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Why Romney and Obama Kept Mum on Canada

Christopher Sands

In the three U.S. presidential candidates’ debates, and in one vice presidential candidates’ debate, Canada came up frequently. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney took note of Canadian energy exports to the United States and the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline and other pipelines connecting the two countries. And Romney noted Canada’s corporate tax rate admiringly as well.

But in the final debate of this election season—the one devoted nominally to foreign policy—Canada did not come up at all. Is this cause for alarm or indignation?

No. Deepening economic integration between the United States and Canada has made Canada an integral part of the debates over the U.S. economy. Canada should have been—and was—part of the domestic policy debates. Even when it wasn’t mentioned by name, as the candidates focused on jobs and economic growth, they were talking about Canadian national interests as much as those of the United States itself. There was a lot said in these debates that related to Canada.

In contrast consider Europe—deep in an economic crisis, it came up only in passing, as the candidates made disparaging comparisons between U.S. debt and that of Greece and Spain. Mexico is a source of grave concern to Americans because of immigration and drug violence, yet the candidates avoided it. Or Japan—after Canada, China, and Mexico it is the largest U.S. trading partner and never was mentioned.

When Americans vote on November 6, they will render a final verdict on which candidate was most convincing in these debates. Canadians should not worry that they have been ignored this election season. Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney take Canada and its importance to the United States seriously.

Yet historians of the U.S.-Canadian relationship may remember 2012 as the year that Canada was upgraded from the margins of American politics with scant attention in foreign policy debates to a much more central role in candidates’ competing visions for the United States economy.

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