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Wednesday, 31 July 2013 15:35

U.S./Canada relations are starting to get that chilly feeling

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Now we know why Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper wears all of those sweaters — he wants to stay warm while he talks to government officials from the United States.  (Cue: drum rim shot).

The relationship between Canada and the United States has always been okay. There has been some chilly moments, but nothing resembling the Cold War. There’s been some occasional downs all the way “up” to the nauseating March 1985’s When Irish Eyes Are Smiling duet featuring BFFs Brian Mulroney and Ronald Reagan at the (in)famous Shamrock Summitt in Quebec City.
The U.S. has the military force, the booming economy, they’re the biggest trading partner Canada has and depending on who you ask, Canada is influenced a lot by the U.S. culture. The U.S. loves the natural resources first and foremost, as well as the trade which Canada can provide. Each love the tourist dollars which flow back and forth between the two.
It’s kind of a begrudgingly-accepted relationship, however there are signs this past week the cold winds of a political winter are about to blow again.
On July 29, President Barrack Obama was quizzed about the never-ending Keystone XL Pipeline saga. The pipeline is supposed to transport oil sands bitumen from northern Alberta to refineries in Texas. Estimates coming from TransCanada Pipelines, a variety of Canadian governments and even the opposing U.S. Republicans have said there could be upwards of 20,000 jobs created.
However, Obama told the New York Times “Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator ... There is no evidence that that’s true. The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two, and then after that we’re talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people.”
Ouch. Not exactly a ringing endorsement. While political pundits analyze to death what Obama exactly meant — political ploy against the Republicans, bracing oil industry; Canadians about turning down the plan; trying to get a better deal, etc. —the fact remains the Keystone XL Pipeline deal has been on the bargaining and environmental study tables for a long time.
The pipeline is scheduled to go from near Hardisty in northern Alberta right through southeast Alberta and then southwest Saskatchewan and into the United States through Montana, heading southeast. It then branches off: one to Texas, another in Illinois.
It’s no secret Harper loves the project and thinks it will create thousands of jobs in both construction, maintenance and will help the local economies as it’s being built. However, delays which have spanned years caused by environmental studies, public protests in the U.S., changing of routes (especially involving Nebraska) and court injunctions have angered those in Canada who want this project started and completed.
There’s also the whole issue of beef industry trade sanctions (See e-coli, Mad Cow Disease, beef processing). 
If you believe Agriculture Canada or the Food Inspection Agency Canada has cleaned up any issues and there shouldn’t be a problem. However, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) is a strong protectionist lobby group. Their efforts to push for Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) has meant restricted access for Canadian beef across the borders even though Canada imports beef from the U.S.
According to an Associated Press report from July 10, “American and Canadian meat and livestock groups are suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture in federal court in Washington to block implementation of a new meat-labelling rule. The rule approved in May by the USDA requires meat labels to detail where animals used for meat were born, raised and slaughtered. It also prohibits processors from mixing meat from animals that come from different countries ... The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association has joined the lawsuit.”
On July 30, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Gerry Ritz announced an import levy of $1 per head. The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association says the move enables the levy to be applied equally to purchasers of domestic and imported cattle as well as imported beef, putting Canada on equal ground with the U.S. for the first time since 1985.
The import levy is worth an estimated $600,000 to $800,000 annually, depending on market conditions, and funds will support Canada Beef Inc. marketing initiatives and research projects under the direction of the Beef Cattle Research Council.
It’s one big mess.
It’s not the second coming of the Battle of 1812, but you can feel things starting to cool (not COOL) a bit. There were suggestions of border levies for Canadian tourists crossing into the U.S., taxes etc. that weren't met favourably either.
Perhaps Harper, wearing one of his trademark sweaters can invite Obama to a summer cottage, sit on a veranda, drink some lemonade and work all of this out. Because as we all know in politics, it’s never good to let them see you sweat (er).
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor