Neighbo(u)rs

Toronto historian Robert Bothwell is interviewed about his latest book, on Canada-US relations:

The deep similarities between Canada and the U.S.

Robert Bothwell, 71, the Gluskin professor of Canadian history at the University of Toronto, has spent much of his career considering the common civilization—divided into two nation states—that exists in northern North America, and their usually peaceful but sometimes vexed relationship, from intense free trade debates to the Keystone pipeline. Values are much the same on either side of the border, Bothwell argues in his new book, Your Country, My Country: A Unified History of the United States and Canada, but the two countries are not always in sync. Even when they are, says Bothwell, the accidents of history often put them on different paths. At least for a while.

Q: The central theme of your book is that any American arguing for U.S. “exceptionalism,” its uniqueness among nations, can only do so by avoiding looking northwards.

A: An American colleague wrote a book on U.S. foreign policy, which I read for him prior to publication. When he came to Ottawa, I brought up the section which read, in effect, “the United States has gotten along badly with all its neighbours—the relationship has been hostility and conquest and war.” I asked, “Where do you think you are, and how do you interpret Canadian–American relations in this way?” That is the situation: most Americans, even informed Americans, don’t think of the deep similarities and the way we have interacted for two centuries.

Q: When you do point out the similarities, do you not get—at least from the right—“Canadians may look and act like us, but those socialistic tendencies . . .” And a lot of Canadians would resist this similarity between the nations, given how divergent we seem to have become in the 21st century. Religion, guns and Republicans: we don’t have equivalents to those, do we?

A: That’s true enough. And that’s [pollster] Michael Adams’s point, that some Canadians are very different from some Americans. What I’m saying is you cannot generalize all Canadians and all Americans into these slots—there are lots of differences, God knows, between me and Republicans, although my ex-Canadian and now-American brother is Republican. But as other pollsters have shown, the differences are really regional: compare New England with the Maritimes, or New England with Ontario, the Cascadia of B.C. and the American Pacific Northwest, and the differences are not huge in terms of attitudes and political stance. Some differences, sure, but they’re not major. On the other hand, if you compare, say Oklahoma or Ted Cruz with the Wildrose party in Alberta, you end up asking: what is the difference?

Read the rest at Maclean’s.