ambassador in Washington, Michael Wilson, for his clear and direct efforts to correct this misconception.
The reality of our cross-border relationship in economic terms is really quite staggering. Each day there is over $1.53 billion in trade. Our annual trading relationship totals $560 billion. Almost 300,000 people cross the Canadian-American border every day. Anyone who has driven to the United States can attest to the seemingly endless lines of transport trucks that cross the frontier on both sides. These numbers are not just statistics. They are a portrait of the depth of our relationship and the reality of our mutual dependence.
While there are many who express concerns about our interdependence, the reality is also that more often than not, the Canadian-American experience has been one that is mutually beneficial. However, as noted before by President Truman, relationships like this one require a great deal of work. It is not enough to simply say that we are neighbours. We must also ensure that we remain the best of friends.
Our proximity to the United States has provided us the opportunity to have unique and unparalleled access to the world's largest economic power. Similarly, the United States has benefited from having a friend along the world's longest undefended border.
Following the conclusion of the first world war and the Paris peace talks, the United States began its emergence as a superpower both economically and militarily. We here in Canada have benefited since then from our mutual relationship, but we must also be aware of our need to work diligently on our relationship with the United States.
Over the years there have been and continue to be many issues that we have had to work on; the United States tariffs during the 1930s Depression, the turbulent period during the Nixon presidency when relationships were quite cold, the free trade agreement and the softwood lumber issues, disputes over Arctic sovereignty matters and cultural policy are but a few of the major concerns.
Now we face a rather serious one relating to the border and specifically how border security policy will impact cross-border trade. In times of economic uncertainty it seems that many American political leaders move toward notions of protectionism. An example is the buy American program recently proposed which was more about restricting access to the American market than about encouraging Americans to buy domestically produced goods.
In response to this we need to point out the facts with respect to our unique and interdependent relationship.
Canada has been the leading export destination for 35 of the United States and was in the top three for 46 states. At the same time a study commissioned several years ago indicated that upward of 5.3 million American jobs depended on Canadian-American trade. These numbers include approximately 600,000 jobs in California, 189,000 in Florida and almost 350,000 in New York. These are significant numbers of jobs. It is essential that these facts be considered when United States policy makers review the implications of revising border policy.
In the difficult realities of a struggling economy, it is often easier to look to apparently simple solutions like trade restrictions and tighter borders. The realities as shown by history are that these simply do not work. Indeed, the tariffs of the 1930s are generally recognized to have deepened and prolonged the Great Depression, delaying recovery for years.
Canada does have its friends in the United States who recognize the importance of our relationship. Many of the representatives who are elected from border states have been quite vocal in the need to keep our borders porous enough to support our great trading relationship.
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter from the Buffalo area has spoken out about her concerns over the June 1 deadline for all land travellers to have a passport. While 50% of Canadians hold a passport, only 28% of Americans do. We, like Americans, must recognize the impact of such policies on the tourism sector alone in both countries.
The government and indeed all of us in the House must work diligently to protect our relationship with the United States. Geography has made us neighbours but only our best efforts will ensure that our unique relationship continues to serve both our nations and our people well.
Quite simply, neither Canada nor the United States can afford policies that put our trading relationship at risk. This also applies to all other aspects of the Canadian-American experience.
Although we are in difficult economic times, geography, history and hard work by well-intentioned leaders has made North America the most successful trading relationship the world has ever seen. We must not allow narrow and short-sighted policies on either side of the border to threaten what has been for the most part a success story of historic proportions.
I encourage the government to ensure that Canada's voice is heard in Washington and that we are diligent in promoting the importance of the Canadian-American relationship.
History has laid at our doorstep another of those pivotal moments when we are called to demonstrate leadership in the face of adversity and vision in the storm of uncertainty.