by Paul Brammer (News & Opinion Editor)
One of the persisting stereotypes about Canadians is that they define themselves in part by distancing themselves from their neighbours south of the border. Canadian national identity and Canadian nationalism can appear to be synonymous with anti-Americanism. However, there is one uniquely-positioned person who believes that Canadian-American relations are much tighter than even the most optimistic statistics can prove.
Philip Chicola, U.S. Consul General in Vancouver, believes that the image of Canadians who hate Americans is largely a myth, “The relationships between Canadians and Americans are well ahead of government. As people, we understand each other a lot better than our governments…I have often suggested that, in most cases, government is more of an impediment than a help and there are reasons for that – governments have to worry about national security; individuals don’t. [Interpersonal links are] a lot more strong, a lot more viable and a lot more vibrant than government to government.”
One of the reasons for strong inter-personal links between the two North American nations is the historical trends of migration between the two countries, and the interwoven familial and fraternal bonds that cross the border. Chicola said that this symbiosis does not diminish over time, “Those links are not going to change, if anything, they become stronger…My daughter who is a twelfth- grade student in B.C. is going to have friends in Vancouver [who] will remain there regardless of where we live, and those friendships will endure beyond that and because of that, the relationship between the two states is pushed together…There is no anti-Canadianism in the U.S. and there is almost no anti-Americanism in Canada…All the facts on the ground push the other way.”
One of the principal roles of Chicola’s job as Consul General is to help to foster bonds between Canada and the U.S., and he believes that the interconnectedness of the provincial and state governments of B.C. and Washington state helps to solidify those good relations. Chicola said that those provincial-state relations are, by and large, trans-governmental and trans-generational, “The relationship continues despite…whatever party governs B.C., whatever party governs Washington State. [The relationship is] not going to change dramatically.”
Chicola did, however, outline some of the ongoing issues that B.C. and Washington state face together.
“There’s a number of issues: how to facilitate border crossings within the constraints that national security puts on both sides, for instance…Building additional infrastructure along the border so that people have shorter waiting times and goods have shorter waiting times is very important.
“Both the state and the province have a lot of interest in doing away with as many of those inconveniences as possible to facilitate that kind of movement. I think both want investment and trade to take place… the issues are co-operative in nature and there’s very few, if any, difficulties across the border…You’re always going to have issues, you know…Try taking B.C. wine to Ontario, see how well you do!”
Chicola explained how his job as U.S. Consul General fits into the overall framework of U.S. – Canada relations, “We have a consulate in Vancouver which has three or four major responsibilities. Probably the foremost is to sort of show the flag and let people know we’re here [,] not leave it entirely up to newscasters and bloggers to carry the message. That takes very different ways…for instance, because of my job I’m very active in…various charities, the Opera, the Symphony [Orchestra]. That’s sort of one central job built around me. We also, of course, keep track of local developments – you know, what is the government doing, what is the reaction to HST?”
Aside from Chicola’s individual duties, the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver does institutional interests in other areas. For example, “There’s enough non-governmental organizations or multi-party organizations that we are more members of than drivers of…Because of the proximity [to the States] there are tens of thousands [of] Americans who live in B.C.…and we support those people with whatever they need,” which generally involves issuing passports, dealing with issues of citizenship status, and so on.?“We have a large contingent at the airport that does pre-clearances, so somebody travelling from B.C. to the U.S. by air can go to Vancouver Airport and they clear U.S. Immigration and Customs in Vancouver so when they get off the plane…it would be the same as getting off the plane in Toronto; they walk right out, get their bags and get on their way.”
“And then we have a number of U.S. law enforcement liaisons that work with their Canadian counterparts [in] coordinating various activities…and, the border being what it is, you need a lot of co-operation.”
Chicola dropped in at UFV on his way to Kamloops on an official visit, which included a meeting with administrators from Thompson Rivers University and a roundtable discussion with Kamloops business leaders.