On sleeping with an elephant


in Canada, Politics, Rants

Happy Birthday Anna Gillibrand

At various times, people have asked me why I write so much about the United States: about the foreign and domestic politics of the US, about official American stances on issues from torture to climate change. The answer, of course, is that the American position on these matters is of crucial importance. Indeed, I would assert that the decisions being made in Washington are more important for Canadians than the ones being made in Ottawa. We’re a rich, sovereign nation, of course, but we are forever bound to a nation that seems likely to forever surpass us in wealth, power, and global prominence. Canadians cling to what shreds of national determination we have – socialized health care (a very fine idea), peacekeeping (likewise), and the like – and yet, our ability to control our own destinies has everything to do with our great neighbour to the south remaining on the path of sanity. To my infinite dismay, the adherence of that state to that path has not been as good as might be hoped.

As such, we are probably better off spending our time talking to open-minded Americans before their elections than we are in voting in our own elections.

Of course, we can and must do both. Even so, you simply cannot be a small country, in every important sense, beside a big country and not become critically vulnerable to those whims. As Canadians, we need to understand those whims, and direct them along a path that is productive rather than destructive. One that will give us the chance to live good and decent lives in a world rife with threats and stupidity.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Annamarie May 29, 2006 at 1:08 am

Very well said!

B May 29, 2006 at 1:13 am

‘Hew’ers of wood’ and draw’ers of wa’ter’ we.

At least we’ve mostly come to our senses about homosexuality being a perfectly respectable option.

Milan May 29, 2006 at 1:24 am

Perhaps I should explain the quote that generated the title of this post.

Long before Stephen Colbert was zinging the White House Press Corps, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau told them:

“Living next to [the United States] 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 is our most quotable Prime Minister.

Anonymous May 29, 2006 at 1:28 pm

Whether you like what is happening in the US or not, it is far more than just ‘whims’ and you would be a fool to not understand and identify that.

Likewise, much of the reason Canadian tides turn the same way as American ones is because the social trends and ideas that underlie them are the same. We’re not so much getting steamrolled as we are generally riding in the same wagon.

tristan.laing May 29, 2006 at 3:01 pm

I don’t understand why decisions made in washington affect our lives more than those made in ottawa. The decision to discontinue subsidized childcare, for example, will affect thousands of single parents in a very significant way. Also, it means more popcorn money for married white trash.

What kind of foreign decisions could have such personal impact?

Milan May 29, 2006 at 3:22 pm

Child care and health care are important, but I am thinking about the kind of decisions that will shape the course of the coming century, as experienced by Canadians. You can’t look back at the last one and say that Canada made a great many of those.

Milan May 29, 2006 at 3:23 pm


Your points are well taken. Obviously, the imperatives driving US police are much more substantial than whims. Likewise, many of the forces driving those policies operate on both sides of our long border.

Sheena May 29, 2006 at 9:54 pm

Read the recent New Yorker article on Libya – your PM is not the only one to use this analogy with regard to relations with the United States.

Milan May 30, 2006 at 2:15 am


As a Canadian, let me hope that even if Trudeau was not the only person to use this metaphor, he was, at least. the first.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: