Is Barack Obama squandering Canada's love?
The answer is a resounding yes, according to an essay in a leading U.S. foreign policy journal.
"How Obama Lost Canada," is the headline in the online edition of Foreign Affairs, published by the Council On Foreign Relations, an influential Washington think tank.
The article cites a litany of wrongs that its authors pin on the U.S. President, including the delay in the Keystone XL pipeline, protectionist Buy American provisions, even disrespect for Canadian military contributions in Libya and Afghanistan.
As a result, the United States has jilted Canada, leaving relations at "their lowest point in decades."
The article is by Derek Burney, a former Canadian diplomatic heavyweight and one-time ambassador to the United States, and Fen Hampson, a Carleton University foreign policy expert.
Theirs is not the first analysis to note this pattern. But its publication in a respected U.S. policy journal months before the presidential election offers a ready-made slogan for further Republican attacks on Mr. Obama's leadership during an economic downturn. Canada and the U.S. are each other's top trading partners.
The President's decision to delay the Keystone decision until 2013 – after the election and following intense lobbying by environmentalists – was a point of attack for Republicans during their protracted primaries.
But Mr. Burney and Mr. Hampson cite that as only the latest in long series of blunders, not all of them economic.
The article offers a sobering counterpoint to the polls that consistently show Mr. Obama to be more popular in Canada than his own country, not to mention his outburst of "I love this country" when he first visited Ottawa a month after his 2009 inauguration.
"Whether on trade, the environment, or Canada's shared contribution in places such as Afghanistan, time and again the United States has jilted its northern neighbour," the essay says.
"If the pattern of neglect continues, Ottawa will get less interested in co-operating with Washington."
The article notes how Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared it an economic imperative to bolster trade with China, India, South Korea and other Asian countries. It highlights Mr. Harper's pledge – while in China – to "sell our energy to people who want to buy our energy."
The Prime Minister spoke after the delay of the Keystone pipeline project, which would have carried crude from the Alberta oilsands to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
Two-way trade between Canada and the U.S. totalled $681-billion last year, and supports eight million U.S. jobs.
"Yet the Obama administration has recently jeopardized this relationship," the essay says, through the Buy American provision in its stimulus bill that prevented Canadian companies from bidding on infrastructure projects in the U.S.
The U.S. recession and the rise of Asia have led to a decline of Canadian exports south in the last decade. About 85 per cent of Canadian exports went to the U.S. in 2000, compared with 68 per cent in 2010, the essay says.
The slights don't stop there.
The essay criticizes the U.S. for demanding concessions from Canada on agricultural subsidies as the price of entry into negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership, "while preserving massive agricultural subsidies of its own."
It accuses the U.S. of sticking Canadian taxpayers with the bill for a new bridge between Detroit and Windsor, the choked crossing point for one-quarter of the trade between the two countries.
"The U.S. share is to be repaid over time by the tolls collected, but any shortfalls will rest with the Canadian taxpayer."
Beyond economics, "Washington has also failed to trust and respect its loyal ally," the essay argues.
"To name one small, but telling, example, when Canada ran for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2010, the United States offered little support. For whatever reason, Portugal was a more compelling choice."
Mr. Burney and Mr. Hampson argue that the Canadian military sacrifices in Afghanistan – including more than 150 lives lost and billions spent – as well as its major contribution to last year's NATO-led Libya air campaign have simply not won any enduring respect with U.S. leadership.
"Canada has no tangible interests of any kind in Afghanistan or Libya," their essay says. "Its participation in those countries, proportionately larger than any other ally, was intended primarily to strengthen the partnership with the United States on the theory that solid, multilateral commitments would engender more productive bilateral relations. That proved not to be the case."
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is criticized for how she "went out of her way to rake Canada over the coals" during the March 2010 summit of Arctic coastal states in Gatineau, Que. Clinton was voicing her objections to the exclusion of other countries with "legitimate interests" in the region.
The Obama administration is cited for showing no interest in Canadian overtures for common North American fuel standards to reduce carbon emissions. The so-called "clean energy dialogue" – the major deliverable of 2009 Ottawa visit – has become a "monologue," says the essay.