Uneasy relations: It’s never easy being America’s close neighbour

Rick MacLean comments@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on March 5, 2016

U.S. President Richard Nixon and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau talk in Trudeau's office in Ottawa


You could see it coming, but I just kept thinking, maybe this time. Maybe this time.

Canadian Steve Bauer and American Alexi Grewal were charging to the finish after cycling a punishingly 12 laps around the 190.2-kilometre course in the road race at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The Russians weren’t there (they were boycotting the event), so despite a pack working desperately to track them down, the gold medal was clearly going to one of the two men up front.

Bauer was the little guy, five foot six and 159 pounds. Grewal stretched a lean 150 pounds over his six foot two frame. Bauer was leading with Grewal right on his tail.

“Perfect position,” I thought, staring at the TV screen, a cycling fan all of a sudden, and shook my head. “Bauer’s doing all the work. Grewal’s going to shoot by him at the end.”

“Go, go, go,” I heard myself yelling at the TV. Then it happened. Grewal shot ahead, winning in a time of four hours, 59 minutes and 57 seconds. Inches behind was Bauer.

“Not bad,” I thought. “A silver medal. Not bad.”

Then I caught myself. Not bad? How very Canadian, expecting the rider from our huge southern cousin to beat us somehow. Our U.S. cousins would never think that way.

We may speak the same language, well mostly, eh. And we may live next door to each other, but there’s something difficult to define that makes us as different from our American cousins as elephants and apples.

And Donald Trump proves it.

There’s something awe-inspiring about watching what’s happening south of the border. A guy whose hair looks like it blew off a haymow and stuck to his head. A guy who suggested blocking all Muslims from entering the United States. A guy who disavowed the Pope without a blink, but hesitated to condemn a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

He’s going to the presidential candidate for the party of Abraham Lincoln, the Republicans? Really?

Canadians can only shake their heads in a mixture of bemusement and shock. Bemusement because it’s too funny to be real. Shock because it looks like it’s very real. And if he’s elected, we’ll have to live with it.

It won’t be easy. But then, it never has been.

When prime minister Lester Pearson gave a scathing speech on American involvement in Viet Nam in 1965, U.S. president Lyndon Johnson was waiting for him the next day when he visited the White House.

“You don’t come here to p--s on my rug,” he growled, grabbing Pearson by the lapels.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau tried to help Americans understand what it’s like being their neighbour.

“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,” he said in 1969 in an address to the Press Club in Washington.

Trudeau knew something about “the beast.” He had to deal with president Richard Nixon, who once told his aides Trudeau was a “clever son of a b----” and an “a--hole.”

The comments were captured on the White House recording system.

“I’ve been called worse things by better people,” Trudeau replied.


Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.