What do Americans think about US-Canada relations?

The U.S.-Canada relationship is broadly discussed in the Canadian media. Is the same true in the U.S.? The simple answer is "no," even in the context of the Keystone XL pipeline, which we focus on myopically.

The relationship between Canada and the United States is built on trust, mutual respect, trade, proximity, democratic government, the history of the rule of law, and strong mutual engagement in world issues. We have stood side by side with Canada in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. We are currently doing so in Syria and Iraq in the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). For those of us who live along the U.S.-Canada border, we see our Canadian neighbors on the ski slopes, at the beach, on the water and in our shopping malls and restaurants.


The irritants that impact this relationship have focused on Keystone, but also include country-of-origin labeling, "buy American" provisions and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, in which Canadian dairy is a significant issue.

U.S. imports from Canada and exports to Canada represent 77.3 percent and 68.6 percent, respectively, of Canada's total exports and and total imports. On the U.S. side, trade with Canada represents 13.3 percent of our exports and 12 percent of our imports. The impact on gross domestic product (GDP) is equally disproportionate, as Canadian trade represents about 5 percent of U.S. GDP while that same trade represents 24.7 percent of Canadian GDP. Canadian shoppers come into the United States on a regular basis because, as is reported to those of us who live along the border, the variety of goods available is substantially greater in the U.S. marketplace than in the Canadian marketplace and frequently cheaper; even with the current weakness of the Canadian dollar, there has not been a sharp decline in Canadian visits to the US, as reflected by sales tax revenue in border communities and overnight stays in border hotels and motels.

The Canadian view is, of course, impacted by factors not present on the U.S. side of the border. Who sees or listens to Canadian media on their TV or radio? Do you read a Canadian newspaper? Eighty-five percent of Canadians live within 100 miles of the U.S.-Canada border, thus they have the opportunity to be inundated with U.S. TV and radio signals focusing on U.S. politics and economy. Americans, on the other hand, unless they live within 50 miles of the border, have virtually no contact with Canadian media. So while 85 percent of Canadians have access to U.S. media, a very small number of Americans have the same kind of access.

One of the questions I was often asked while I was a member of Congress was why there was so little known about Canada — particularly given that Canada is our largest trading partner — in the United States generally and in Congress in particular? This is clearly deeply troubling to Canadians.

In the years before I was elected to Congress, I represented many Canadian companies, the vast majority of whom gave very pragmatic reasons for coming down into the United States, but the predominate reason was access to the American market. Canada stretches 3,000 miles across, and thus to reach 35 million people requires traversing that entire distance, while if you go south, particularly from the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, you are within a day's truck drive of virtually the same number of people.

It is not likely that Americans are going to become more educated about the Canadian relationship, whether politically, culturally or economically, in the near future. In large measure, there isn't a perceived need to and we do not have access to a steady flow of information about Canada. Nonetheless, we should do better to understand our greatest ally.

Owens represented New York's North Country from 2009 until retiring from the House in 2015. He is now a senior strategic adviser in the Washington office of McKenna, Long and Aldridge and a partner in the Plattsburgh, N.Y. firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC.