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U.S. Congress gives little thought to Canada other than as a stable source of energy with questionable border security

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Release Date: May 10, 2011
VANCOUVER, BC—U.S. Senators and members of the House of Representatives see Canada as a stable and reliable source of energy, but they are concerned about what they perceive as lax border security and show little support for Canada-U.S. trade, according to a new report from the Fraser Institute, Canada’s leading public policy think-tank.

The report, What Congress Thinks of Canada, examines what U.S. senators and House representatives think of Canada by analyzing transcribed congressional debates between 2001 and 2010, where the focus of discussion was Canada or Canadian policy.

The report found that members of Congress generally view Canada in a positive light when it comes to trade in energy and environmental management. Most legislators, with a few notable exceptions, see Canada as a stable source of energy imports and a key component in their strategy for energy security. There was no indication of widespread opposition to the oil sands.

“Our analysis shows that Congress has not condemned Canada on its oil sands development or on any aspect of its intense trading relationship in crude-oil products and natural gas,” said Alexander Moens, Fraser Institute senior fellow and the report’s co-author.

“This strong foundation bodes well for continued cooperation between our two governments on a coordinated energy policy.”

But while energy and the environment solicited positive views from American legislators, the same cannot be said for border security, where the report found persistent and repeated allegations that Canada is lax about terrorism and was the source of some of the 9/11 hijackers and of illicit narcotics.

“When discussing border security, American politicians tend most often to speak of the Canadian and Mexican borders in roughly the same manner,” Moens said.

“Their concern about the threat of terrorists staging attacks from Canada remains high.”

On the topic of free trade, the report found that among Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, positive attitudes tend to hinge on the prospect of re-importing prescription drugs from Canada.

“Take cheaper drugs from Canada out of the picture, and the sentiment in Congress towards free trade turns negative,” Moens said.

“When we controlled for the pharmaceutical issue, positive attitudes towards Canada-U.S. trade among Democrats plunged and was overtaken by negative views in both the Senate and House. Positive views expressed by Republicans also declined significantly, though to a lesser extent than among Democrats.”

The report also indicates that American legislators do not consider Canada’s single-payer, universal-access health care system to be an ideal prototype for the United States.

“Given all of the attention the ‘Obama Care’ debate has received over the past few years, Canadians should be aware that our health care system is not the envy of Washington,” Moens said.

“Our analysis shows that Republicans have tended to be very assertive in their dismissal of the Canada’s single-payer, universal-access health care system, while Democrats did not explicitly defend it as an appropriate model for the United States.”

Canada was highly regarded in the areas of defence and foreign affairs, apart from a handful of negative comments regarding Canada’s lack of participation in the Iraq military intervention. Politicians from both parties and in both chambers voiced overwhelming praise for Canada’s contributions to NATO, continental defence, and commitment to the security of Afghanistan.

The study is based on the premise that a cooperative approach towards Canada-U.S. relations serves Canada best.

“The report’s findings should be of interest to Canadians and Americans alike, as improved cooperation is the key to North American prosperity and security,” Moens said.


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