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How do we reduce our dependence on America?

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Canadians sometimes kid themselves about their dependence on the United States, asserting more latitude than facts warrant. Today, however, that dependence is great and growing, for better or worse.

In fields from border security to trade, from energy and the environment to Afghanistan, from economic recovery to university research, we Canadians are now following along or simply dependent on what happens in America.

Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, was obviously and distressingly misinformed while mumbling about terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 coming from Canada, but she was not uncertain in telling Canadians to forget about any special border relationship with the Americans.

She's a former governor of Arizona, and thus was (and is) preoccupied with the Mexican-U.S. border. Inside her department, there are civil servants who have always believed that Canada's refugee and immigration laws, and general attitudes toward security, are lax.

The Mexican border, with all its political overtones in the United States, and the fixed views of the Homeland Security officials combined to produce Ms. Napolitano's policy that all borders are equal and will be treated the same. So get those passports ready, Canadians and Americans, for crossing the border starting June 1. Thus ends any Canadian lobbying for special treatment. We are not special, period.

On trade, we are constrained in helping the lumber/forestry industry because of our ongoing, and not misplaced, fear of the U.S. lumber lobby that occasionally retreats but never fully lays aside its weapons of trade war.

In the efforts to rescue/bail out/save General Motors and Chrysler, the Americans, being so much larger, are leading the way. Canadians are engaged in trying to save parts of those tattered companies in Canada.

In recent days, the International Monetary Fund has released an even gloomier report about the world's economy, and the Bank of Canada has backed off its previous rosy recovery forecast for 2010. The gloom is well-founded for many reasons, but the major one is the grim recovery prospect for the recession's epicentre: the United States.

The U.S. got itself massively indebted through terrible government decisions, lax regulations, private-sector greed and a political culture that refused to face elementary facts.

The recapitalization of the U.S. economy, now lumbered with staggering debts everywhere, will take years and sacrifice, and the Canadian economy isn't going to recover until that recapitalization is well under way - meaning for quite a while. Again, our dependence is huge, even though we conducted our affairs in a tidy way over the past decade while the Americans did not.

The Harper government's stimulus package will be far less consequential for the recovery of the Canadian economy than what happens to the U.S. economy. Ours is tied to the United States, a country whose share of world trade and general economic activity is declining, whose massive indebtedness and self-indulgence are weakening its power, and whose overstretched military is bleeding the country's resources. It's one thing to be an appendage of a country in the ascendancy; it's quite another to be one of a country that has screwed itself up. Such is Canada's fate.

In Afghanistan, the Americans are essentially taking over, in Kandahar and elsewhere, sending an additional 17,000 troops (and more, if necessary) and pretty much deciding that NATO countries can't be counted on to do more. The mission has been failing by any objective measure, and the Americans are now going to see whether they can pull chestnuts from the fires in Afghanistan and the world's most dangerous country, Pakistan. We will be bystanders as time goes on, when we withdraw from the field.

On climate change, the Harper government has essentially downed tools, waiting for the U.S. political system to come to conclusions about trading emissions and new vehicle emission standards, after which Canada will petition to sign up. Right now, we are fighting a rearguard action against new fuel standards that could prejudice access from the "dirty" oil from Alberta's tar sands into the U.S. market.

Alberta could have awakened to these realities a long time ago, but its head-in-the-sand government and oil industry did not, so now catch-up, lobbying and a futile $25-million advertising campaign in the United States are where the province is at. A surer recipe for failure is hard to imagine.

Canada could have taken the lead in climate change within North America years ago but chose not to do so. As a result, it has nothing positive to offer the Obama administration, and so is waiting on events. That "clean energy dialogue" touted at the Obama-Harper summit was, and remains, eyewash.

Canadians are quite patriotic, and with good reason. We are also quite dependent, more than we enjoy telling ourselves, and we apparently have no ideas about how to reduce that dependence.

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