You might not know this by the understated way they tend to go about things, but Canadians are having a big party this year.
It is a celebration New Yorkers should join since at the moment we seem to have so much more in common with those to our immediate north than with our own national government.
Now before anyone gets his knickers in a twist, this is not a suggestion that the Empire State secede from the U.S. and seek to become Canada’s 11th province.
However, at a time when Washington seems so distant, foreign and even hostile to most New Yorkers, making common cause with like-minded people wherever they are seems an apt way to underscore that point while defensing against emerging federal policies inimical to our best interests.
2017 is the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation. Unlike the U.S. born in defiant revolution, Canada was formed in quiet consensus: a simple act of Parliament.
Theirs too is a vibrant society, the distinctiveness of which habitually goes unnoticed by Americans. Quietly, Canadians in all walks of life — from academia to science, medicine, the arts and entertainment–make major contributions to important aspects of American life.
With a political, economic and social behemoth as a neighbor, it has always been a monumental challenge for Canada to maintain its own identity while avoiding being smothered by the sheer size and weight of the culture to its south.
It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the father of the current Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, who as prime minister in the 1970s observed, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant.
“No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
New York and Canada
“Peace, order and good government” is Canada’s counterpart to “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and illustrates why we folks below the 49th parallel often fail to perceive the subtle, but clear-cut nature of our neighbor’s dissimilar perspectives.
Canadian ideas about the role of government and the meaning of the social contract have always differed in significant ways from those generally espoused by American politicians, but it is especially so vis-a-vis Washington and our so-called “red” states today.
Not so when it comes to New York, though.
The vast majority of New Yorkers share with Canadians similar and longstanding sensibilities toward issues like health care, educational opportunity, gun responsibility, environmental protection, worker rights, corporate responsibility and climate change.
New Yorkers and Canadians reciprocally hold convictions that government has a vital role to play in improving the lives of its citizens; that immigration is a benefit not a curse; that multicultural respect and cooperation is a virtue; and that scientific inquiry holds primary sway in the proper formulation of government policy.
So in some elemental ways, New York is more akin to Canada than the vision of this country being painted by the new Washington establishment today.
Clearly, New York can draw lessons from Canadian experience on how to sustain independent initiative and keep a prudent distance in the face of overweening power.
Thus, it would seem a good idea for those in charge in Albany to emphasize—and publicly–an even closer relationship with Ontario, Quebec and Canada.
As the Trump Administration takes hammer blows to NAFTA and targets Canada with protectionist policies, New York should publicize a contrasting perspective that highlights its legacy of mutually beneficial cooperation in important economic sectors like hydroelectric power, law enforcement, tourism, transportation, food and cross-border commerce.
New York is Québec’s main commercial partner internationally.
This state’s trade with Quebec totaled a little over $8 billion in 2014. Trade with Ontario was worth $22.7 billion in 2016. There remains ample room for growth.
A 2016 collaboration agreement between Quebec and New York for mutual economic development gives priority focus to fluidity at border crossings, transportation equipment and aerospace, advanced manufacturing including nanotechnology, sports, recreation and tourism, as well as energy, environment and green technologies.
Canada has a young, energetic, forward-looking leader taking it in the direction our forefathers actually envisioned for us.
In the U.S., we’re stuck with a tired old man riding his golf cart, carping about a past that has never existed and yelling at everyone to get off his lawn.
Right now, it would seem better for New York’s reputation, stature and welfare to be associated more with the former and less with the latter.
John Figliozzi is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.