Relationships between countries are no different from relationships between people. They take work and commitment. They are based on honesty and trust. When that trust breaks, the relationship will show the signs of stress. And if those stresses become too grievous, the relationship will suffer. No one wants that.
In relationships, we strive for harmony and peaceful coexistence, even if we are different; even if we disagree. When it comes to international relationships, I can think of few better than the one shared between Canada and the United States of America. I care deeply about that bond. It’s very important to me and to so many American citizens. I know, too, that it’s a relationship of deep importance to many Canadians.
But before I go any further, I’d like to properly introduce myself. My name is Bruce Heyman. I served as American ambassador to Canada from April 2014 to January 2017.
I also want to introduce my wife and co-author, Vicki Heyman. There’s no such thing as a co-ambassador, but if there were, she would have deserved that title and probably many more besides. For three wonderful years, we worked side by side as American political and cultural envoys to the incredible country of Canada, and during those unforgettable years, we grew to love its people, its heritage, its history, its landscape, and, above all, its values. One thing is for certain: Canada — and Canadians — changed us for the better. The experience of living there and learning from its citizens has enriched us in profound ways.
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That’s all fine and good, you may be thinking, but why write a book about it? And to what end? Let me explain.
We are at a key moment in the history between our two countries. As friends, allies, partners, and neighbours, no two countries have it better than Canada and the United States. We share the world’s longest non-militarized border. There is no wall between us — yet — and it is our sincerest hope and belief that there will never be one. We have protected each other through the North American Aerospace Defense Command for six decades. Together, as members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, we have assisted in the safeguarding of Europe. Annual trade between Canada and the United States exceeds U.S. $670 billion. Both of our countries should be tremendously proud to have been part of the world’s largest trilateral trade relationship, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and to have negotiated a new trade deal, the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement, which should cement our trade partnership in the future. Through trade, Canada supports millions of U.S. jobs, a fact that I know for certain many Americans sincerely appreciate — although I’m not always certain this message is making its way across the 49th parallel.
As friends and neighbours, our relationship has always been the envy of the world, and rightly so. Canada is — and hopefully always will be — our best friend, reliably by our side throughout times of prosperity but also through war and conflict, economic struggles and political upheavals. As countries, you can’t select your neighbour, but you can select who will be your most trusted friend and ally. Americans have chosen well. We’ve chosen Canada.
As Americans, we currently have a leader, President Donald Trump, who is systematically poisoning this most important relationship with our closest neighbour. It has taken generations of work and commitment to build such a strong familial bond, and now that relationship is under stress. It is in peril. Trust and honesty are being eroded through lies and intimidation. The president and his administration are consistently threatening the relationship with our foremost ally while at the same time ignoring other countries that are intent on doing us harm.
During my years as ambassador, the most important lesson I learned about Canada-U.S. relations was this: we are family, no matter what.
Vicki and I learned this every day, through countless experiences with Canadians from coast to coast to coast.
We learned it when we met with Indigenous peoples in the North who taught us to treat the land —and each other — as sacred.
We learned it when we were welcomed to Canada in two official languages.
We learned it when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau shared with us their dedication to improve the lives of all Canadians and to protect the environment, human rights, and freedoms.
We learned it from the thousands of Canadians who sponsored Syrian refugees and welcomed them into their homes and communities.
We learned it from the people of Gander, Newfoundland, who opened their homes and hearts to thousands of stranded U.S. travellers in the days after 9/11.
We learned it in soup kitchens where we experienced so much kindness and appreciation from newcomers to Canada who had so little.
We learned it from an old fisherman in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, who held colourful starfish in his hands and lamented that they were disappearing from the sea.
We learned it from the tens of thousands of vibrant young Canadians who participated in annual We Day events, engaging in charitable and community service to help others less fortunate than them.
We learned it when we visited the Peace Arch, a monument on the border between Washington State and British Columbia. “We are children of a common mother” reads the inscription on the American side. The Canadian side reads, “Brethren dwelling together in unity.”
Family. We are family no matter what — whether we’re north of the border or south of it, and regardless of our differences.
Since returning home to the United States, Vicki and I have watched as our 45th president, Donald Trump, has threatened our trade relationship with Canada; as disputes have arisen over steel and aluminum tariffs; as our bilateral relationship has been strained by discriminatory travel bans; and as refugees have fled America and sought safety in Canada because of the current administration’s reckless approach to immigration and asylum seekers.
My formal role as ambassador has ended, and, yet, in some ways, I feel it is just beginning. It is our duty as citizens to speak up about the importance of strong Canada-U.S. relations and to remind citizens of both our countries about all that we have in common. This book is about relationships. It’s a love letter to Canada, our neighbour and best friend. In these pages, Vicki and I have united our voices to speak loudly about our affection for Canada and Canadians. We continue to be very optimistic about the U.S.-Canada relationship. Ordinary citizens have kept this relationship strong for centuries. And no one person has the power to change that.
We want to build bridges, not walls, because as the poet Robert Frost knew well, good fences do not make good neighbours. It’s time for all of us to come together, take a stand, and work together for unity and positive change.
Let’s embark upon this journey, as neighbours, as family, and as good citizens of the world.
From THE ART OF DIPLOMACY: Strengthening the Canada-U.S. Relationship in Times of Uncertainty by Bruce Heyman and Vicki Heyman. Copyright © 2018 by Bruce Heyman and Vicki Heyman. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster Canada, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.