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On free trade and free beer

Anne Wallace Allen 2015Canada is Idaho’s largest trading partner, and we share a 45-mile border with our neighbor to the north. Yet most Idahoans, in an informal poll, can’t say where on a map they would find Canada’s capital city, or what the name of its province might be.

But every year, Canada basks in an Idaho spotlight of sorts. Thanks to the hard work of Prof. Lori Hausegger, a native of Calgary who is director of the Canadian Studies program at Boise State University, next week Boiseans will have an opportunity to hear music from Canadian bands, witness a bubble hockey game – the only arena in which the U.S. goes to war against Canada – and learn what one prominent Canadian economist thinks about the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Hausegger – also chair of the university’s political science department – started educating the public at large on Canada when she became director of the Canadian Studies program 10 years ago. As Hausegger sees it, anything she can do to draw Americans’ attention to our plus-size but thinly populated neighbor to the north is good for both countries.

Canada is the largest trading partner of 37 U.S. states, including Idaho, which sends exports worth nearly $1 billion across the border each year. It has also been the largest trading partner of the U.S. for decades.  The U.S. imports electricity, natural gas, and oil from Canada; Hausegger said goods worth $1.8 billion cross the U.S./Canada border in one direction or another every day. A truck crosses the border every two seconds. Hausegger said 30,000 jobs in Idaho depend on trade with Canada.

Among other things, Hausegger would like her students to see Canada as an affordable option for study abroad.

As Canadians (my husband, Eric, among them) are quick to inform you, while the two nations seem very similar, there are differences. Quite apart from important cultural markers like poutine, toques, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Canadians have a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister, whereas we have a republic with a president in charge.

While Canada officially became a country in 1867, the Queen of England is still queen of Canada, and her face is on the currency. Canada has two official languages, French and English, and an official policy of multiculturalism, a hard-to-define position that affirms the right of all citizens to keep their cultural identities instead of being expected to conform to the dominant culture.

There are also more ephemeral differences. Canadians are more deferential to authority, and they don’t have the same deep distrust of the central government seen in the U.S., Hausegger said. Canada’s national identity is far less developed than that of the U.S.; it didn’t even get its flag, the maple leaf, until 1965. Before that, it used the British ensign.

This year, in honor of Canada’s 150th anniversary, the nearest Canadian consulate – in Seattle – is serving up free Canadian beer – yes, you read that right – at a bubble hockey tournament at the Record Exchange store in Boise at 5:30 pm on March 15. The consulate is also supplying Canadian experts to the local tech conference Hackfort March 24-25 and sponsoring some Canadian bands at Boise’s Treefort music festival the week of March 24.

Possibly less boisterous will be a March 13 talk by Carlo Dade, the director of Canada’s Centre for Trade & Investment Policy, on the renegotiation of NAFTA. Dade is a senior fellow in the University of Ottawa’s School of International Development and senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and is a leading expert on pan-Pacific trade, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Pacific Alliance trade blocs. His talk is in the Jordan Room of the Student Union at 6:30 pm.

The purpose of all this, said Hausegger, is to show Idahoans how important Canada is to the U.S., and vice versa.

“It’s an important relationship and one I think that people don’t pay a lot of attention to,” she said. She noted that most interest is one-directional. Ask any Canadian child who the president of the United States is, and they know his name.

“You’re not going to find an American child who knows who the Canadian prime minister is,” she said. She reconsidered. “Maybe it’s different with Justin Trudeau.”

Anne Wallace Allen is editor of the Idaho Business Review.





About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.