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Rodney's Ramblings: For Us Or Against US

"Canada has had a checkered existence with the US,'' writes Rodney Gascoyne.

Canada has had a checkered existence with the US, as their giant next door neighbour. I was recently aware of this again in a CBC TV program, about a point of history in the 1860s, when Canada needed to become a united nation.

In the days of French ‘New France’ until 1759, it was an uneasy relationship, as the two countries were in constant confrontation across the common border. During the Seven Years War, the first worldwide conflict, Britain and France faced each other in wars in Europe, the Mediterranean, Quebec, the Caribbean and India. The American theatre actions ended with the fall of Quebec after the Battle on the Heights of Abraham, when Wolfe defeated Montcalm.

Although this removed the threat to settlers in the American colonies, the follow on events helped to stir resentment that ended with the American War of Independence. London’s ideas for the future of New France, plus later attempts to raise taxes to pay for that conflict with France were not well received, among other irritants. Many loyalists had moved north into Upper Canada by the end of the war.

This conflict was followed less than thirty years later, in 1812, when the US and President Madison, declared war, in the hope of capturing Canada, while Britain was preoccupied in the Napoleonic wars. It ended in a settlement with no territorial claims exchanged, basically an unlikely draw.

The next tensions were aroused during the American Civil War, when the US Secretary of Defense was concerned by their northern neighbour, and it was then that he issued a stern warning to the United Provinces of Central Canada, to fall in line with the Government in Washington, with the words, “either you are with us or you are against us”, or else. He went on to state that they could not accept claims of neutrality at that time, as was the official position of Britain and hence any Canadian colonies.

The response of John A. Macdonald, then the Provincial leader, was to raise an army but this was defeated in the legislature. Later, he and George Brown, his erstwhile enemy in politics, joined forces to propose a confederation of all the British colonies remaining in North America, from BC in the West to Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the East. This was thought the best defence against an aggressive US. Neither Britain nor any Canadian colonies wanted a war then and it seems Washington had their hands tied in their own conflict, to attempt to carry out the threat.

After the end of the US Civil War, in 1867, this eventually led to the formation of the Dominion of Canada and they achieved their independence on 1st July that year, the first British colonies anywhere to be granted self rule by London. In the early 20th Century, many other countries followed suit in a similar manner.

At about the same time, the only other cross border actions took place when the Fenians made raids into Canada, between 1866 and 1871, in an attempt to bring pressure on Britain for home rule in Ireland. It was thought that Washington turned an early blind eye to such raids, in retaliation for past anticipated British and Canadian sympathy with the Confederate states in their Civil War. Later they did arrest the Irishmen, disarmed them and the raids fizzled out. This was the final irritant of any non verbal nature between Britain, Canada and the US and they have all been allies to this day.

Those same words quoted above, were resurrected two decades ago, when President George W. Bush reused that same threat, probably at the urging of Vice President Chaney and his Neo-Con supporters, to try to force nations into a coalition for his invasion of Iraq, in response to the events of 9/11, Al-Qaeda attacks and WMDs. It would seem that in both cases, the words failed to carry the day.

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